Project has led in preserving L.G.B.T. sites
May 26, 2019
By: Gabe Herman
The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project is a young organization, headed by veteran preservationists, that is having a big impact in protecting local L.G.B.T. sites, plus increasing awareness of the community’s importance to the city and country.
The Project’s Web site has mapped 175 historical and cultural sites in the five boroughs that are associated with the L.G.B.T. community. Shockley said they plan to increase that soon to 200, and are working on documenting every Broadway theater with connections to the community.
“Our project virtually is the history of New York City, but done through an L.G.B.T. lens,” Shockley said. Sites date back to the 17th century, and go up to as recent as 2000. In keeping with the preservationist spirit, only sites still in existence are mapped.
Shockley said the L.G.B.T. community has had an outsized impact on American history and culture, but that some friends and colleagues of the project’s founders didn’t understand their mission at first.
“Even within the gay community, there was this self-imposed myth that there was no history prior to Stonewall,” Shockley said.
Some people they knew also questioned whether there were important sites beyond gay bars.
“We had to destroy those two myths,” he said.
The Project launched with the first-ever L.G.B.T. grant from the National Park Service, for $50,000, from the agency’s Underrepresented Community Grant Program.
Some of the categories of sites that the Project maps include performance venues, medical facilities, residences, public spaces and cultural and educational institutions.
And the Project was instrumental in recently getting six L.G.B.T. historic sites calendared by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. The hearing is set for June, which is also the 50thanniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
Those six sites include Caffe Cino and the L.G.B.T. Community Center in the Village, the Women’s Liberation Center in Chelsea, and the Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse in Soho.
“We are thrilled that our research was a catalyst for the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s review of cultural landmarks, which highlight the rich L.G.B.T. history of New York City,” said Dolkart in a statement when the six sites were calendared. “We met with the commission’s chairperson, Sarah Carroll, and her staff to discuss how important L.G.B.T.-related sites are to the history of New York, and are pleased that these cultural sites may soon be designated alongside the city’s architectural landmarks, adding to the diversity of places officially recognized by the city.”
The roots of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project go back to the early 1990s, according to Shockley. The group’s founders were involved in 1993 in a mapping project with the Organization of Lesbian and Gay Architects and Designers, or OLGAD. A networking group, it was one of the first efforts by gay people to connect professionally, Shockley said.
The map was the first L.G.B.T. site-based history project in America, and half of the sites were in the Village.
“We were the first people in the Unites States to connect the fact that the L.G.B.T. community had history,” Shockley said.
Shockley worked at L.P.C. for more than 35 years, where he started to incorporate L.G.B.T history into designation reports, many of them concerning Village locations.
In 1994, there was a push to landmark the Stonewall Inn on the riots’ 25th anniversary. But the attempt didn’t succeed until five years later, when Shockley and Dolkart were lead authors in the Stonewall nomination.
The Stonewall Inn was declared a national monument in 2016.
“Everything from Stonewall came from people in our project,” Shockley said. “Obama didn’t wave a magic wand when it became a national monument. We did the groundwork.”
And the Project’s work continues, as it has been recognized with preservation awards. The organization was given the New York State Historic Preservation Award last November, and in 2019 the Excellence in Historic Preservation Award from the Preservation League of New York State.
Shockley acknowledged the magnitude of the Project trying to map so many sites related to the L.G.B.T. community, especially because there isn’t just a single topic on which to focus.
“Our community has impacted everything that has ever happened in this city,” he said.
Protect LGBT History with Just One Click
May 24, 2019
On Tuesday, June 4th, the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission will hold a public hearing to consider the designation of six New York City sites for landmark designation based on their cultural significance to LGBT and American history. We need you to write letters, attend the hearing and spread the word! We must show the Commission and the City that the LGBT community and its allies support the designation of these important place-based historic sites!
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Attend the hearing on Tuesday, June 4th at 1 Centre Street, 9th Floor. All members of the public are permitted to speak for up to 3 minutes on each item up for consideration. What should you say? (1) State your name; (2) State your professional qualifications, if relevant; (3) Express your strong support for the designation of the six LGBT historic sites and briefly explain why.
Available to attend but not comfortable testifying? Our collective physical presence speaks volumes. Please come.
Write a letter in support! If unable to attend, please submit your support in writing to the public record. As with testimony at the public hearing (see above), your letter should state why you believe the six sites (see our summaries for each below) are culturally significant and deserving of designation. Email your letter to LPC Chair, Sarah Carroll, at [email protected].
Not sure what to say? Pressed for time? We’ve made it easy with this one-click letter, below!
Instagram! Twitter! Facebook! Tell your friends and contacts to join you in supporting the designation of these six LGBT historic sites!
I support designation of LGBT historic sites as cultural landmarks. Sign on before the June 4th hearing of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission: http://www.
- Audre Lorde Residence,
207 St. Paul’s Avenue, Staten Island (more)
- Caffe Cino,
31 Cornelia Street, Manhattan (more)
- LGBT Community Center,
208 West 13th Street, Manhattan (more)
- James Baldwin Residence,
137 West 71st Street, Manhattan (more)
- Women’s Liberation Center,
243 West 20th Street (more)
- Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse,
99 Wooster Street, Manhattan (more)
May 20, 2019
Facts matter. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, the Project is highlighting how place-based research and documentation are important tools used to clarify some of the myths and misinformation surrounding the iconic Stonewall Inn and the history-making riots of June 1969.
