Magali Echevarria: 1948 – 2021

Our Sunday brunch group is known as “The Floozies,” and Magali was our matriarch. Often the only woman at a table full of drunk and bawdy gay men, nobody needed to mind their Ps and Qs around her. The worldly Magali heard it all and it didn’t phase her a bit.

Today, the Floozies lost our matriarch. After not hearing from her for almost a week, I went in to check on her and discovered the worst.

Magali moved from San Francisco four years ago. Below is our origin story as written in House of Villadiva.

Ms. Magali’s Grand Departure

It was around 2003 when my boss Peter, an elegant gay Swedish businessman running a San Francisco property company, abruptly promoted me to a regional manager position after several external hires in a row backed out upon receiving better offers. I was young, about 28, and clearly not ready, but I seized the opportunity.

By far the largest and most complicated property in my portfolio was the historic Cadillac Hotel, which contained over 150 rooms for formerly homeless people above half a dozen commercial spaces. It sat in the heart of the city’s gritty and congested Tenderloin Neighborhood, where at any time of the day or night you were likely to see homeless encampments, prostitution, drug deals, people injecting heroin, and people urinating and defecating on the sidewalk.

Managing the property for decades was Magali, an older, impeccably dressed Cuban woman who had a mythical reputation within the organization. Employee turnover for this type of housing was high, with similar models going through new management teams annually. My friend Wes managed a neighborhood building and was stabbed in the chest by a tenant.

For the most part, corporate policy was to leave Magali alone and pray to God she never left. Magali and the Cadillac were semi-autonomous, mostly reporting directly to the hotel’s hands-on owners, Leroy and Kathy Looper.

I knew that my first order of business was meeting with Magali and making sure she was happy and cared for, so I scheduled a lunch at the famed Cliff House, perched high above the sparkling Pacific and so historically significant, even Mark Twain wrote about it. While Magali was a woman of few words, it was clear she appreciated the way I dealt with her, and the two of us became friends, even doing happy hours on occasion.

Not only was she never attacked by a tenant in all those years, the tenants were wary of her. In Delusions of Grandeur, I recalled a story about one of the times we had to go to court together for an eviction. The tenant was a big, tough-looking ex-con who hadn’t paid his rent, and was making excuses for his lack of payment by citing things he claimed were wrong with the room. The judge pressed him on why he had never reported any of this to management.

The nervous and frustrated tenant stumbled and fumbled before loudly exclaiming, “Your honor, I be AFRAID of Miss Magali!”

When I left after a few years to run an operation in Oklahoma City, she came to visit, and when I then moved to St. Louis, she visited again. I returned to San Francisco for another four years, where I again oversaw the Cadillac.

The gentleman who succeeded me did not have the same regard for Magali, and when Peter retired to Puerto Vallarta the institutional reverence long afforded her all but vanished. After her supervisor came at her the wrong way one too many times, she submitted her notice. She was retirement age anyway, but the problem was she had to leave the manager’s unit she’d been occupying all those years, and the average rent for a studio apartment in the city was more than her entire monthly retirement income.

Born in Cuba, raised in New York, having lived in Puerto Rico, Miami, and then thirty years in San Francisco, moving wasn’t a radical notion, and was something she knew would come at some point. Most San Franciscans, having witnessed the relentless purge of long-term tenants, knew the day would come that they would have to leave. San Francisco was a city for the young and affluent.

She messaged to say that she had quit and would be considering where to move to next.

“If you think you might be interested in St. Louis, I could get you a nice one-bedroom in a lovely neighborhood for $600,” I casually tossed out.

I expected her to possibly consider the offer. Maybe reply with an, “Okay I’ll think about it,” or tell me about all the cities under consideration. Instead, she simply said, “Okay, let’s do that.”

At the time, there were frequent news stories of pets dying on airplanes, and she was worried about her two beloved cats. I spoke to Kage, and we volunteered to fly to San Francisco, rent a car, and drive her and the cats cross country. Three ten-hour days.

I arranged a dinner at the Cliff House for the evening before our departure, and included the surviving Cadillac owner Kathy Looper, who was like a mother to me. The landmark was not only historically significant, but it was personally relevant. I took Magali on several occasions, and once dined there with Kathy Looper and my old boss Peter. I thought of all the history, and how Leroy Looper had since passed away, Peter retired, and how Kathy would be saying goodbye to Magali after so many years. I thought we’d enjoy one last Pacific sunset together.

Even though Mark Twain’s Cliff House story involved fog, I failed to consider the possibility. It was so foggy, you could see the crashing waves below and make out a solitary silhouette on the beach, but nothing more. I wasn’t in the moment as much as I wish I had been either, with some anxiety over a three day drive with cats in the car. But it was still magical, and I’m glad we went.

