The Stonewall Inn is one of the most significant sites associated with LGBT history in New York City and the entire country. On Saturday, June 28, 1969, at about 1:30 AM, a routine police raid on this gay bar in Greenwich Village resulted in active resistance, setting off five days of demonstrations, with unprecedented cries for “gay pride” and “gay power.”
This reaction was not typical during a raid, as patrons of gay bars tended to disperse in order to avoid issues with the police.
As mentioned in the National Historic Landmark nomination:
Instead of dispersing, the crowd became increasingly angry as the Stonewall’s employees and patrons were arrested. Soon participants began chanting, throwing pennies, beer cans and other objects, and the police were forced back into the bar. Reinforcements were called in, and for several hours the police tried to clear the streets while the crowd fought back. Over the next few evenings the uprising continued. Two quiet nights followed before the final episode of street fighting occurred, late Wednesday evening and early Thursday morning, July 2nd and 3rd. The street events occurred outside the Stonewall Inn, in Christopher Park (across the street from the bar), along Christopher Street between Seventh Avenue South and Greenwich Avenue, and along adjacent streets, notably Waverly Place, Gay Street, Greenwich Avenue, Sixth Avenue and West 10th Street. At its peak, the crowd included several thousand people.
The struggle for gay rights did not actually begin at Stonewall, as a number of gay and lesbian groups in New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other cities had long been pleading for the right to be recognized and for an end to discrimination.
However, the Stonewall rebellion sparked the next major phase of the Gay Liberation Movement, which involved more radical political action and assertiveness during the 1970s. Groups such as the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), Radicalesbians, and the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) were organized within months of Stonewall.
“By the time of Stonewall, we had fifty to sixty gay groups in the country. A year later there was at least fifteen hundred. By two years later, to the extent that a count could be made, it was twenty-five hundred. And that was the impact of Stonewall.”
The events at Stonewall have also inspired the LGBT pride movement. The first anniversary of the rebellion was commemorated in June 1970 as Christopher Street Liberation Day; the main event was a march from Greenwich Village to Central Park, one of the first ever Gay Pride Parades. The celebration has since evolved into the internationally-recognized LGBT Pride Month. In 1989, in honor of the twentieth anniversary of the rebellion, the section of Christopher Street in front of the Stonewall Inn was renamed Stonewall Place. Three years later, in 1992, the George Segal-designed work, Gay Liberation, was installed across the street in Christopher Park. Today, LGBT people from around the world continue to visit the Stonewall site and recognize it as a major symbol of civil rights. For instance, on June 26, 2015, a large crowd gathered in celebration here after the United States Supreme Court declared state bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
The two buildings that comprised the Stonewall Inn were originally built in the 1840s as stables. They are within the Greenwich Village Historic District, which was designated by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) on April 29, 1969 – just months before the rebellion that catalyzed the LGBT rights movement. The Stonewall was the first site listed on the National Register of Historic Places (1999) for its LGBT history, and the first LGBT National Historic Landmark in the U.S. (2000). On June 23, 2015, the LPC designated Stonewall a New York City Landmark, which was the first time the agency officially recognized a site primarily for its importance to LGBT history.
For a more in-depth account of the significance of Stonewall to LGBT rights history, see the National Historic Landmark nomination. The nomination also includes a bibliography for further reading.
Architect or Builder: William Bayard Willis, alteration architect
Year Built: 1930, two existing buildings combined with one façade
Building Style: Arts & Crafts
- Christopher D. Brazee, Gale Harris, and Jay Shockley, “150 Years of LGBT History,” New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, 2014.
- David Carter, Andrew Scott Dolkart, Gale Harris, and Jay Shockley, “Stonewall National Historic Landmark Nomination,” January 1999.
National Register of Historic Places, 1999
National Historic Landmark, 2000
New York City Landmark, June 23, 2015