Here’s what you’ve heard: The original establishment opened in 1930 as Bonnie’s Stone Wall, a tearoom at 51-53 Christopher Street. Bonnie was said to be the lesbian owner; Stone Wall supposedly selected in homage to The Stone Wall, the pseudonymous lesbian memoir by Mary Casals published in 1930. It was considered a notorious tearoom and raided by the police.
Fantastic and colorful … but false (with the exception of the address)
The romantic story of the lesbian owner Bonnie and her desire to reference Mary Casals’ book is in print and often repeated, but newspaper accounts, conveyance documents, phone listings and other contemporary — albeit unromantic — sources used by historic preservationists reveal that to simply not be the case. The factual account of the Stonewall Inn’s name has no direct LGBT associations, but is steeped in Village history.
“Bonnie” was, in reality, Vincent Bonavia, a local Village businessman with a nickname presumably derived from his last name. He originally opened the Stonewall Inn at 91 Seventh Avenue South in 1930. In 1934, a year after Prohibition ended, “Bonnie” relocated what was not a tearoom but a former speakeasy, to 51-53 Christopher Street, opening it as a restaurant and bar, where a large vertical signed was installed calling attention to “Bonnie’s Stonewall Inn.”
Here, from the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s 2015 designation report for the Stonewall Inn as an Individual Landmark: “After a vacancy of about a year, late in 1934, the Stonewall Inn moved to the commercial space at 51-53 Christopher Street. The Stonewall Inn, sometimes known as Bonnie’s Stonewall Inn, presumably in honor of its proprietor Vincent Bonavia, opened for business at 91 Seventh Avenue South in 1930. Purportedly a tearoom, a restaurant serving light meals and non-alcoholic beverages, it was in fact a speakeasy, which was raided by prohibition agents in December 1930, along with several other Village nightspots.”
Spread the facts; correct the record. And take the time to read our Stonewall 50 factsheet, created for instances precisely like this. “Stonewall: The Basics,” co-produced by leaders in LGBTQ history documentation, interpretation, and outreach, is an easy-to-understand guide to the people, circumstances, and legacy of the Stonewall uprising. With millions of people expected to visit the city for Pride month, this is our community’s opportunity to get the facts right about this history-making event, and our history at-large.
Image: Matchbook cover advertising Bonnie’s Stonewall Inn, c. 1940s. Courtesy of Tom Bernardin.
6 New York City LGBTQ landmarks might be created to keep the city’s queer history alive
May 17, 2019
By: Melissa Kravitz
On June 24, 2016, President Obama declared The Stonewall Inn a national monument, nearly five decades after the Stonewall Uprising of June 1969. In doing so, the famed New York City bar became the first LGBTQ-focused national landmark in America. “I believe our national parks should reflect the full story of our country, the richness and diversity and uniquely American spirit that has always defined us,” Obama said in a White House statement at the time. “That we are stronger together. That out of many, we are one.” Now, New York City preservationists are following in the president’s footsteps, putting six historic LGBTQ sites up for official landmark protection status this May.
While LGBTQ people have undeniably characterized American history, from Stonewall activist Marsha P Johnson to California politician Harvey Milk to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, The Stonewall Inn is currently the only official national monument celebrating the LGBTQ community. With no others seemingly in the queue, it’s up to historians and city committees to protect queer heritage, as NYC is trying to do. The city already gave Stonewall landmark status in 2015 (separate from its national designation a year later), and this month, six more sites — the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Community Center and Caffe Cino, both in the West Village; the James Baldwin Residence on the Upper West Side; the Women’s Liberation Center in Chelsea; the Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse in SoHo; and the Audre Lorde Residence on Staten Island — will be reviewed by New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission for consideration.
Landmark status, as well as national monument status, is essential in preserving history, as it keeps the space from being torn down or replaced. When a building is landmarked, it allows future generations to viscerally understand the place where major events happened, and see the historic and cultural contributions left on society by individuals before them. This designation is especially important for places influential in shaping civil rights, as many LGBTQ activists and events are often not written about in textbooks or major media. Landmarking queer spaces not only protects the buildings, but informs the world about LGBTQ history and legacy they might otherwise never know about.
Recently, New York has pushed for more focus on its queer history, with the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, a scholarly effort to record and preserve history of buildings relevant to LGBTQ history and culture, finding over 100 sites that deserve preservation. The organization believes these venues should be protected either by NYC itself or the United States government, and it’s pushed for an increase in LGBTQ representation on the National Register of Historic Places, i.e. the service that determines national monuments. To date, the National Park Service has noted 25 sites with prominent contributions to the nation’s LGBTQ heritage, though it’s unknown yet if any are actually likely to become monuments.
