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City to Consider Six LGBTQ Landmarks

Community Center, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin residences among sites under consideration

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Six places known for playing key roles in New York City’s LGBTQ history will be considered for designation as city landmarks.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) on May 14 calendared a June 4 hearing to discuss whether to landmark the LGBT Community Center at 208 West 13th Street, the Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse at 99 Wooster Street, James Baldwin’s residence at 137 West 71st Street, Caffe Cino at 31 Cornelia Street, the Women’s Liberation Center at 243 West 20th Street, and Audre Lorde’s residence at 207 St. Paul’s Avenue on Staten Island.

The hearing will be followed by an LPC vote, after which the sites, if approved, would immediately become landmarked. An LPC spokesperson told Gay City News that it remains unclear exactly when a vote would take place.

If the city opts to landmark the sites, the locations would be the first LGBTQ-related sites to be designated since the Stonewall Inn — the first queer landmark in the city — was enshrined in 2015.

The Center, which now hosts more than 15,000 events and activities a year, was founded in 1983 as the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center and in its early years quickly became a resourceful hub for queer health and social services while simultaneously serving as a meeting place where activists like Larry Kramer founded advocacy groups such as ACT UP.

Baldwin’s residence near Lincoln Square was his final home from 1965 to 1987. While Baldwin’s sexuality has been a topic of discussion in and of itself, the African-American novelist and writer was known as a pioneer in his work for touching on the intersection of race, sexuality, and class in ways that were largely unheard of in the public dialogue of his time.

The Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) Firehouse was short-lived — it was GAA’s headquarters from 1971 to 1974 — but those years were a period during which the LGBTQ community utilized the space for some of the earliest post-Stonewall political activism and social gatherings. The building’s interior fell victim to arson in 1974 and was vacated by the group.

Caffe Cino in Greenwich Village became known as an incubator for openly queer theater, playwrights, and actors from 1958 to 1968 when LGBTQ topics were not otherwise widely embraced on stage. According to NYCLGBTSites.org, the late playwright William M. Hoffman — whose “As Is” was one of the first Broadway productions dealing with AIDS — said in 2009 that he “never certainly would have written about gay subjects that freely” if it were not for Caffe Chino. “That was the kind of empowerment that the place gave us,” he added.

Lorde moved into her Staten Island home in 1972 and lived there with her two children and her partner, Frances Clayton, for 15 years. An English professor at John Jay College, Lorde penned a diverse collection of work ranging from poetry to non-fiction and academic papers. She also was a voice for the community and spoke at the 1979 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. Lorde died in 1992.

The Women’s Liberation Center was a meeting spot and social gathering space for women’s groups, notably including lesbian organizations. Like the Community Center, it became ground zero for queer activism: The Lesbian Feminist Liberation held its meetings there beginning in 1973, while the Lesbian Switchboard, which provided evening counseling and information for callers, used the space from 1972 to 1987.

Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, praised the LPC’s willingness to calendar the six locations.

“All the threads of the rich tapestry of our city’s history deserve to be recognized and preserved,” he said. “On the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which also occurred in Greenwich Village, we should be reflecting back upon that history of progress and honoring the people and places which made it possible.”

Other LGBTQ-related spots, as well, have been identified as appropriate options for landmarking, including the West Village’s Julius’ bar, widely considered to be the oldest gay bar in the city and the site of the 1966 “Sip-In” during which members of the Mattachine Society protested the State Liquor Authority’s ban on serving drinks to gay people. Julius’ is among the sites that GVSHP has urged the LPC to consider landmarking since 2014.

Updated 11:48 am, May 22, 2019
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