Saving 99 Ryerson: The Peculiar Problem of Landmarking Brooklyn’s Earliest LGBT Site

June 22, 2021 | 6:00PM to 7:00PM

Saving 99 Ryerson image

After nearly five years of petitions and two rejections from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, a group of activists persevere in their efforts to landmark Whitman’s house at 99 Ryerson Street, Brooklyn: the only extant residence of over 30 while Whitman lived in NYC, the house in which he completed the first edition of Leaves of Grass in1855, and the place where he received his first literary pilgrims, including a November 1855 visit from Ralph Waldo Emerson.  So why hasn’t this cradle of American poetry been landmarked?  Should it be?  Join us for a roundtable discussion on the historic and cultural significance of the structure, the story of the campaign to ‘Save the Walt Whitman House’, plans for the future– and how you can help.

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Karen Karbiener, president and founding member of the Walt Whitman Initiative, is a Whitman scholar and teaches at New York University. Winner of the Kluge Fellowship at the Library of Congress and a Fulbright recipient, she has published widely on Whitman (most recently working with Brian Selznick on Live Oak, with Moss, a new illustrated edition of Whitman’s secret same-sex love poems).  As a cultural activist in her hometown, Karen has been working on the campaign to preserve 99 Ryerson Street since 2017, and gave testimony at the hearing to landmark 227 Duffield Place, Brooklyn, last year.

Ken Lustbader is a co-founder and co-director of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, an award-winning cultural heritage initiative that is documenting and memorializing LGBT place-based history in New York City. For almost 30 years, he has been national leader in issues related to LGBT history, documentation, and historic preservation. Between 2007 and 2015, he served as Historic Preservation Program Officer at the J.M. Kaplan Fund where he was responsible for US and international grant initiatives. Prior to that he was lead consultant for the Lower Manhattan Emergency Preservation Fund, which resulted in the conservation of in situ elements of the World Trade Center that are now integral components of the National 9/11 Memorial Museum. Between 1994 and 2002, he was the Director of the New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Sacred Sites Program.

Jay Shockley is a co-founder and co-director of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project. He retired in 2015 as senior historian at the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission where since 1979 he researched and wrote over 100 designation reports covering all aspects of the city’s history. In 1993, he helped pioneer the concept of recognizing LGBT place-based history by incorporating it into the Commission’s reports. He co-authored the Stonewall nomination, which resulted in the first-ever National Register (1999) and National Historic Landmark (2000) listings for an LGBT site.

Brad Vogel is a poet, attorney, preservationist, and sail freight agent. An advocate for designating Whitman’s Leaves of Grass House a city landmark, he serves on the board of the Walt Whitman Initiative. Brad is the author of the poetry collection Broad Meadow Bird and was a finalist for the 2020 Erskine J. Poetry Prize. Brad brings poetry to life in original events including the annual Dawn Reading in canoes for the Brooklyn Book Festival, and NYC Poets Afloat (a microresidency and reading series aboard vessels in NY Harbor). He captains the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club.