"Blue Bonnet Court"

Frank A. Mills

Blue bonnet Court, Austin
Blue Bonnet Court, Austin, TX

The Blue Bonnet Court is the place of stories—real, imagined and fictional. If you look into the nooks and crannies of every story, you will find the Side Street God.

It is real place. It is a fictional place. It is a spiritual place where people reveal their true selves.

Where to begin?

Perhaps, the place to begin is with my story:

Living in Austin, I would wander about, camera in hand, to see what there was to see. On one of those wanders, I discovered the Blue Bonnet Court. My intention was to take pictures, instead I heard stories. There was the biker, the elderly “hooker” (her word), the crippled vet, the immigrant, and the grumpy owner who thought I was the health department. The stories were not success stories. The stories were stories of unrealized dreams and messed up lives. Yet, as each story was shared – revealed – the Side Street God moved through them. “I thank God that I have a place to live.” “See (name) over there, she makes sure I eat.” “No one here cares if I am illegal or not.

And although the face was worn and hard, the smile was beautiful. Smile or not, I could see the face of the Side Street God.

Well, that is my Blue Bonnet Court story. Now let’s hear the fictional one. A story that although not a real one, is more real than fictional.

Set in 1944, in the shadow of World War II. It was the ending days of the Great Depression and the waning days of the glamor of Hollywood. The dawn of the American Century. Amidst the growing self-assurance of a nation, “Bluebonnet Court” lays bare the darker realities of racism, anti-Semitism, ethnicity, sexual tensions and man-made gods.

Eighty years ago—no different today.

“Bluebonnet Court” (2006) a dramady written by Joshua Irving Gershick, is not a religious play, but it is a spiritual one. In it, the Side Street God (nor God) is not mentioned once, but always present as the characters struggle to be their real selves.

A closeted lesbian, Hearst Sob Sister (1) journalist, and a somewhat closeted Jew, Helen Burke (Berkowitz) is on her way to California to meet up with her also closeted lover, Hollywood star, Laura Stanton, when her car breaks down on the edge of a small Texas down. Waiting for her car to be repaired, Helen is forced to take up residence in a seedy hotel, the Bluebonnet Court,” upsetting the already delicate balance between the residents:

A miserably unhappy owner and her perpetually inebriated, war veteran husband. Their Black chambermaid, outwardly differential, inwardly strong, who enters into a romantic relationship with Helen. And lastly, the town’s “hostess,” whom the script describes as a “cherry librarian” and a “tramp by night.”

With the arrival of Helen, masks are removed and secrets revealed, often with comic, but mostly, tragic effects. The “Bluebonnet Court” asks: Do we have the courage to reveal our true selves if the stakes are nothing less than literal death or life?

Is this not the ultimate spiritual question?

Now we come to the story of the playwright, Joshua Irving Gershick, nee Zsa Zsa Gershick.

“Bluebonnet Court,” was inspired by the real Bluebonnet and the stories Zsa Zsa heard from the quests walking by the Court on her way home from (then) teaching at Austin Community College. However, it is, I believe, no less inspired by Gershick’s own story of revealing one’s true self.

Gershick knows well the struggles that “Bluebonnet Court” and his other plays examine. He knows the death and life risk of revealing one’s true self. For Gershick it was coming to terms with his sexuality, which as he puts was living as “a boy in a girl suit in boy clothing.”

It was also about embracing his “discovered” Jewishness.

When “Bluebonnet Court” was written (2006), Gershick was Zsa Zsa Gershick who had come out as a lesbian. Yet, as a child Zsa Zsa thought of herself as a boy. It was when he truly embraced his Jewishness in a spiritual way that he felt free to become his transition as a male.

But we get to that we need to take a step backwards to that time as an adult, Zsa Zsa came out as a lesbian. It was risky and bold move. For Zsa Zsa, coming out was about standing up and doing the riskiest thing she could think, she enlisted in the military. The risk-taking, as well as female side, is part of Gershick’s identity as a trans-male: “(B)eing transgendered means that I am fully embracing all that I am – my male and female.”