Across America, several major cities are home to LGBTQ memorials, like St. Louis’ Transgender Memorial Garden, San Francisco’s Pink Triangle Park, and Indianapolis’ AIDS Memorial, but efforts to preserve other relics of LGBTQ history — including both monuments and museums — around the country are still quite rare. This is unfortunately no surprise, as queer history has been systematically devalued and ignored in America for generations.
Yet organizations like the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, as well as the Velvet Foundation (which has been trying to fund America’s first National LGBT Museum since 2007), the Los Angeles Conservancy, and the Rainbow Heritage Network, are working to keep queer history alive. In New York, public hearings and a vote are required to officially landmark sites, and so on Tuesday, May 21, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission will decide if they’ll move forward with the process for the six sites up for the status.
Without protection, these historic LGBTQ places, like too many sites before them (including NYC’s Paradise Garage, an organizing space pivotal to the aftermath of Stonewall), may get torn down and forgotten by the masses, their history and legacy erased.
Historic LGBTQ sites may be designated NYC landmarks
May 15, 2019
By: Gwen Aviles
The six sites include the Audre Lorde Residence in Staten Island and The LGBT Community Center in Manhattan’s West Village neighborhood.
As the 50th anniversary of the seminal Stonewall uprising approaches, New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission is considering designating as landmarks six sites that reflect the historical significance of the city’s LGBTQ community.
The sites include the Audre Lorde Residence in Staten Island, Caffe Cino and The LGBT Community Center in the West Village, the James Baldwin Residence in the Upper West Side, the Women’s Liberation Center in Chelsea and the Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse in SoHo.
“These six proposed landmarks recognize groups and individuals that helped move forward the LGBT civil rights movement by creating political and community support structures, and by bringing LGBT cultural expression into the public realm,” Sarah Carroll, the chairwoman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, said in a statement shared with NBC News. “These sites are tangible connections to this important New York City history.”
The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, an organization dedicated to documenting buildings tied to influential LGBTQ trailblazers across the five boroughs, curated a list of more than 200 sites in an initiative titled “Historic Context Statement for LGBT History in New York City.” The organization sent a truncated version of this list to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which then, along with New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, identified the six places now picked for possible landmark designation, according to Ken Lustbader, co-director of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project
“We worked to ensure that the sites reflected the totality of New York City’s LGBT community, that it represents the diversity of people and time periods,” Lustbader told NBC News. “We hope these sites represent the beginning of continued recognition of LGBT sites as significant to New York City and American history.”
The Audre Lorde Residence on St. Paul’s Avenue in Staten Island was home to acclaimed writer, professor, activist and black lesbian feminist Audre Lorde from 1972 to 1987. Lorde, who lived in the home with her partner and two children, often worked in the house’s study and wrote numerous books there, including “Coal,” “The Cancer Journals” and “Zami: A New Spelling of My Name.”
Cafe Cino on Cornelia Street in Manhattan’s West Village neighborhood is “widely recognized as the birthplace of Off-Off-Broadway theater,” according to the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project. Joe Cino rented a ground-story space in the building in 1958, intending to run a small coffeehouse. Yet soon enough, patrons began staging avant-garde performances there. Caffe Cino became known for elevating the works of unknown playwrights, including William M. Hoffman, who credits his career to the space. Many of Caffe Cino’s early productions featured gay characters and LGBTQ issues, and as a result, the space became a haven for gay men. Caffe Cino closed in 1968, a year after Cino’s death.
New York City’s LGBT Community Center has served as a hub for the community since 1983. Located in the West Village of Manhattan, the center is the birthplace of The Gender Identity Project, which is the longest running provider for transgender and gender-nonconforming people in the state. The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), Dignity/New York and more than 400 other organizations have gathered in the center for meetings since it first opened its doors.
The James Baldwin Residence on Manhattan’s Upper West Side served as the iconic writer’s home from 1965 until his death in 1987. Though the civil rights activist and literary intellectual did not self-identify as gay, he spoke openly about LGBTQ issues and wrote several novels that featured gay and bisexual characters, including “Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone” (1968) and “Just Above My Head” (1979), which were published while he lived in the 71st Street residence.
Founded in the 1970s, the Women’s Liberation Center was an integral meeting space for women’s groups, including several that specifically focused on the city’s lesbian community. The Lesbian Feminist Liberation, a group that sought to ensure lesbians were visible and heard at political and pride marches, and Lesbian Switchboard, a volunteer-led counseling hotline, were two of the many groups that met in the center. The Women’s Liberation Center closed in 1997.
The Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse, a firehouse in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, served as the headquarters for the Gay Activists Alliance from 1971 to 1974. The group was considered the most influential American gay political activist organization in the early 1970s. The firehouse also brought together other LGBTQ groups, such as Gay Youth, the Lesbian Feminist Liberation and Gay Men’s Health Project, for social events.
The commission granted the Stonewall Inn, the Greenwich Village gay bar where the seminal 1969 Stonewall uprising took place, landmark status in 2015. Yet, Lustbader said that beyond Stonewall — which is the only LGBTQ space to hold landmark status — and these six sites, there are a host of other places integral to preserving the LGBTQ history of New York City .
“There are many other NYC sites that should be considered for formal designation as cultural landmarks,” Lustbader said, citing Walt Whitman’s residence in Brooklyn as an example.
