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.”