For a decade and a half, The Club House on Upshur Street NW was a members-only place were black gay men could party until sunrise. It was chic, underground and safe. Mayor Marion Barry and Councilwoman Charlene Drew Jarvis, now a candidate for mayor, held victory celebrations there. At its height, the club reportedly had 3,600 members from all over the world.

Now it has closed its doors.

By 1985, membership began to slide, said Club House founder Aundrea Scott. Club mailings announcing future parties told him why: returned letters increasingly said the addressee was deceased. AIDS was killing Club House members.

"By May, we had close to 300 names {of members} that we had lost," said Scott, now director of the Inner City AIDS Network. "For a community that was in denial {about AIDS}, the sudden realization that this was happening in the black community began to slap people in the face."

A similar realization had struck in Dupont Circle two years earlier.

"When AIDS first became a reality, there was a sense of panic and a lack of control in the gay community," said Don Michaels, publisher of the Washington Blade, the city's weekly gay newspaper.

A growing number of deaths in the white gay community during the winter of 1982 galvanized gay leaders to hold an AIDS fundraiser, the District's first, in February 1983. It netted $4,000 -- a paltry sum compared to the more than $600,000 raised in Washington last month by the all-star Art Against AIDS gala.

While Washington's gay community was slower to react to the epidemic than its counterparts in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City, it was no less transformed.

One of the most significant responses was the explosive growth of the Whitman-Walker Clinic. Once an 18th Street store front in Adams-Morgan begun in the early 1970s as a venereal disease clinic for gay men, Whitman-Walker is now a $6-million-a-year operation at 14th and S streets NW that serves both whites and blacks, gay and straight, men and women infected with AIDS.

"The VD clinic was the relevant AIDS resource," said clinic administrator Jim Graham. "We were poised to respond. We used it as a foundation to build our AIDS program."

Now the clinic's 87 staffers (including two full-time doctors and five nurses) and 1,500 volunteers care for 800 HIV-infected individuals and 700 people with AIDS. They also run an AIDS education program, nine housing units in the Washington area, including a soon-to-be-opened house for HIV-positive women with children, a licensed pharmacy and offer legal services and support groups.

More recently, the black community, including a much less-well-organized black gay community, has been mounting its own efforts to help those with AIDS. The black effort, however, has splintered among half a dozen organizations and enjoys less support from the general community.

"When the black gay and straight community was in no way responding to AIDS, we put it all on the white gay community to provide services," said Harold Burris, director of Intergroup Minority Project AIDS Consortium and Trust, or IMPACT DC.

Unlike Whitman-Walker, which receives 60 percent of its budget from contributions, most of the black programs rely on city government funds. With an annual budget of $228,950, IMPACT provides free AIDS services primarily in the black community, but limits its number of cases to around 100. Health officials estimate that of blacks and Hispanics with AIDS, 70 percent are gay.

During the past decade, AIDS has given Washington's white gay community new political urgency. Existing white organizations, such as 19-year-old, 300-member Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA) and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force have provided much of the leadership on combating the disease. AIDS also has helped form new black gay groups, such as the D.C. Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays, the Melvin Boozer Leadership Roundtable and the D.C. Women's Council on AIDS, which focuses on women's issues and has both lesbians and heterosexuals as members.

The drive for domestic partnership legislation in the city, for example, arose because hospitals barred longtime companions of AIDS patients from playing any role in a patient's medical treatment -- such as discontinuing intensive care if the person was in a coma -- because unmarried partners are not legally family members.

Gay activism led the city to set up the D.C. Domestic Partners Commission to resolve the legal relationships between people who live together, both homosexual and heterosexual. The commission held a hearing in March, and a report to the mayor and D.C. City Council is due later this summer.

AIDS also changed the gay social scene. In the District, the free-wheeling days of the late 1970s, in which promiscuity was common in bath houses and the back rooms of bars, has been abandoned.

"It is the ending of an era," said Scott when the Club House shut down after a three-day bash over Memorial Day weekend. "People are staying home to watch their health. It's time for serious living now."

Only one gay bath house, The Club Baths in Southeast Washington, remains open. None of the local gay bars reportedly continues operating back rooms where men can meet for anonymous sex.

One indication that the message of "safe sex" has been adopted by the gay community is the decline in other sexually transmitted diseases. At Whitman-Walker, rectal gonorrhea rates have fallen nearly ninefold -- to 61 cases last year -- from the average rate of 530 cases a year between 1979 and 1985; syphilis cases are down by half in the same period.

In some ways, the gay community has learned to live with, even adapt to, AIDS. "We are seeing that life can go on for people who are positive or negative {for HIV}," said Roger Doughty, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activist Alliance. "I don't think there is any drift away from being concerned about it, but it is not as pervasive and overwhelming as it was a few years ago."