“LGBT historical landmarks give the community a sense of pride, a sense of hope and a sense of continuity,” Lustbader said. “They serve as a reminder that LGBT history is just as important as other history.”
These Six NYC LGBTQ Historical Sites Are Being Considered for Landmark Designation
May 15, 2019
By: Jeff Taylor
They include the residences of Audre Lorde and James Baldwin, as well as early meeting places for the community.
Six sites with LGBTQ and American historical significance are up for consideration for possible landmark designation in New York City.
The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission will consider the following locations for the designation, which would protect the buildings from being demolished or having their exteriors substantially altered: The Audre Lorde Residence, on Staten Island; the James Baldwin Residence, on the Upper West Side; Women’s Liberation Center, in Chelsea; Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse, in SoHo; plus Caffe Cino, and The LGBT Community Center—both in Greenwich Village.
Lorde, a lesbian writer and civil rights activist, lived at 207 St. Paul’s Avenue, where she authored books, carried out organizing work, and launched a feminist press, called Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press.
Fellow writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin lived at 137 West 71st Street from the mid-1960s onward, while splitting his time between there and France. It was in this building “where he worked on plays, screenplays and novels and corresponded with other prominent literary and cultural figures,” as the landmarks commission notes, according to The New York Times.
The Women’s Liberation Center was a meeting and organizing space that operated at 243 West 20th Street from 1972 to 1987.
The Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) was formed in December 1969, in the wake of the Stonewall riots, as a radical, non-assimilationist, inclusive LGBTQ liberation collective. The group met at a firehouse in SoHo, at 99 Wooster Street, from 1971 to 1974, which also served as an essential LGBTQ community center during those years.
Caffe Cino was located at 31 Cornelia Street, and is credited with birthing Off-Off Broadway, and giving LGBTQ playwrights a place to stage productions of works that at times went against laws making it illegal to depict homosexuality onstage.
The LGBT Community Center is still at 208 West 13th Street, continuing its mission of offering support services to LGBTQ people, which it began in 1983. It is notable for having been essential to the founding of ACT UP, GLAAD, Las Buenas Amigas, Queer Nation, and the Lesbian Avengers. It also served as the meeting place for the Metropolitan Community Church of New York, as well as SAGE.
“We are thrilled that our research was a catalyst for the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s review of cultural landmarks, which highlight the rich LGBT history of New York City,” said Andrew Dolkart, co-director of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, in a statement.
“We met with the Commission’s chair, Sarah Carroll, and her staff to discuss how important LGBT-related sites are to the history of New York and are pleased that these cultural sites may soon be designated alongside the city’s architectural landmarks, adding to the diversity of places officially recognized by the city.”
The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project has been researching LGBTQ historical sites for more than two decades, and advocating for recognition and protection of these places, with nearly 200 entries published online, at nyclgbtsites.org.
“Literally hundreds of other NYC sites, from the Walt Whitman Residence in Brooklyn to Julius’ Bar in Greenwich Village to the Billy Strayhorn & Aaron Bridgers Residence in Harlem, merit further consideration for formal designation as cultural landmarks,” said NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project co-director Ken Lustbader.
The six sites detailed above have been calendared by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission for public hearing on June 4.
A Gay Theater and James Baldwin’s N.Y. Apartment May Get Landmark Protection
May 15, 2019
By: James Barron
The landmarks commission will consider giving landmark status to six buildings based on their historical, not architectural, significance.
All six played a critical role in the gay rights movement. One was a storefront restaurant that New York City officials described as the city’s first gay theater and the place where Off Off Broadway got its start. Another was home to a number of lesbian and feminist groups in the 1970s and 1980s.
Now, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission is moving toward considering landmark status for the six sites.
The agency was born in the 1960s in response to the anger over the demolition of the old Pennsylvania Station, which the novelist Thomas Wolfe described as “vast enough to hold the sound of time.”
Since then, the commission has conferred landmark status on individual buildings and on neighborhoods based mainly on architectural significance and historical merit.
But over the years the commission has also granted landmark protection based on historical or cultural significance.
The six places under consideration do not include the Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village bar and the site of a major turning point in the gay rights movement, because it has already been recognized. The commission gave it landmark status in 2015 because of its significance in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history. In 2016, then-President Barack Obama designated the building and the area around it the Stonewall National Monument.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising and the World Pride celebration will come to New York City for the first time.
Five of the six landmarks-to-be are already in designated historic districts, so the protection afforded by landmark status would be new for only one. But Sarah Carroll, the chairwoman of the landmarks commission, said the new designations would add “an extra layer of protection” if future owners sought permission for exterior changes.
“We wanted to explicitly recognize the association with LGBT history,” she said. “In most cases, the designation of the historic districts in which the buildings already exist did not recognize this history.”
Since its start, the commission has expanded its mandate toward recognizing buildings for what happened in them, not just their presence on the landscape, with a number of other designations, among them Louis Armstrong’s house in Queens, a landmark since 1988.
A year ago, the commission created a historic district in Harlem, citing the “rich social, cultural and political life” that went on there as well as the architecture. It includes the home of the ragtime composer Scott Joplin and the national headquarters for the March on Washington in 1965.
