Queer Places:
Tilden Hotel, 345 Taylor St, San Francisco, CA 94102
Mountain View Cemetery Oakland, Alameda County, California, USA

Photo illustration of Douglas Tilden from San Francisco Call article in 1903.Douglas Tilden (May 1, 1860 to August 5, 1935) was an American sculptor. He was deaf from a bout of scarlet fever at the age of four and attended the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley, California (now in Fremont, California).[1][2] He sculpted many statues that are located today throughout San Francisco, Berkeley, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Historians and art critics alike have noted Tilden’s unusual penchant for portraying in his artwork --- almost exclusively --- muscular young men, often scantily clad or completely nude. The most prominent example is the Mechanics Monument on San Francisco’s Market Street, with its five near-nude machine workers (annually festooned with live young men who climb up for a view of the Lesbian and Gay Freedom Day Parade). Other local examples of Tilden’s work include “The Tired Boxer” in the DeYoung Museum, “The Bear Hunt” (showing two loincloth-clad young Indian men fighting a bear) now at the School for the Deaf in Fremont, and “The Ball Player” (a tall, slender baseball player tensing before a pitch) now in Golden Gate Park. Douglas Tilden’s lifelong fascination with the young male body has inevitably raised questions about his sexual orientation, questions which for the moment are only speculations based on readings of his artistic works. On the Berkeley campus, his portrayal of two young football players sharing a tender, bonding moment has been referred to as the “gay statue” from at least the 1970s. Thus “queered” by the campus community, it has helped establish a sense of place for gays and lesbians within the University.

Douglas Tilden was born on May 1, 1860 to Dr. William Peregrine Tilden and Catherine Maria Hecox Tilden in Chico, California. When he was four, he lost his hearing and speech after a severe bout of scarlet fever.[3] Tilden entered the California School for the Deaf (then located in San Francisco) on January 25, 1866, studying under Theophilus d'Estrella.[3] He moved with the School to a location near the University of California, Berkeley campus at what is now the Clark Kerr Campus student residence in 1869 and graduated in 1879.[1] After graduating, he went on to attend and teach at UC Berkeley, where he studied with Francis Marion Wells. Tilden picked up sculpting in 1883, producing a small statuette entitled Tired Wrestler in 1885 which drew the attention of the board of the California School for the Deaf. The board subsequently offered him an opportunity to pursue sculpting and in 1887, he left Berkeley to attend the Academy of Design in New York, and from there, left to study art in Paris.[1] After arriving in Paris in 1888, Tilden studied under Paul-François Choppin, another deaf sculptor.[3] After several successful years in Paris, Tilden returned to the California School for the Deaf in 1893; however, after getting married in 1896, Tilden left the School to pursue sculpting full-time under reportedly acrimonious terms. Because his stint in Paris had been paid by the School, they felt he should continue to serve as a teacher, while Tilden felt his schooling had been a gift. In return, the California School for the Deaf confiscated one of Tilden's early artworks, The Bear Hunt, as payment.[4][5]


The Football Players (1900) in 2013

Mechanics Monument by Douglas Tilden - San Francisco, CA - DSC03542.JPG
Mechanics Monument by Douglas Tilden (1860-1935)

Tilden was first recognized for his sculpture while in Paris. His first exhibited work, entitled The National Game, The Baseball Player, or The Ball Player, was a sculpture of a baseball pitcher in his windup. The sculpture was admitted to the prestigious Salon event in 1889, where it won a medal.[1][6] This was followed by The Tired Boxer (exhibited at the Salon Paris in 1890), The Young Acrobat (Salon 1891), The Bear Hunt (Salon 1892), and The Football Players (Salon 1893).Albronda 1994, p. 90 Many detect a certain homoeroticism in his works because they feature young athletic men who are often unclothed. In the Football Players, many people have noted that the scene of two young football players, one is injured and resting on the shoulder of another, and the other is tenderly bandaging the wounds, shows the intimate male bonding in sports as of interdependence between the players. The gay and lesbian community has adopted the statue as representing the best ideal of the visible queer community on the Berkeley campus.[7] He was a member of the National Sculpture Society.[8] The Football Players marked the beginning of Tilden's association with his most important patron, James D. Phelan, who commissioned Tilden's next major work after returning to the Bay Area, the Admission Day fountain installed on Market Street in 1897. In 1901, Tilden was declared "violently insane" after an incident at his father-in-law's house where he without warning "began destroying the furniture in the room" in which his family was gathered.[9] The incident had been exaggerated by a household servant. Tilden had returned home early and, forgetting his key, had entered the house through an open window. The servant, who had been recently hired and believed this to be uncharacteristic of his employer, locked Tilden in his room, and Tilden attempted to alert others that he was trapped by hammering on the door. The frightened servant then called for the police, who took Tilden away to a mental hospital.[10] After separating from his wife Bessie in 1918, Tilden moved into his studio and worked for the Hal Roach Studio, sculpting animals for movie sets.[3]

On June 9, 1896, Tilden was married to Elizabeth "Bessie" Cole, a former student of his, also deaf.[27] Although the union produced two children, a daughter Gladys (born January 5, 1900) and a son Willoughby Lee (born September 4, 1903), it was not to prove to be a happy one. Over the years Mrs. Tilden was subject to "melancholia spells" which, among things, placed a large amount of pressure on the relationship. They separated and Mrs. Tilden, who for years had managed their properties, rented out his studio to a theater group, forcing Tilden to do his sculpting in a shed. As they grew farther apart Tilden's lawyer wrote: "Furthermore, the wife (Bessie) has knowledge of personal indescressions [sic] in the personal conduct of Mr. Tilden which would deprive him of any capacity to stand in court, as we say, "with clean hands." Mr. Tilden claims that Mrs. Tilden has been indescrete [sic]." The couple separated in 1918, and Bessie subsequently filed for divorce in 1924, which was finalized in 1926.[3][28] Tilden was found dead in his Berkeley studio on August 6, 1935.[3] He is buried in the Cole family plot of Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California with his ex-wife Bessie (died 1949) and Willoughby (died 1931).[29] In 2017, the Tilden Hotel at Taylor & O'Farrell in San Francisco was renamed to honor Douglas Tilden; it originally opened as the Linden Hotel in 1928 and was renamed almost immediately to the Hotel Mark Twain.[30][31]


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