The next morning we arrived at the Cadillac in a small SUV, and walked in the grand two-story lobby. Rhonda, a young woman who had worked the day shift at the front desk for over five years, gave me a hello pregnant with emotion.

Magali was Queen of the Cadillac, the Leona Hemsley of the Tenderloin (similar intimidating façade but much kinder). Her staff was at her disposal for anything she needed. One evening I was out drinking and decided to stop in with some friends to visit. The elderly Filipino desk clerk was alarmed at the intrusion, and waving his hands said, “No, no, no! Nobody see Miss Magali!” and shooed me away.

Magali was standing with her best friend Jazz and several trusted employees as tenants, scattered about, watched teary-eyed.

“You’re so kind to do this for her,” one woman said.

It struck me because I certainly didn’t see it as an act of charity. She was a friend I enjoyed, and I was always pulling people to St. Louis. But in the Tenderloin, there was a sense of being stuck. Despite being in the middle of everything the city had to offer, it was a containment zone, of sorts. A place of last resort for those with few options, filled with formerly-homeless housing and related services. Even though Magali was not in the same boat as her residents, she did reside at the property, and she had been unsure about where to go. It must have seemed novel for two much younger unrelated men to show up in a shiny new vehicle and whisk her off to a new life far away.

For the tenants and the employees, Magali was an institution, as permanent as the pillars holding up the lobby ceiling. One by one they respectfully said their goodbyes, and it felt like a president leaving the White House for the final time as she made her way out. Even the people on the street, all who knew and respected her, stopped to watch the procession.

I had left the city twice feeling forever young, knowing that Peter was at the helm and that Leroy, Kathy and Magali were at the Cadillac, and they always would be. I felt confident my place was waiting should I ever decide to give it a go for the third time. But the generations before me were vanishing, and I was no longer that young man swinging from the trees. Everything about this departure felt final.

We pulled away from the waving people of the Cadillac knowing the curtains had closed on our San Francisco.

Magali took to St. Louis easily. She loved her apartment near the Missouri Botanical Garden, and even years after living there she’d often say to herself, “so many trees” when we’d drive through the neighborhood.

After living above a busy concrete canyon for decades, Magali never took the lush greenery around her building for granted.

More than anything, though, Magali loved her people in St. Louis. “I’ve never had friends like the ones I have here,” she once said, and of David and Pauly, who included her on holidays, she said, “They are the nicest guys. I wish everyone in the world were like them.”

People in coastal capitals often don’t have the space to entertain in the home , so she was awed by the way St. Louis queens entertain. We’d attend holiday parties every December weekend where couples like John and Kevin, Jon and John, and David and Pauly would open their lavishly decorated homes and where Magali would mingle, often wearing something silky and elegant, with a favorite broach.

Perfect strangers like Karen Irwin sent her care packages during lockdown. Sam Brown, a man I sent to talk to her about cleaning her apartment, became as much of a support to her as me–and refused to take payment.

Read also: RFT profile on Magali

Everything is so fresh, and I’ll likely go through many emotions, but as I stood outside her building this afternoon watching the birds flutter around the balcony flowers, I felt grateful that she died in a place she loved as opposed to some kind of hospital or institution, and I felt profound gratitude for the way this community treated her.

Saying Goodbye to JJ’s Clubhouse

Saying Goodbye to JJ’s Clubhouse 

I don’t think St. Louis has ever had a club with the same kind of urban, Gotham vibe as JJ’s Clubhouse. Situated beneath towering overpasses in a gritty (until recently) part of town, it’s surrounded by elevated train tracks, including those of the Metro, which  practically runs across the roof, and by abandoned or underutilized (until recently) factories and warehouses. In the early days you kind of felt street smart even knowing where it was, and tough for going inside. 

It’s long been a place that exuded masculine energy; a sprawling industrial space that was a favorite of bears, leather guys, and bearded men who skewed older. But its famed dance floor lured the younger crowd from the nearby Grove around midnight.  

When news broke that on Thursday they’d close their doors for good, I asked friends to share their thoughts and memories. 

Tributes 

Countless tributes came in, so I selected a handful for this blog post. Submissions not used here may be used in a future project. Please feel free to share your own in the thread.