The six most recent sites were chosen based on their contribution to gay history. Recognizing more than architecture “is really important,” said Andrew S. Dolkart, co-director of the LGBT Historic Sites Project, which recommended sites for the LGBT designations.
“In general, it’s really important that preservation move beyond just works of architecture, not to denigrate that — I’m an architectural historian,” he said, adding, “We really need to recognize places of cultural and historical significance.”
Giving the six buildings landmark status would put documentation about them in the commission’s files that would be taken into account if owners sought to make changes to the outside, Ms. Carroll said. That information, she said, “would guide our thinking” and could prove especially important for facades that “might not have been seen as typical or traditional in that particular historic district.”
She said that could be a concern for one of the six buildings, at 137 West 71st Street. It was the New York home of the writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin from the mid-1960s on.
For years he mainly lived in France and died at his home there in 1987.
But he described himself as a “commuter,” not an expatriate. The landmarks commission noted that he kept an apartment in the 71st Street building “where he worked on plays, screenplays and novels and corresponded with other prominent literary and cultural figures” when he was in New York. His niece Aisha Karefa-Smart wrote in 2013 that the building’s “energy and vitality” surged “to a fever pitch as soon as he hit the door.”
The building was built as one in a line of four rowhouses in 1890 but was altered in 1961. The original facade was stripped off, replaced with light-colored brick. Stairs leading to the parlor-floor entrance were demolished, the front door was moved down to the street level and glass-brick windows were installed next to it.
Baldwin bought it in 1965. His family sold the building in 1994, according to the current owner, Romeo Salta, who said he was “ambivalent” about a landmark designation.
“Quite frankly, we were contemplating, not in the immediate future but sometime down the line, fixing up the facade because in my opinion, it’s not a very good-looking building,” Mr. Salta said.
“I’ve got no problem with honoring Mr. Baldwin,” he said, but added, “I think there are other ways of honoring Mr. Baldwin short of declaring his old building a landmark because it has no architectural merit at all.”
The commission described another of the six buildings as the birthplace of Off Off Broadway, a four-story tenement-and-store building at 31 Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village.
From 1958 to 1968, the store space was occupied by a restaurant called Caffe Cino. At the time, the commission’s staff noted in a report on the building, “portraying homosexuality in theatrical productions was illegal,” but Caffe Cino “became a center for gay artists to share their work” as the city’s first gay theater.
Playwrights who got their start there included John Guare, who later wrote “Six Degrees of Separation,” and Lanford Wilson, who wrote “Fifth of July,’’ according to the commission.
It is in the Greenwich Village Historic District, just as the Baldwin House is in a historic district on the Upper West Side.
The one building not within the boundaries of a historic district is a former firehouse once known as the women’s liberation center. The building, at 243 West 20th Street, is still owned by the city and is now rented to a group that trains women for construction and maintenance work.
Ms. Carroll said she and members of the commission’s staff worked with the City Council speaker, Corey Johnson, and the New York City LGBT Historic Sites Project. She said Mr. Johnson did not suggest specific sites, but he said through a spokesman that the choices “will make excellent additions” to the roster of landmarks.
The commission will decide on Tuesday whether to begin the formal process of landmarking the sites, including holding public hearings and, eventually, votes on official designation.
Simeon Bankoff, the executive director of the Historic District Council, a preservation group, called the six potential designations “a terrific step forward to recognizing unrecognized history.” But he and William Dobbs, a historically minded advocate, said they wished the commission would designate more landmarks of significance in the gay rights movement.
Mr. Dobbs mentioned a building on the corner of 14th Street and the Avenue of the Americas that was the meeting place of the Gay Liberation Front, the first activist organization formed after the Stonewall rebellion. That building has been sold to a developer and is being demolished.
“The story of these landmarks is they get torn down,” he said. “It’s especially painful because there aren’t very many LGBT landmarks.”
Six LGBT Historic Sites Calendared by Landmarks Preservation Commission
May 14, 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Ken Lustbader, NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project
(917) 848-1776 / [email protected]
SIX LGBT HISTORIC SITES CALENDARED BY LANDMARKS PRESERVATION COMMISSION
THE FIRST STEP FOR CONSIDERATION AS DESIGNATED NEW YORK CITY LANDMARKS
NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project’s Research and Advocacy
Establishes Case for Significance
Landmarking Actions Come as
50th Anniversary of Stonewall Approaches, in June
NEW YORK, NY — Monday, May 14, 2019 — The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission has calendared six New York City sites for possible landmark designation based on their cultural significance to LGBT and American history. The expert research and ongoing advocacy of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project contributed significantly to the selection of these important place-based historic sites.
The vote to calendar comes as New York City is poised to recognize the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, and play host to NYC Pride and WorldPride, when millions of LGBT individuals and allies will arrive in New York to honor and celebrate LGBT history.
“We are thrilled that our research was a catalyst for the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s review of cultural landmarks, which highlight the rich LGBT history of New York City,” said Andrew Dolkart, co-director of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project. “We met with the Commission’s chair, Sarah Carroll, and her staff to discuss how important LGBT-related sites are to the history of New York and are pleased that these cultural sites may soon be designated alongside the city’s architectural landmarks, adding to the diversity of places officially recognized by the city.”
