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It was nine summers after the Stonewall riots ignited a global gay liberation movement. But also saw ramped-up backlash to the fight for equal rights from organizations such as Save Our Children and celebrities such as Anita Bryant. Accardi ingratiated himself with local politicos—former mayors Janet Gray Hayes and Susan Hammer, among others—enough that they helped protect the establishment.

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The ongoing coronavirus outbreak has led one of the two remaining gay bathhouses operating in the Bay Area to permanently close its doors. The Watergarden in San Jose has shuttered for good after four decades in business. Its demise is a blow to South Bay health officials, who had partnered with it over the years to provide HIV testing and prevention services to men who have sex with men in the sprawling Santa Clara County and adjacent areas. Located at The Alameda, the bathhouse had welcomed patrons for 43 years. It was known for its outdoor heated pool and outdoor hot tub that could fit 17 people.

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Throughout the AIDS crises, his position on keeping the Watergarden open has raised controversy in our community. South Bay Times met with Sal to discuss his views on AIDS, bathhouse closings, and some of the other political issues he has been involved with. Q: You are probably best known in our community as the President of the Board of the Watergarden. How has AIDS affected your business? A: We started off with 64 investors when the Watergarden opened up. When AIDS hit a lot of them panicked and it was very difficult to try to make good their investments so quickly. But we set up payment schedules, and I can proudly say that no one has lost a dime; everyone has made a profit In the Watergarden.

On the other hand, my ideal was to have a community bathhouse that was actually owned by the community. I think the Watergarden has, through the employees, the managers, and the executives, developed an advertising program that has been tremendous, a whole promotional concept about how to deal with AIDS.

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To me AIDS is eventually going to make a statement about life, not about death. A: No, not many. Initially, in the beginning of the crises, people were very frustrated. All they saw was the rising statistics of AIDS.

San jose’s watergarden survived homophobia, political shifts, aids—but not coronavirus

And some politicians, especially Diane Feinstein who became obsessed with the issue, got on a vendetta and wanted the baths closed. Actually very few cities have followed suit, thank God. It was forcing people to go into environments where they were going to continue to have sex, but in a less safe environment with no options for cleanliness or for condom use or for safe sex consciousness raising. I thought It was ideal for the baths to be instrumental in being part of the solution rather than being part of the problem.

But politicians want to grandstand, especially when they know homosexuality Is going on.

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They want to use it somehow…. I think gay people are more than sexual objects, but some of them choose to have a more limited persona. The bottom line Is a need for companionship and an affirmation of ourselves as human beings. However, many people have learned to use sex as a means of getting attention and establishing human rapport. They get caught up in the superficial to the extent that they lose sight of their real goal — to become at one with themselves and with each other.

I think that is the bottom line of human sexuality, and if that is true, we should try to foster environments that encourage people to express themselves in a variety of ways as long as they are not laying a trip on somebody else. A: Ironically, the first time I went to college, at Foothill College in the sixties, I was openly gay but conservative. I realize now that there was no chance of winning it, that it was an ignoble war. During the whole period of the flower children and the consciousness raising and the encounters and the gestalt, I got very actively involved in psychology and transactional analysis.

I was very much into that. It was my rebellion, I guess, against the times when I considered myself conservative, I went from conservative fascist to hippie to being a left-wing entrepreneur.

Sal accardi and the watergarden

A: No. I was born In Brooklyn, New York. I had lived in the middle of a Jewish neighborhood and all the people I knew were family people or neighbors that were Jewish. I never understood why we had a Protestant president. The whole world seemed to me to be Irish, Jewish, or Italian. I got in touch with my homosexuality at a very personal level — I had to confront It -when I was seventeen. I got all sick. But I got over that period and went to the other extreme.

I became vociferous in my gayness. At the time it was not so much political but a psychological reinforcement for myself. The more I talked about it, the more comfortable I was. It was a way to stir people, and it worked. I was very popular in high school, in the sense that even though I was openly gay, I was very successful as an actor.

I was very popular even with the football team — we used to play poker games on Fridays and Saturdays at my house. It was as simple as that, and from then on my homosexuality, I feel, has been an advantage to me. I like to deal with the issue. It gives me a way to confront society and shake up society. A: Yes. I went to Foothill and San Jose State.

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I was a Jack-of-all trades -It was a small operation -I was a receptionist, I was a laundry person, etc. Up until then I had had a lover for five years. It was a very closed, quiet, paranoid, uptight relationship. He was unhappy and I was unhappy for the last two years of that relationship. After we broke up I was forced to find my first bar, the Locker Room, and I paced for two hours up and down the street before I had the courage to walk In. He had spotted me! After that I thought the best way to get involved, and a more comfortable way to get involved than by being a patron, was to become a cocktail waiter… I could be the person In control, I could limit it, and I could be less inhibited.

During my time at San Jose State I also co-founded the gay student union there.

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There was a lesbian friend of mine in the drama department, and we wanted to make some waves. It was done almost for fun at first, but then we realized that there was a need there.

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We started having semesterly elections, and so on. A lot of people wanted to get Involved for social reasons; I was Into It for political reasons, to make a statement.

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I regret that now, but I was politically active from early on. I see the Watergarden as a cause, not just a business.

There was a need for a bathhouse when I opened It, and It was a political statement. We have a lot of business dealings and we try to spend our money within the gay community to keep other businesses going. Sometimes I pay a little more for that, and sometimes I have no choice — we suffer discrimination. I think of myself as very Italian. And for the public record, I am not a member of any Mafia organization, even though I am three quarters Sicilian!

A: I love food, as you can see. I love to eat, and every now and then I love to cook. Predominantly Italian restaurants.

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I like to read a lot, magazines and books, mostly biographies, be they political biographies, historical biographies, or Hollywood-type biographies. I love movies, and I like television. To the disappointment of my lover I can look forward to a whole weekend of going home on Friday evening when I get out of work, taking off my clothes, and literally staying In bed for three days, reading, watching television, and from time to time petting my cat.

I also like the peace and tranquility of going to the Russian river or going fishing, and I like theatre a lot — I go to New York usually every year. They seem to be better developed than me. I wonder if there is a correlation between that?