“JJ’s is and will always be my favorite bar/club in the St. Louis area that I personally have always felt welcome. I will miss this place greatly.” – Leland L de Masy

“Met two guys who became the single best threesome of my life. Best blackouts – and so worth it. Countless times I forget my credit cards there. And the bartenders, gracious as ever, would call me the next day. ‘Salam, you forgot your card again.’ My response is generally the same, ‘oh shit, thank you! I’ll be in tonight and I’ll use it again. See then!’ One of the Cliques of St. Louis took residence here for a while, which lead into a love-mostly-hate relationship with certain patrons who made a point to spread gossip, not lies though, all which had kicked off after a single bad date with a notorious bad dater. First gay bar that I can say I actually enjoyed my time, the company, and the strangers. It was amazing to be approached by strangers and be able to approach strangers at JJs, as the rest of the Saint Louis gay scene does not typically follow such an approachable mindset.”  -Salam Alhamdy 

“Several years ago, we went to a Chris Andoe soiree in St. Louis, and the bar, Rehab, knew we were coming and left us little party favors (kazoos, hats, etc.) on the tables beforehand. Well, a typhoon came through about six p.m. and destroyed most of the fun trinkets and they were ruined, threw in the trash. Well, Shae Porter managed to save one little silver glittery top hat, which he had on his head. It was humid after the tsunami and Shae was sweating profusely. The bar back handed me a clean bar towel and said “Here, wipe your friend’s face off”, which I did, and then proceeded to take said top hat and apply glitter all over his face. We then went to JJ’s, about two in the morning, and the door guy, about my size, wearing a harness, checked our IDs with a flashlight and then put the light in our face to make sure they matched, He looked at Shae’s, spotlighted his face ‘Goddamned, Girl, did you just rim Tinkerbell?’” – Floyd Martin 

“I liked JJs cause you could be trash there. Got my dick sucked out on the patio there.” – Rocky McCoy 

“When I was a gayby in my early twenties, I realized my hometown area was lacking in much of a gay scene, and the one that existed I didn’t feel connected with. I started going online looking forward places to explore reasonably close by, that’s when I came across gay.com chat rooms for the region. I was quickly swept into the St. Louis chat room where I made a network of friends over a long period of time. Finally, a day came where I was invited by friends I made to come up and visit during a Bear event, “Mr. Heartland Bear.” I fell in love with the magic of it, and that was my first time at Bad Dogs Bar and Grill, and JJ’S CLUBHOUSE. Years went by and I started to meet more people on my visits into St Louis, and brought more and more friends with me over the years, and I always felt welcome, and found friendly company within JJ’S. When I finally did move to St Louis in 2016, I automatically wanted to name JJs as my home bar amongst my group of friends. It seems silly my eyes swell up with tears as I type this but it really is sad it’s closing down. JJs was the place that this gay man who wasn’t size zero pretty twink or drag queen could go and feel accepted with open arms. I want to thank Jeff and Jerry for their 21 years of doing this not just for me, but for thousands if not millions, as well as many other things for our community. I will never in my life forget my first Bear bar, or the friendly company I found therein. To JJs Clubhouse! Woof!” -Chris Dexter 

JJ’s patio

It’s Going to be Weird 

While Thursday is the last night, the optimum time to say goodbye has already passed. Tomorrow is when the community at large, even people who didn’t like JJ’s, will flock to the scene (including a guy who days ago celebrated the closure as part of his recent crusade against body positivity) . If you’re wanting one last opportunity to say goodbye to the JJ’s community, the presence of so many who were never part of that community will feel intrusive. I just want to prepare you. It will feel like going to see a loved one in their final moments, and finding a hospital room full of strangers hanging around. 

I’m basing this off my observations when Clementine’s closed. Monday was the last day, but Sunday was when the community at large came out. That left Monday to the regulars, who toasted and hugged, laughed and cried. That’s something we’re not going to get, so you’ll have to create it in your own clusters, tuning out everything else. 

People keep asking, “where will we go?” From my experience “we” will scatter. 20% will go here, 30% there, and some will stop going out. But there is a market for this kind of bar, and there’s a lot of cheap real estate to be had to make it happen. Just not in the Grove or Midtown. I predict bears will find a new home on South Broadway. 

In the meantime I look forward to being part of St. Louis history tomorrow night, as we come together to celebrate this legendary place people will be talking about for decades to come.

Pre-sale profits of House of Villadiva to benefit Food Outreach

It has been six years since I released Delusions of Grandeur, and while House of Villadiva is a continuation of those tales, I’ve written it so readers unfamiliar with Delusions quickly get up to speed.

The premium “Society Edition,” which aims to grace the finest queer coffee tables, is now available for pre-order. All profits on orders placed with retailers through June 2nd will benefit Food Outreach, which is the only St. Louis area organization whose mission is to provide nutritional support and enhance the quality of life of men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS or cancer.

We are a dramatic people, which makes for interesting stories, but we are also an incredibly giving community. At the end of the day all of the feuds recounted in the book are a kind of performance art, and I love the thought of extracting actual nourishment from them. It’s like we’re composting our differences and raising crops. Our community has no greater natural resource than drama, so let’s tap into it.