The six LGBT historic sites calendared by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission for public hearing on Tuesday, June 4th, are:
- Audre Lorde Residence, on Staten Island
- Caffe Cino, in Greenwich Village
- The LGBT Community Center, in Greenwich Village
- James Baldwin Residence, on the Upper West Side
- Women’s Liberation Center, in Chelsea
- Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse, in SoHo
Learn more about each site below.
“We’re immensely proud of our work and pleased that it could be used by the Commission to establish the significance of these six sites, which we hope represent the beginning of continued recognition of LGBT sites as significant to New York City and American history,” said Ken Lustbader, co-director of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project. “Literally hundreds of other NYC sites, from the Walt Whitman Residence in Brooklyn to Julius’ Bar in Greenwich Village to the Billy Strayhorn & Aaron Bridgers Residence in Harlem, merit further consideration for formal designation as cultural landmarks.”
“We are thankful to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission and its chair, Sarah Carroll, for understanding the importance of these cultural landmarks and taking this important first step for possible landmark designation,” said Amanda Davis, manager of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project. “And we are especially grateful for City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who has championed our Project and our advocacy to ensure LGBT historic sites are among those recognized by the City as significant to our history.” The Speaker recently hinted at forthcoming landmarking news regarding LGBT sites when accepting the “Friends in High Places” award from city-wide advocate Historic Districts Council.
For more than two decades, co-directors of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project have researched and advocated for the recognition of sites which speak to the impact of LGBT history and people on New York City and American culture. In 2015, the website www.nyclgbtsites.org was launched to share this pioneering place-based study of NYC’s LGBT history with the public. Last year, the Project completed the Historic Context Statement for LGBT History in New York City, a first-of-its-kind framework for evaluating sites for LGBT significance, that was shared with the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission. To date, nearly 200 historic sites have been researched, photographed and published online to promote the cultural contributions of LGBT people and to draw focus to sites which, often, are unrecognized. The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project’s work is making an invisible history visible.
Learn more about the six LGBT historic sites that have been calendared for landmark designation by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission by visiting their full entries at www.nyclgbtsites.org:
Audre Lorde Residence
207 St. Paul’s Avenue, Staten Island
Acclaimed black lesbian feminist, writer, and activist Audre Lorde lived here with her partner and two children from 1972 to 1987. While here, Lorde was a prolific writer who authored numerous influential books, co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, and spoke at the 1979 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. (more)
31 Cornelia Street, Manhattan
The Caffe Cino is widely recognized as the birthplace of Off-Off-Broadway theater and was located on the ground floor of this building from 1958 to 1968. It is also highly significant as a pioneer in the development of gay theater, at a time when it was still illegal to depict homosexuality on stage. The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project successfully nominated the Cino to the State and National Registers of HIstoric Places in 2017. (more)
LGBT Community Center
208 West 13th Street, Manhattan
Since 1983, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Community Center has served as a vital support system for hundreds of thousands of people and has witnessed the founding of ACT UP, GLAAD, Las Buenas Amigas, Queer Nation, and the Lesbian Avengers, and for many years was the meeting location for the Metropolitan Community Church of New York and SAGE. The Gender Identity Project, which was established here in 1989, is the longest running service provider for the transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) community in the state. (more)
James Baldwin Residence
137 West 71st Street, Manhattan
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, Baldwin wrote several novels that featured gay and bisexual characters and spoke openly about same-sex relationships and LGBT issues. Just this month, the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project completed its nomination of the Baldwin Residence to the New York State Register of Historic Places. It is currently being reviewed by the State and, if accepted, will then be reviewed by the Department of the Interior for the National Register of Historic Places. (more)
Women’s Liberation Center
243 West 20th Street
In the early 1970s, the Women’s Liberation Center was founded as an important meeting space for many women’s groups, including those that specifically served the lesbian community. The Center operated here from 1972 to 1987. (more)
Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse
99 Wooster Street, Manhattan
The Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) formed in December 1969 and became the most influential American gay liberation political activist organization in the early 1970s. From 1971 to 1974, GAA used this firehouse in SoHo as its headquarters, which served as New York’s most important LGBT political and cultural community center during these years. (more)
About the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project
The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project is a nonprofit cultural initiative and educational resource that is making an invisible history visible by documenting historic and cultural sites associated with the LGBT community throughout New York City.
Preserving Walt Whitman’s Clinton Hill house: Poet’s 200th birthday improves odds
May 9, 2019
By: Lore Croghan
Ahead of two important cultural milestones, preservationists are renewing a stalled effort to landmark the Clinton Hill home where famed Brooklyn poet Walt Whitman wrote “Leaves of Grass” — despite opposition from the property’s owner.
The Coalition to Save Walt Whitman’s House is demanding landmark designation for 99 Ryerson St. as Whitman’s 200th birthday and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn riots approach. Landmarking has eluded the property for years, though new support from local elected officials, as well as the publicity bonanza expected around the two anniversaries, could help secure historic protections.
