The humble beginnings of Sunset Junction

Photo by Clinton Steeds/Flickr

Wes Joe, who has called Silver Lake home for nearly 35 years, was conducting some research at the One National Gay & Lesbian Archives when he came across a two-page, typewritten program for the first Sunset Junction  festival held in August 1980. The program – printed on the letterhead of the Sunset Junction Neighborhood Alliance of Lesbians and Gay Men- along with clippings from the gay news publication The Advocate recalls the street fair’s humble beginnings before it grew into a giant musical happening that drew bands and fans from around the country. The festival abruptly collapsed this week under nearly $400,000 in unpaid city permit fees.

Here’s the line up of performers that were scheduled to appear on Saturday, August 23, 1980 beginning at 12:30 p.m.:

Great American Yankee Freedom Band
Karen Rothstein – Juggler
Castelar Children’s Center – Chinese Ribbon/Dragon Dancers
Clark Branson – Concertina
Christopher Martinelli – Magician
C’est Nous – Jazz Band
Kaz and Angel DeLisse – Trained Parrot
Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles
Joyce Yarrow & Jim Wetzel Jazz Trio
Sophia Potoka – Guitarist/Singer
Thai Folk Dancers – Dance Troupe
Midnight Riders – Women’s Rock Band

“It was truly the neighborhood event that SJNA had worked for,” said The Advocate.

The fair was organized by a group of gay and lesbians, headed by Joyce Azelton, from Silver Lake and Echo Park who were seeking to ease tensions between gay newcomers and longtime Latino residents.  Gang members who were recruited to serve as fair monitors received sensitivity training on gay lifestyle;  other volunteers were schooled in gang history, according to The Advocate.  The alliance volunteers  “organized the booths, signed up entertainment, held fundraisers, painted detour signs, put up 300 barricades, dyed and printed 200 t-shirts, and guarded the fairgrounds at night,” according to The Advocate.

Photo by Clinton Steeds/Flickr

There were some tense moments before the street fair began. Bottles were thrown from apartment windows overlooking the festival, and some gay men were taunted as they walked between two gay bars, Detour and The Jungle.  But there was no major violence or problem as the street fair began on Saturday afternoon with a parade  co-led by the Los Angeles Gay Freedom Band and a Latino biker “on his Superslide Harley-Davidson” who ran a local motorcycle shop. An “omnisexual crowd” estimated at 60,000 attended the weekend-long festival, and, according to The Advocate,  “the whole affair was rather darling.”

Wes Joe recalls coming down to Sunset Boulevard to the fair, where a friend had a booth. There was no admission fee and no fence surrounding the fair, two issues which alienated many Silver Lake residents in recent years. Said Joe:  “[My] main memory was how nice it was to be walking out on the street and how amazing that felt.”


  1. Those days are sadly over.

  2. luiza Mavropoulos

    The magic words here are humble beginnings, the organizers forgot this. As does every business when on the money train. I remember youth from El Centro being the security guards, entrance was pay what you could. GREED BROUGHT the festival down. I call it poetic justice. Karma KARMA, KARMA you can run, but you can’t hide (the money) U can try. Now how about an audit and accountability??? since I’m reading non-profits want to jump on next years money train.

  3. Was McKinley involved at that point?

  4. if sunset junction comes back – it definitely needs an overhaul. having said that, i think a happy medium between the old and the new is best. because in all honesty, i’m not sure if i’d have any interest in watching mimes, jugglers and talking parrots. might just be me, though! 🙂

  5. thanks for this post and thaks Wes for doing the leg work. We (Silver lake) is SO LUCKILY to have someone like Wes Joe!

  6. Wish every LA city would start up a festival as this one once was.

  7. I’m all for talking mimes and parrot jugglers!

  8. Silverlake is NOT the Eastside. Silverlake is just Silverlake, albeit with a touch of gentrification. It may be next to East Hollywood, but that does not qualify it as Eastside. The true Eastside begins at the East of LA River and extends out to Montebello, Whittier; It is called East Los Angeles. I do not mean to sound condescending, but you people appear to be geographically challenged and to suffer from ethno-centrism. Stop calling Silverlake the “Eastside.” Doing so is akin to calling Hollywood the Westside. As a person who lived in Silverlake and also spent a lot of time in East Los Angeles, and knows both communities quite well, I take offense to your insensitivity and inaccuracy.

  9. Actually, “Silverlake” is Silver Lake. 🙂

  10. Ug, I’m really getting tired of this whole “east side” thing. No, Silver Lake is not the “East Side” as in East LA/east of the river. I also realize it’s not east of downtown. However, if you look at a map of Los Angeles city limits, Silver Lake is on the eastern side. Not “east side” mind you. But eastern. As Sunland would be on the north side, Westwood the west side, Watts the south side. Just depends on what exactly you are trying to define (east of downtown? East of the geographical center of the city?). Maybe we should eliminate “side” and say “I’m in the eastern section”. If someone knew nothing about different neighborhoods of Los Angeles, I would definitely say it’s in the eastern section of the city limits. But not “east-side”. Can we put this whole thing to rest?

  11. I agree this is not the eastside. But The Eastsider LA does good reporting. Some times you can’t keep fighting, youjust got to deal

  12. @ Anthony Ponce; there are FAR more important things in life, not to mention this city, than worrying so much about who calls a particular neighborhood what.