“Maven of Mardi Gras” Luann Denten

The $100 Society Edition will be released on June 3rd with a weekend of events. “Maven of Mardi Gras” Luann Denten, known for her Vices and Virtues Ball, will host an opulent red carpet extravaganza at Boo Coo in Soulard, which will be followed by signings throughout the region and a summer book tour. (Please note that retail orders will ship on June 3, so they won’t make it in time for the first signing).

A more affordable black and white edition as well as an ebook will be released later in June.

Size queens rejoice

At 548 pages, this is an enormous book, and there are over a hundred characters mentioned. In many instances actual names were used, with permission. Pseudonyms were used for many reasons, including to maintain continuity with Delusions.

While Delusions chronicled 14 years and was set in multiple cities, House of Villadiva spans six and is set almost entirely in St. Louis. This gave me an opportunity to focus more on character development, and examine the way things intertwine in this place I choose to call home.

Critical Acclaim

House of Villadiva was named “A must-read for 2021” by St. Louis Magazine. Additional reviews can be found here.

Supporting the House

One of the best ways to help spread the word about the book is to invite friends to like the Facebook page. Once you have read the book, please take a moment to leave a review.

I believe House of Villadiva explains St. Louis culture in a way that has never been done, and makes an airtight case that this haunted old metropolis is a fascinating place.

PAID IN FULL: IN ONE WEEKEND THE COMMUNITY PAID ENTIRE COST OF EMBATTLED CHASITY VALENTINO’S DEFENSE

In a single weekend the St. Louis community, along with friends and fellow entertainers from around the country, came together to ensure Chasity Valentino had the legal representation she needed to defend herself against the big money individual who singled her out in a lawsuit. Dozens of donations as modest as $5 added up quickly, followed by an anonymous $740 contribution Sunday evening.

We want to thank everyone who shared the story and who donated. Without representation Chasity would have been easily railroaded. Because of all of you, Chasity can go to court with dignity, and she has more than a fighting chance of winning.

Chasity Valentino

All donors listed in alphabetical order.

Joshua Alexander
Chris Andoe
Jennifer Armer
Alison Bacon
Ryan Bandy
Jerid Bates
Jordan Braxton
Dan Boyer
Mike Campise
Thomas J Choinski
Candace Counts
Patti Daigle
Emma Delaney
Chris Dexter
Jesse Doggendorf
Abby Dorning
Lance Frutiger
Denise Hart
Webster Heffern
Jeffery Houston
Matt Huber
Josh Jordan
Joan Lipkin
Michael Lonergan
Jessica Lyons
Dawn Noel
Arthur Nunn
Lindsey Phoenix
Lisa Reynolds
Kimberly Rockwell
Gregory Schmelig
Ryan Shannon
Nick Stanton
Chris Taylor
Mac Taylor
Jonathan Tennant

Opal Wiley

CHASITY VALENTINO ENSNARED IN DAVID PARDUE’S DEFAMATION SUIT

Pardue’s lawsuit has elevated Chasity Valentino’s stature in the community.

Dozens peacefully demonstrated outside of Hamburger Mary’s St. Louis in July after the firing of drag legend Krista Versace. The termination ignited a much larger conversation among entertainers, former employees, and even customers about allegedly offensive and inappropriate behavior on the part of co-owner David Pardue. 

Trans activist and entertainer Chasity Valentino emerged as one of the protest leaders, and is now one of two individuals singled out in Pardue’s audacious defamation suit. The other individual is producer Chuck Pfoutz

Euclid Media Group, the parent company of Riverfront Times and Out in STL, is also named. Neither publication covered the story or the protest, but Pardue’s attorney is arguing that Euclid is responsible for reporting on chrisandoe.com since I was the editor of Out in STL at the time. While the argument is unusual, it is a common strategy to pursue a link to a party with resources when seeking monetary damages. While mentioned in the filing, I am not being sued.

Anthony Rothert of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri reviewed the file and said, “It does seem like a bullying piece of litigation, particularly against this person [Chasity].” 

Richard C. Reuben of ReubenLaw LLC has agreed to represent her for a flat fee of $2,500. Chasity is young and survives on a limited income, and must now come up with the money or risk a judgment that could reach upwards of a million dollars. 

On July 5, 2020, Chasity stood up for her community. Please stand up for her in return. If you can only give $5, please give it and then ask your friends to donate as well. Chasity doesn’t have David Pardue’s deep pockets, but she has an entire community that has her back. Each donation, regardless of size, is a statement that we stand with Chasity.

For those able to make sizable donations, I’m offering the largest single donor an exclusive evening where I’ll read excerpts from my upcoming book, House of Villadiva to your small group at your home or virtually. Offer is open to anyone in the United States.

Let’s do this.

DONATE

***UPDATE*** Jordan Elizabeth Braxton is offering a Miss Leon’s chicken dinner for 6 to the first person to donate $300 or more.