However, it wasn’t until he introduced himself as Joshua, that he could say, “It was like a robe of chains fell off of me.” And it is “Joshua” that refers to another struggle, his Jewish identity.

Gershick lives with his wife and producing partner, Elissa Barrett (2), in a North Hollywood home whose original deed says, “No Negroes or Jews.” As Zsa Zsa (3), he lived in Texas for five years during a time when Jews were very quiet about their Jewishness.” The Shul had services on Sunday rather than Saturday, so as not to be obvious.

Zsa Zsa grew up in the San Francisco Bay area in a family that although Jewish was so assimilated that she attended a Catholic school and didn’t find out she was Jewish until she was 13. The family chose to be shiksa (Christian) out of fear of never being able to have a good job or buy a house. His father was both a closeted Jewish and Gay man, but never let anyone know.

It was on a vacation to Israel that her mother “came out” as Jewish, and Zsa Zsa, along with her (but not her dad) embraced their Jewishness.

And this shows up in “Bluebonnet Court,” for the play is all about embracing who you are.

Zsa Zsa had a lot of catching up to do with new realization of being Jewish. She went to Israel and for a while, became a member of a “coven” of Jewish lesbian feminists in San Francisco. But it wasn’t until age 40 when she met Rabbi Lisa Edwards of Beth Chayim Chadadhim (3), that she truly connected as a spiritual Jew.

It was here too, that Gershick came out as a trans-male in a derash (sermon). “For me,” Gershick notes, “being transgender means I am fully embracing all that I am — my female, my male — and being just authentic.”

And with the transition to male Zsa Zsa took the name “Joshua” – “God is my salvation. The God of the side streets works in mysterious ways.

There is one last story to tell, and is the story of the real Blue Bonnet Court Motor Hotel:

Built in 1929 on the then outskirts of Austin – still a bit of the wild west – on the only road between Dallas and Austin, the Blue Bonnet Tourist Camp (as it was then known) was a welcomed temporary home to the weary traveler, the drummer, the carpetbagger, and the outlaw—sometimes simultaneously. The Blue Bonnet was the site of at least one murder, and for a while home to the notorious Baby Face Nelson and his gang, supposedly unknown to the owners, which is doubtful.

Built directly across the street from the Texas State Lunatic Asylum (now the Texas State Mental Hospital) the Blue Bonnet sheltered families visiting patients, and on occasion (it is whispered) a few escaped patients.

In the 60s, the Blue Bonnet housed up and coming traveling musicians such as Texas native, Janis Joplin. Austin, even then was a stepping stone up. Located just up the road from the Strip, home to the University of Texas, the Blue Bonnet was a popular place for a student tryst.

Today, more of a flop house than a motel, the stories haven’t changed much. Ghosts of lost loves, abandoned dreams, reckless nights and messed up lives permeate the rooms of the real Blue Bonnet, just as they do in the play and in the Blue Bonnet Courts scattered along the road. And the same is true for us.

We are still in need of meeting the Side Street God.


1. A Hearst Sob Sister was a journalist who specialized in tear-rendering stories, a main-stay of Hearst Newspapers in the 30s and 40s.
2. Barrett and Gershick were a couple prior to Gershick becoming trans-male.
3. Although Gershick’s preferred pronoun is “he” and uses “Joshua Irving” as his name, to keep the context easier to follow, I have chosen to use “she”and Zsa Zsa where appropriate.
4. Beth Chayim Chadadhim, Founded in 1972 as the world’s first synagogue by and for gay and lesbian Jews.


“The Jew in the Closet,” Pat Launer, San Diego Jewish Review, April 2008.
“Cover Story: Josuha Gershick,” Julie Gruwnbaum Fax, Jewish Journal, May 7, 2015.
“Bluebonnet Court by Joshua Irving Gershick,” NPX: New Play Exchange

This piece originally appeared on the SIDE STREET GOD website. Sept. 11, 2023 © Frank A. Mills