Project Update

James Baldwin NYC residence added to National Register of Historic Places

September 12, 2019

We are extremely pleased to share the news that the James Baldwin Residence, located at 137 West 71st Street, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

This announcement comes after two years of focused effort on behalf of the Project, and soon after the author and civil rights activist’s Upper West Side rowhouse’s designation as an NYC Individual Landmark during #Stonewall50 and WorldPride.

     

Photos: (l) Tax photo of 137 West 71st Street, 1964 (a year before James Baldwin bought the building). Courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives; (r) 137 West 71st Street, on the Upper West Side, 2016. Credit: Christopher D. Brazee/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project.

 

The nomination was initiated and researched by the Project as part of a National Park Service grant to increase LGBT diversity on the National Register, facilitated by the New York State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). The NYS SHPO confirmed on September 3, 2019, the official listing of the New York City site.

As a gay black author, civil rights activist, and social commentator, Baldwin transformed, and continues to transform, discussions about race and sexuality in America and abroad.

Seeing James Baldwin’s NYC residence listed on the National Register of Historic Places is the realization of our mission, in part, to increase LGBT representation on this important official inventory of sites and to formally recognize the U.S. home most closely associated with Baldwin, a pivotal voice of 20th century America. We are delighted that our years of research into Baldwin’s connections to New York City and this home, specifically, have resulted in the site’s recognition at both the local, state, and national levels.

The National Register listing follows the site’s listing on the State Register of Historic Places, which occurred on July 15, 2019.

Literary icon and civil rights activist James Baldwin used this Upper West Side remodeled rowhouse as his New York City residence from 1965 until his death in 1987. Although he generally eschewed labels and did not self-identify as gay, he was open about the fact that he had relationships with men and spoke openly about various LGBT issues. He first wrote about his own sexuality in his 1985 essay, “Freaks and the American Ideal of Manhood.” Baldwin wrote several novels that featured gay and bisexual characters, such as his groundbreaking second novel, Giovanni’s Room (1956), and spoke openly about same-sex relationships and LGBT issues.

“The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project has created a national model for recognizing the underrepresented history of LGBT New Yorkers. We are truly grateful for this collaboration and congratulate the LGBT Historic Sites Project on this latest achievement of officially designating the residence of gay author, activist and New Yorker, James Baldwin, to the National Register, said Erik Kulleseid, Commissioner of the NYS Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation (SHPO).

The National Register of Historic Places is the federal government’s honorary list of sites deemed significant to American history and includes over 93,500 sites across the country, yet the LGBT community remains vastly underrepresented with less than twenty sites. To date, the Project has been involved with seven of the 22 LGBT-related listings on the National Register. Additionally, the Project authored the Historic Context Statement for LGBT History in New York City (2018) to help guide the New York State Historic Preservation Office and New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in evaluating LGBT historic sites. The Project is also surveying sites that appear eligible for official listing and is nominating sites to the National Register of Historic Places; see what has been listed so far in New York City.

The James Baldwin Residence was designated a NYC Individual Landmark by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission on June 18, 2019, at the onset of WorldPride and a month of celebration in lead-up to the 50th anniversary of the game-changing Stonewall uprising. The Project’s research served as a key foundation for the Commission’s evaluation of this and five other LGBT historic sites; its advocacy brought a wave of public support to these sites in advance of their important public hearing before the Commission. The Project remains grateful to all those who supported these designations, in particular New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a champion for preservation LGBT history in New York City. Revisit the Project’s testimony on the James Baldwin Residence (here).