Just in time for WorldPride, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) on June 18 landmarked six important sites in the city’s LGBTQ history.
The locations include Caffe Cino at 31 Cornelia Street, 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, 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 sites represent the first LGBTQ-related landmarks designated by the city since the Stonewall Inn in 2015. The designation now protects the sites from major alterations in the future.
Some of the sites are still in operation today, such as the LGBT Community Center, while others have left little to no trace of the historical relevance acknowledged through the LPC process. For example, a 1974 arson fire destroyed the interior of the firehouse used by the Gay Activists Alliance. That firehouse served as a hub for the organization’s gatherings as well as post-Stonewall political activism.
Other locations also hold significance in queer history and in relation to broader intersectional issues. Baldwin, who spent the final 12 years of his life at the now-landmarked residence near Lincoln Square, penned powerful novels and writings on issues of race, sexuality, and class. Meanwhile, the Women’s Liberation Center was a notable gathering space for women’s organizations, including lesbian groups such as the Lesbian Feminist Liberation and the Lesbian Switchboard.
The LGBT Community Center opened in 1983 and was the birthplace of several organizations pertaining to queer rights and AIDS activism, such as ACT UP.
Audre Lorde resided at her Staten Island home with her partner and two children for a decade and a half beginning in 1972. She became a historical figure thanks to her poetry and non-fiction papers through her career as an English professor at John Jay College, and she was also known for lending her voice at the 1979 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.
The sixth space to be landmarked, Caffe Cino, became a space for LGBTQ artist to display their work in the pre-Stonewall era from 1958 to 1968. Playwrights defied laws banning homosexuality in the theater realm and freely expressed their productions.
LGBTQ elected officials hailed the designations as an important step towards protecting the city’s queer history.
“As people from around the world gather in New York to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall and World Pride, now is the perfect time to preserve our unparalleled LGBTQ history,” City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in a written statement. “New York City played such an important role in moving the LGBTQ civil rights movement forward and we owe it to those who fought in this movement to ensure that their legacy lives on. These sites memorialize the diversity and intersectionality of the LGBTQ rights movement and will make excellent additions to the city’s amazing list of landmarks.”
Out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman of Manhattan also praised the designation of the sites, saying in a written statement that he is proud the city formally recognized the lasting contributions to the modern LGBTQ civil rights movement.
“When I think of the LGBT Center or the Women’s Liberation Center being preserved for future generations, I think of my two daughters, and I’m relieved to know that they’ll have places to go that celebrate LGBTQ history and the activists who helped make our family possible,” Hoylman said. “My sincere thanks to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for taking this important step today.”
The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation had spent five years pushing the city to landmark the sites, according to the group’s executive director, Andrew Berman.
“All the threads of the rich tapestry of our city’s history deserve to be recognized and preserved,” Berman explained in a written statement. “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.