    Besides, the only rule of localized nomenclature is that over time, borders and names expand and contract contiguously ……..

    Relax dude

  13. The cities of Montebello and Whittier might disagree with being lumped in with (unincorporated) East Los Angeles.

  14. REALLY. Whats the big deal, Eastside or not. It’s just a name.

  15. I’ve long ago put aside my issue with this blog’s name because Jesus brings an Eastside history with him and because the site rocks. Personally I use “Upside” as the area’s nom du where, but trying to get traction with that name is a downhill slide.

  16. When will the SJNA refund the money?

    The City Attorney needs to launch an investigation immediately on the sham “non”profit $JNA:


  17. The thought of MICHAEL MCKINLEY being the greedy person that he is sickens me. Silver Lake Junction became his personal means of support. Someone really needs to look into his accounting and accounts.

  18. I would like to point out that Sunset Junction still has its Facebook page but as of today has blocked anyone from commenting on their wall or on any photos, and in fact all of the comments on the wall have now vanished.

  19. anyone seeking refunds should go the silver lake farmer’s market where they will find either michael mckinley or his right hand guy edwin. i agree the city needs to bring these SJNA crooks to court.

  20. This is my observation as a longtime Silverlake resident.
    An Executive Director of a nonprofit is the same as a CEO of a corporation. As such, individuals like Mr. McKinley should be held accountable.
    Evidence of botched leadership? Let me name just a few. Conflictive personality that alienated many residents and business owners; rise in community violence, less cultural interactions between changing neighbors; and the list goes on. He has simply failed to perform.
    Boards and shareholders of corporations regularly fire their CEO’s when they fail to lead and produce results –and certainly at the first sign of mismanagement. Similarly, the Board of the Sunset Junction non profit should fire Mr. McKinley on behalf of the residents and the entire city of LA.
    And if it turns out the Sunset Junction board is fake or a rubberstamping board, the residents will hold them accountable also.
    I’ll certainly be the first to sign off on that.

  21. luiza Mavropoulos

    Marlon is this you???? If it is, BOY do I have some stories for YOU! Email me.

  22. luiza Mavropoulos

    TO MARLON: Just a few short words, Sunset Junction Started off with El Centro Del Pueblo and it’s leadership. Mc Kinley was on the board of directors of El Centro. So if you audit Sunset Junction, you need to audit El Centro Del Pueblo, as they did partner up until there was a falling out, I’m sure it was over MONEY! If I remember correctly El Centro was there fiscal sponsor until they became their own non-profit with some El Centro board people also on the Sunset Junction board. SOMETHING STINKS HERE TO HIGH HECK! If your clean U have nothing to worry about, if ur not that’s another story.

  23. Silverlake has been called east side for as long as I can remember. It’s east of east Hollywood. I moved here in 1980. West Hollywood was very definitely thought of as the Westside back then if you lived on the eastside of Hollywood. And ethnically, Silverlake used to be very hispanic. On Sunset it was hispanic, up on the hills it was thoroughly caucasian. Gentrification changed all that (and not for thebetter in my opinion). Had you been here 20 years ago you would not be making such a distinction, man. The Hispanic part of LA began in East Hollywood and stretched all the way east. That being said, Silverlake has been considered westside by people living east of the LA River for a long time. It all depends where you live. You usually don’t run into people so annoying they throw fits about it, though.

  24. Think my first was 1983 or 84. Anyone remember the year the fair didn’t happen? High insurance premiums I think. And the year it was near Gower Gulch? Think the police ended that one and McKinley or someone got busted. They had it one year by the lake in Echo Park, that was a good one. It used to be a three day thing over Memorial Day weekend, or was for a while. We lived on Edgecliffe at Griffith Park maybe a hundred yards from the Edgecliffe stage, I vividly remember the sound of them putting that together every tear the Friday night before…. it was a beautiful, crazy event that fair. Our house one was continuous party. I remember the LAPD on motorcycles sweeping doen sunset on late one night like cossacks in Dr Zhivago..amazing scene. I remember watching a hissing spitting bitch fight between a hispanic lesbian group and a hispanic gay group, separated only by the beer garden fence, and none of the participants were over 5 feet three of so. God we used to get stoned at that thing. Remember the Silver Lake militia seeing t-shirts? Oh lord what a time………………the year Sonic Youth was on the bill…that ended it. It was lollapalooza from then on. No community feeling at all.

  25. luiza Mavropoulos: yes it’s me. let’s talk.

  26. the latin part of silver lake
    the gentrified part of silver lake
    the gay part of silver lake

    is always written about and argued over continuously here

    but ive never read anything about the filipino part of silver lake
    which has had a numerous, significant population in this neighborhood
    just and observation…

  27. RR get over it not sure why you’re even mentioning that. I’ve been in Silverlake for 32 years Filipinos didn’t surface until much later.

  28. While cleaning up afrer the first fair we had to move El Contro’s offices. The 3 trucks we had quickley fill. I didn’t a ride over to the new office. I heard “Man, we’ll get you there”. I hopped in the car. About half way over I relized I was in a low rider with the president of Frog Town driving. 3 week earlier he would have kill me. The fair change a lot of people. I saw him at the opening of El Centro’s new offices. We hugged. His ideas of me, a gay man, and my friends had changed and my ideas have forever changed about him.

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