Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Stonewall Inn becomes NYC's first landmark designated solely on LGBT-historic significance


NYC has its first landmark "based solely upon LGBT history."

by Ken

It seems only appropriate to get the news from the Greenwich Village Socity for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), undoubtedly the city's most energetic preservation organization, and a major player in a noteworthy development it reported yesterday:
History was made and preserved today, as the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously to approve landmark designation of the Stonewall Inn at 51-53 Christopher Street, the first such site the Commission has landmarked based solely upon LGBT history. GVSHP first proposed the Stonewall for landmark designation in early 2014, and spearheaded the campaign to get the City to take this action. This is an important step forward in not only recognizing the critical role this site has played in civil rights history, but in ensuring that it will be preserved for generations to come.
There's been a lot of attention focused on the Landmarks Preservation Commission this year as it celebrates its 50th birthday -- and as the community watches to see whether the de Blasio-appointed LPC will demonstrate a tad more conviction than the LPC did under the heavily pro-business thumbs of the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations, when its rabidly pro-developers' ideology might have made it more aptly called the Anti-Landmarks Preservation Commission. So it's interesting to note that the Stonewall individual-landmark designation was unanimous.

There are various criteria applied to the landmarking process, generally juggling some combination of architectural and historical significance. The designation of the Stonewall site clearly had nothing to do with architectural significance, especially since the building has been significantly altered, generally a red flag when it comes to landmarking consideration, and designation based entirely on historical significance is always a harder sell -- and, obviously, that much harder a sell when the proposed recognition is, as the GVSHP statement puts it, "based solely upon LGBT history."

For anyone who's aware that the site was already in the LPC-designated Greenwich Village Historic District, the question may arise as to why it needed landmarking at all. Bloomberg News, in its report, turned to GVSHP Executive Director Andrew Berman:
The vote by the Landmarks Preservation Committee closes a loophole that might have allowed a redevelopment or demolition of the bar at 51-53 Christopher St., where a police raid on June 28, 1969, led to six days of sometimes-violent protests, the first major uprising against law enforcement harassment of gay men and women.

While the site's location in the Greenwich Village Historic District required that any changes to the building be approved by the landmarks panel, that designation was made two months before the demonstrations. The site's social significance wasn't included in any reports commissioners use to approve or deny alterations, according to Andrew Berman, executive director for the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

"Specific things that we want to make sure are protected are not noted, and potentially one could interpret the building as not being an important building," Mr. Berman said in an interview before the vote.
Bloomberg went on to report:
Testimony in support of landmark status focused on the historical impact of the events at the bar.

"To me, the Stonewall Inn represents what Selma represents to the civil rights movement and what Seneca Falls represents to the women's rights movement," New York City Public Advocate Letitia James said before the commission. "It must be protected from rapacious developers who would destroy the history and what this place represents."

The Stonewall Inn was added to the New York state and national registers of historic places in 1999 and the following year was made a National Historic Landmark, two largely symbolic distinctions. Today, a gay bar of the same name with different owners occupies the space at 53 Christopher St., with QQ Nails and Spa in the other half of the original space.


GVSHP's Andrew Berman had explained the anomalous situation of Stonewall and other sites of great LGBT-historic importance in a January 2013 letter to the LPC:
In recent years, the LPC has begun to include references to LGBT history in designation reports for new historic districts in Greenwich Village and the East Village, as well as some individual landmarks. The designation report for the just-designated South Village Historic District contains, for the first time, a section specifically dedicated to the LGBT history of the district -- a welcome development.

However, this is not the case for our city’s older historic district designation reports, which contain some of the most important sites in New York City and the world in connection to LGBT history. As a result, these incredibly important sites enjoy no formal recognition or protection from the LPC on the basis of their LGBT history. And in spite of some very important historic designations made at the State and Federal level specifically around LGBT history, no individual sites in New York City have been granted landmark or historic district designation on the basis of their significance to the struggle for LGBT rights, though some tremendously important LGBT history sites have been allowed to be demolished, such as 186 Spring Street and the Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments.
First among the "very important steps the LPC could take right away to correct these conspicuous omissions," Berman wrote, was individual recognition of Stonewall, "not currently formally recognized by the LPC for its highly significant role in relation to LGBT history."
[T]he existing designation report for the Greenwich Village Historic District, which dates to two months prior to the riots, makes no mention of these incredibly important historic events and the impact they had and continue to have across the city, country, and world. Thus the LPC is not currently obligated to acknowledge or recognize this history in considering how to regulate, preserve and protect this singularly important building, leaving the site open to potential future changes which could compromise or erase that history.


Not surprisingly GVSHP, while naturally pleased with the individual landmarking of the Stonewall site, sees this as just the first step in the battle. Yesterday's statement went on:
GVSHP is continuing the fight to get the Commission to consider three other sites of importance to LGBT civil rights history for landmark designation:
Julius’ Bar at 159 West 10th Street, the oldest gay bar in New York City and the site of the first civil disobedience for LGBT rights in 1966, a protest against NY State’s de facto prohibition on gay bars. Built in 1826, Julius’ has been located here since 1864.

• The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center at 208 West 13th Street, one of the oldest such community centers in the world, and the birthplace of ACT-UP and many other highly influential activist and service organizations. Built in 1869, expanded in 1899, it is the former home of P.S. 16 and the Food and Maritime Trades Vocational High School.

• The (former) Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse, 99 Wooster Street, home of one of the most impactful LGBT groups of the post-Stonewall era, whose “zaps” and face-to-face confrontations influenced generations of activist and political groups. The GAA was located in this abandoned city firehouse until a firebombing forced them out in 1974. Designed in 1881 by acclaimed architect Napoleon LeBrun.

99 Wooster, site of the former Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse

Naturally GVSHP includes us in its action plan:

Write the Mayor and Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair thanking them for the landmarking of Stonewall and urging them to consider the other three LGBT history sites put forward by GVSHP

GVSHP and Casa Vera productions has also created a website dedicated to the effort to protect these sites of significance to LGBT history here. Learn more about the Village’s LGBT history here.

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At 3:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing about New York is there is a respect for history. Not so in other parts of the country where developers raze everything in their path.


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