Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Sex on the Piers, NYC circa 1960s, 70s and 80s

The urban decay of mid-century New York provided gay men with not only a place to sunbath nude in the heart of Manhattan, but also an opportunity for sexual exploration. The Gay Liberation Movement awakened a generation of gay men who had spent most of their lives feeling isolated and oppressed; the piers became their playground. Abandoned for decades, the piers along the elevated West Side Highway became part of the Christopher Street gay scene when men began wandering a few blocks over to the dark and seedy area to cruise. Every pier, dark corner or loading dock in the area was used for a sexual encounter. .  

The piers were dangerous; several men fell to their deaths through the rotting floors and there was also the ever present threat of being robbed by drug addicts, attacked by gay bashers or arrested by the NYPD.

These photos and a few oral histories are all that we have left to document the golden age of New York City's Gay Piers. The Christopher Street Pier, a well a most of the area, was "redeveloped" in 2003 and became part of the Hudson River Park system. There is still a thriving (and slightly dangerous) gay scene that continues to claim the waterfront at the Christopher Street Pier.


  1. There are hundreds of photos of the piers taken by Leonard Fink, some of the above photos are by him. His complete collection is at New York City's LGBT Community Center National History Archive. ( Also at least one of the photos included above is by the well know photographer Arthur Tress.

  2. Lots of sun bathing and cruising in those days, glad I survived the hiv epidemic

  3. I recall the piers back in 1978. A virtual mess of rot and most of New York way back then.Gay men gathered there all year long ! In summer,throngs of nude sunbathers lay on towels sprawled out. By night,it was cruise-central in the derelict and abandoned buildings. This went on all year long !One could see "Miss Marsha" there regularly;sitting on a bucket,nude,masturbating herself to climax and inebriated on booze,ludes,assorted drugs and "jungle-juice." A potent homemade mixture of rat poison,weed killer and paint thinner that you snorted through a tiny straw.OH BOY....those were the days!

  4. Frank Hallam was a prolific photographer during the pier days. He left 500 photos with me on a cd and he also had a showing of his photos at the Leslie Loehman Gallery back in 2012

  5. We were innocents. HIV/AIDS changed everything. I once asked Edmund White, "Is there such a thing as a return to innocence?"