Walt Whitman published his first edition of his ground-breaking poetry collection “Leaves of Grass” while living in the modest Clinton Hill building.
“It is the center, the desk, of the great gay American of Letters,” Professor Karen Karbiener, president of the Walt Whitman Initiative, told the Brooklyn Eagle. “He is our poet who first represented, 100 years before Stonewall, not only the idea of celebrating difference but even imagining a community.”
A team of preservation experts and the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project are members of the Coalition to Save Walt Whitman’s House, as is the Walt Whitman Initiative. More than 5,400 people have signed its petition calling for 99 Ryerson St.’s landmarking.
Whitman, who is widely considered America’s greatest poet, was born on May 31, 1819, and died in 1892. He was the editor of the Eagle in the 1840s.
He lived in more than 30 places in Brooklyn and Manhattan. The only one still standing is Leaves of Grass House, which is the coalition’s name for 99 Ryerson St.
LGBTQ+ historic site
As a cultural landmark, the aluminum siding-covered house at 99 Ryerson St. is Brooklyn’s equivalent of the legendary gay bar The Stonewall Inn, the advocates say.
Karbiener fears for the future of Leaves of Grass House if it’s not landmarked.
“It could be torn down and a spindly tower built in its place,” she said. “And history would be erased.”
She used to take people inside 99 Ryerson St. during walking tours she leads of sites important to Whitman’s life.
“It’s like the holy grail,” she said.
A man she thought was 99 Ryerson St.’s owner would sometimes be sitting on the stoop. He would graciously open the door and let everybody step inside the threshold.
“He was very kind,” Karbiener recalled. “It meant there was a continued spirit of goodwill in the building,” from Whitman’s era to the present day.
She wasn’t worried then about getting the house landmarked because “it had such a good caretaker,” she said.
In 2014, Karbiener stopped seeing the kind man at 99 Ryerson St. Nobody has let her inside the house since then.
Owners don’t support landmarking
According to city Finance Department records, the Horacio Downs Living Trust owns 99 Ryerson St.
Horacio Downs bought the house with Imogene Downs in 1970 and became its sole owner in 1987, Finance Department records indicate. He transferred the property’s ownership to the trust in 2009.
The Eagle left messages for the trust through contact info listed in Finance Department records, rang doorbells at 99 Ryerson St. and dropped a note for the owners through the mail slot. There was no response.
Whitman coalition members have been unable to win the property owners’ support for landmarking 99 Ryerson St.
They tried repeatedly to contact Glenda Downs, Walt Whitman Initiative board member Brad Vogel told the Eagle. Downs’ name is listed in the public record in connection with the Horacio Downs Living Trust.
A different woman responded to their queries by saying the property owners planned to tell the Landmarks Preservation Commission they prefer 99 Ryerson St. not be landmarked.
The Eagle attempted to reach her but was unsuccessful.
‘Great art can begin from the streets’
The LPC takes property owners’ opposition into account when making designation decisions — but has landmarked buildings whose owners were opposed.
It’s helpful to have the support of the City Councilmember who represents the district where a landmarking candidate is located. In the case of 99 Ryerson St., that’s Laurie Cumbo.
Last year, she signed a letter calling for the house to be landmarked that emphasized its significance to the LGBTQ+ community, the Eagle previously reported. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and several other councilmembers also signed the letter.
Karbiener said in her recent interview with the Eagle that 99 Ryerson St. was built for the working class. It’s where Whitman — who was born into a family plagued by alcoholism and mental illness and who dropped out of school at age 11 — began writing poetry of enormous literary merit.
“Standing in front of the house is refreshing,” Karbiener said. “You see that great art can begin from the streets of New York.”
Project Consults on Upcoming Exhibition Highlighting LGBTQ Nightlife and Activism
May 5, 2019
By: Muri Assunção
Nobody knows who threw the first punch, or cocktail glass, high-heel shoe, or beer bottle that sparked the Stonewall Riots, a series of protests seen as the catalyst for the modern LGBTQ rights movement.
But in the early hours of June 28, 1969, after a police raid at The Stonewall Inn on Christopher St., the long-marginalized gay community decided to fight back.
For six violent nights, trans women of color, homeless LGBTQ youth, lesbians, drag queens, gay men, and their allies rioted, protested, got arrested, and changed the course of history. Though not the community’s first act of defiance — or the last — the Stonewall uprising became the defining moment in the fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the riots, the The New-York Historical Society is taking a look at its legacy and what those blood-shedding nights in Manhattan’s West Village meant in the battle for LGBTQ acceptance in New York City, the U.S., and beyond.
On view from May 24 to Sept. 22, “Stonewall 50 at New-York Historical Society” will feature two exhibitions and one special installation to highlight how the LGBTQ movement fits into New York history.
Dr. Louise Mirrer, the Society’s president and CEO, hopes to show “the critical role played by Stonewall in helping our nation towards a more perfect union,” she said.
And that path was forged in some of the unlikeliest places.
“Nightlife spaces, whether, they’re bars, restaurants, dance halls, or performance venues, have always enabled members of the LGBTQ community to meet, mingle and socialize outside of their homes, their jobs or on the streets,” Ken Lustbader, NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project’s co-director told the Daily News.
