02/13/2012 03:30 pm ET Updated Feb 13, 2012

AIDS Memorial Quilt Returns To San Francisco (PHOTOS)

In 1987, a group of San Franciscans created a quilt to honor the memories of loved ones lost to AIDS. Over the last 25 years, the quilt has traveled the country and transformed into a 54-ton tapestry with more than 45,000 panels. And now, the AIDS Memorial Quilt has finally returned home.

On Sunday, teary-eyed supporters gathered in San Francisco's Castro District to welcome 312 panels of the quilt -- the largest San Francisco display since 1999, when the NAMES Project Foundation (the quilt's caretaker) moved from San Francisco to Atlanta.


"I deeply regret allowing the quilt to leave San Francisco," said political activist Cleve Jones -- the original creator of the quilt and one of the nation's strongest voices in gay and human rights -- at its revealing ceremony. "And I'm glad it's home."

Until February 20, portions of the quilt will be on display free of charge at the former Tower Records store at 2287 Market Street, and at Under One Roof, Catch Restaurant Body and Bank of America in the Castro.

At the ceremony, San Francisco leaders including Jones, Supervisor Scott Weiner, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Under One Roof Executive Director Beth Feingold and Senator Mark Leno spoke to the crowd about the importance of the quilt and the continued fight against AIDS.

"The quilt was never made to be a passive memorial," said Jones to the San Francisco Chronicle. "We built it to be a weapon in the war against AIDS, intolerance, stigma, shame and politicians whose inactions contributed to the spread of the disease."

The ceremony also included an eight-hour reading of the names of those lost to AIDS.

"By revealing the humanity behind the statistics, the AIDS Memorial Quilt helps teach compassion, triumphs over taboo, stigma and phobia, and inspires individuals to take direct responsibility for their own well-being and that of their family, friends and community," said NAMES Project co-founder Mike Smith to the San Jose Mercury News.

See photos of the ceremony and the quilt in the slideshow below, courtesy of Maurice Kelly and Tommy Dillon: