Landmarks Holds Public Hearing for Lesbian Herstory Archives

November 9, 2022
By: Cassidy Strong

Lesbian Herstory Archives
The Lesbian Herstory Archive, located at 484 14th Street in Park Slope. Image Credit: LPC.

On October 25, 2022, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a public hearing to discuss landmarking the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Located at 484 14th Street within the Park Slope Historic District, the building was previously calendared for Individual Landmark consideration on June 28.

The public hearing began with a presentation from Landmarks’ Deputy Director of Research Margaret Herman, who described the Lesbian Herstory Archives as “the nation’s oldest and largest collection of lesbian-related historical material.” The 14th Street building was constructed in the Renaissance Revival style by architect Axel Hedman in 1908, and the volunteer-led Lesbian Herstory Archives have been housed there since 1991. Herman shared that the Archives paid off their mortgage in 1996, creating a permanent headquarters, and has “diligently maintained” the building ever since.

However, the Lesbian Herstory Archives moved into their current space after the creation of the Park Slope Historic District, leaving no mention of their work. Designating the building as an individual landmark, Herman explained, would emphasize the building’s LGBTQ+ significance.

Following Herman’s presentation, Landmarks turned the hearing over to public testimony. Saskia Scheff, one of the coordinators at the Lesbian Herstory Archives and a volunteer there since 1989, began by testifying in support of the landmarking. Scheff stated that the Archives are a landmark not just because of the building, but for their work as a community organization and interactive catalog of history.

Scheff was followed by Amanda Davis, Project Manager of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project. Davis stated that the project “strongly supports the designation of the Lesbian Herstory Archives as a New York City Landmark,” pointing out that it would be the first LGBT site to be landmarked in Brooklyn. Davis also shared that when the project first launched its website with an initial 100 sites, the Lesbian Herstory Archives was included, and that the Archives’ resources have been “invaluable” to the project’s work. Since the Archives were created out of a lack of lesbian visibility, and Park Slope as a neighborhood is home to a large lesbian community, Davis affirmed that the project “proudly supports the proposed designation.”

Colette Montoya, who has worked with the Archives since 2011 and is currently working to digitize their collection 3000 audio cassettes, similarly emphasized the building’s importance to the greater NYC lesbian community. Montoya, an indigenous woman, also highlighted the Archives’ commitment to recording the history of the Lenape people, who originally inhabited what is now NYC.

Next, Lucie Levine spoke on behalf of the Historic Districts Council, who also “enthusiastically supports” the building’s designation as an Individual Landmark. Levine stated that cultural landmarks like the Lesbian Herstory Archives are a growing priority for the HDC, and called upon Landmarks to recognize more cultural landmarks with ties to marginalized communities. Levine was followed by Katherine Prater and Elizabeth Daly, members of the public who also spoke in support of the landmarking.

Sonia Guior, Landmarks Director of Community and Intergovernmental Affairs, ended the public testimony period by noting that 25 letters were also sent in support, 2 of which were written by community organizations.

With no additional questions from Commissioners, Chair Sarah Carroll closed the public hearing and shared her own excitement about the proposed designation. Carroll thanked the the Lesbian Herstory Archives for being “great supporters” of Landmarks, as well as the LGBT Historic Sites Project, “who has also been a great partner with us as we have started to, and have continued to work through, our priorities and thinking about equity in our designations”.

Landmarks will continue their research, incorporating testimony from the public hearing, and will hold a vote on designating the Lesbian Herstory Archives “in the very near future.”

By: Cassidy Strong (Cassidy is a CityLaw intern and a New York Law School student, Class of 2024.)

LPC: Lesbian Herstory Archives, LP-2662. October 25, 2022

Read the original story at CityLand here.