Lustbader worked as a consultant in “Letting Loose and Fighting Back: LGBTQ Nightlife Before and After Stonewall.” The exhibit, curated by Rebecca Klassen, the Society’s Assistant Curator of Material Culture, explores how nightlife has shaped the community’s identity, and strengthened its activism.
Visitors will get a chance to see artifacts from iconic gay venues from as far back as the 1950s. The exterior sign for the Paradise Garage, and a lighter with a sticker from the Ramrod, the popular leather bar that appeared in the Village People’s Y.M.C.A. video and was the scene of a deadly anti-gay shooting in 1980.
Legendary lesbian activist and Harlem Renaissance dancer Mabel Hampton is featured in “By the Force of Our Presence: Highlights from the Lesbian Herstory Archives,” which deals specifically with women and their contributions to the larger LGBTQ community.
The exhibition wraps up with “Say It Loud, Out and Proud: Fifty Years of Pride,” a timeline of LGBTQ history.
From Stonewall, to AIDS, to marches and changes in legislation, the piece acts as a teaching aid.
“There’s a graphic component that draws from 50 years of photographs of marches to create a compelling seamless visual sense of ongoing marching, work, and activism,” Klassen explained.
Photos, top to bottom:
 On view from May 24 to Sept. 22, “Stonewall 50 at New-York Historical Society” will feature two exhibitions and one special installation to highlight how the LGBTQ movement fits into New York history.
 National Park Service (founded 1916), Paper fan, 2016 Paper, wood. (Stonewall 50 at New-York Historical Society)
 Kenny Chanel and Bobby Revlon, House of Milan Ball, NYC Gay Community Center, 1990 Digital print courtesy of Chantal Regnault (b. 1945). (Stonewall 50 at New-York Historical Society)
 ACT UP activists at Pride March, 1988, by Eugene Gordon. (Stonewall 50 at New-York Historical Society)
 Dr. Martens (founded 1960), Christina McKnight’s Dyke March boots, ca. 1993–2000. The Lesbian Herstory Archives. (Stonewall 50 at New-York Historical Society)
Scavenger Hunt with Urban Archive
June 9, 2019 | 12:00pm-2:30pm
Please join Urban Archive and NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project for a FREE digital historical scavenger hunt in Greenwich Village. As we mark the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, explore LGBT history with us! Prizes will be awarded to the top three teams.
Who? YOU, and up to 3 of your most adventurous and curious friends (max up to 4 people per team).
What do you need? At least 1 team member with an iPhone (iOS 10.0+ — sorry, Urban Archive isn’t yet available on Android). Download the Urban Archive app here.
Anything else? Wear comfortable walking shoes!
Promotional support for this event provided, in part, by the generous support of American Express, Con Edison, and the NYC & Company Foundation.
Recognizing LGBT Historic Sites Across the Country
We’re proud to share other LGBT listings that were nominated and written by our colleagues across the United States.
All properties below are listed on the National Register, but those deemed to have exceptional significance to American history can further be designated National Historic Landmarks.
Properties that have already been listed on the National Register can later have their nomination reports amended to include significant history that was not mentioned in the original nomination. Sites that have been amended to include their LGBT significance are noted here.National Monument:
- Stonewall – New York, NY (2016)
National Historic Landmark:
- Stonewall – New York, NY (2000)
- Henry Gerber House – Chicago, IL (2015)
- James Merrill House – Stonington, CT (2016)
- Pauli Murray Family Home – Durham, NC (2017)
National Register of Historic Places:
- Stonewall – New York, NY (1999)
- Dr. Franklin E. Kameny Residence – Washington, D.C. (2011)
- Cherry Grove Community House and Theater – Cherry Grove, NY (2013)
- James Merrill House – Stonington, CT (2013)
- Carrington House – Cherry Grove, NY (2014)
- Henry Gerber House – Chicago, IL (2015)
- Bayard Rustin Residence – New York, NY (2016)
- Julius’ – New York, NY (2016)
- The Furies Collective – Washington, D.C. (2016)
- Casa Orgullo – San Juan, Puerto Rico (2016)
- Elks Athletic Club/Henry Clay Hotel – Louisville, KY (2016 amendment)
- Whiskey Row Historic District – Louisville, KY (2017 amendment)
- Pauli Murray Family Home – Durham, NC (2017)
- Alice Austen House – Staten Island, NY (2017 amendment)
- The Great Wall of Los Angeles – Los Angeles, CA (2017)
- Caffe Cino – New York, NY (2017)
- San Francisco Federal Building – San Francisco, CA (2017)
- Earl Hall, Columbia University – New York, NY (2018)
- The Women’s Building – San Francisco, CA (2018)
- Boulder County Courthouse – Boulder, CO (2018 amendment)
- First Unitarian Church – Denver, CO (2018 amendment)
- James Baldwin Residence – New York, NY (2019)
Are we missing a site? Let us know and we’ll add it to the list!
We also recommend looking through the groundbreaking LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History, published by the National Park Service in October 2016. The study includes a New York City chapter written by our co-director Jay Shockley.