Partners Charles Leslie (b. 1933) and J. Fredric “Fritz” Lohman (1922-2009) launched the first gay art space in New York in their SoHo loft, at 131 Prince Street, 4R, in 1969. Leslie and Lohman were also major players in the establishment of SoHo, first, as an arts community, and, ultimately, as a trendsetting commercial hub.
Leslie, born and raised in Deadwood, South Dakota attended the Pasadena Playhouse College of Theatre Arts and the Sorbonne in Paris. Lohman, born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, ran a successful interior design business for 40 years that catered to a wealthy clientele, including Barbara Walters and the late French fashion designer Jacques Fath.
During the 1970s, Leslie and Lohman waged a legal battle with the city to rezone 12 commercial blocks to residential. In the end, their efforts resulted in 48 square blocks being rezoned into what is known today as SoHo. At the same time, they joined the efforts to save the district’s historic cast-iron buildings, which resulted in the designation of the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1973. “We fought an aggressive battle with the Landmarks Preservation Commission to declare SoHo a landmark because of its amazing assemblage of cast-iron buildings,’’ Leslie said.
The couple’s best known legacy is the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, which had its origins in their SoHo loft at 131 Prince Street, 4R.
“When we first set up house, we became aware that many great artists were gay … We noticed that a lot of them had amazing works of erotica and political and social imagery that resonated with the gay community.’’
They decided to exhibit gay-themed works, which most art galleries deemed too controversial at the time, in their home in 1969 and 1970. The turnout exceeded expectations when hundreds of people came. Leslie and Lohman soon opened a gallery on Broome Street, which closed in 1981.
In 1987, they co-founded the Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation, a non-profit organization which has grown exponentially ever since, and opened the Leslie-Lohman Gallery in a building next door. The gallery moved to its current location at 26 Wooster Street in 2006 and was eventually renamed the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art.