Preserving LGBT History Theme of the Day June 23

The celebration outside the Stonewall on June 24, 2011, the day New York's marriage equality law was enacted. | DONNA ACETO

The celebration outside the Stonewall on June 24, 2011, the day New York's marriage equality law was enacted. | DONNA ACETO

BY ANDY HUMM | Those concerned with preserving LGBT history will have a busy Tuesday on June 23.

In the morning, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission holds a hearing on the landmarking of the two storefront sites that comprised the original Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street/ Stonewall Place. It was there that a June 1969 police raid triggered several days of militant protests and led to organizing that brought the gay liberation movement to a dramatically more intense level of visibility. If the Commission approves the proposal, it would be the first time the city has landmarked a site purely because of its significance in LGBT history.

In the evening on June 23, the National Parks Conservation Association, a private advocacy group, is convening a forum at the LGBT Community Center “to discuss the possibility of including the Stonewall Inn and Christopher Park as a unit of the National Park Service” (NPS), which often follows the Association’s recommendations. Christopher Park, across the street from the Stonewall, includes a George Segal sculpture of gay and lesbian couples called “Gay Liberation” that was dedicated in 1992.

The Stonewall itself is currently on the National Register of Historic Places and is listed on the New York State Register of Historic Places, but neither designation affords landmarking protection.

Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, which has been pressing for landmarking the Stonewall for more than a year now, said, “It is great news that the city is finally moving forward with recognizing the Stonewall and giving the building the protections it needs to ensure that the building that was connected to the events of June of 1969 remains in that form for generations to come.”

Landmarking, Berman said, “regulates the exterior: anything that the public can see from the public right of way.” The interior of the current Stonewall bar occupies half of the old building and is not original and, therefore, will not be landmarked. The eastern half of the building is occupied by a nail salon. Both the current bar and the salon building would be included in the landmarking.

The LGBT Community Center on West 13th Street. | GAYCENTER.ORG

The LGBT Community Center on West 13th Street. | GAYCENTER.ORG

Berman and others will be pressing the Commission to landmark additional sites of LGBT significance: Julius’ bar on West 10th Street, where in the mid-1960s Craig Rodwell (founder of the now-shuttered Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop) and others held a successful “sip-in” to overturn the state ban on serving alcohol to homosexual people, the LGBT Center itself on West 13th Street, which opened at that location in 1983 and has been the scene of LGBT and AIDS activism and services since, and 99 Wooster Street in Soho, where an old firehouse served as a headquarters for early gay activism and social life soon after Stonewall. The firehouse itself was destroyed by arsonists in the mid-1970s.

There is no guarantee that the Commission will vote on landmarking the Stonewall sites at the hearing’s conclusion, but if it did it would be particularly timely given the LGBT Pride March set for Sunday, June 28. The May 29 announcement that the Commission was prepared to move on the landmarking issue came after “we announced we were going to do a big press conference,” Berman said, though the Commission has indicated it had been planning the action for some time. The Commission has not agreed to consideration of the other sites, Berman said, “so our efforts continue.”

He praised the idea of “the National Park Service creating a park district that would center around the Stonewall and the park and extend to other sites,” and added, “It can mean as little as there being virtual resources provided such as an online tour or the physical presence of the NPS. Sometimes the NPS takes over a building [in the district], but I don’t believe that is being considered.”

Berman said his understanding is that President Barack Obama would ultimately have to sign off on the district.

“It does not provide protection,” Berman said. “It’s more about providing information and showing that this is history that is important to the story of our country.”

Julius' Bar on West 10th Street. | GVSHP.ORG

Julius' Bar on West 10th Street. | GVSHP.ORG

There has been talk of a national LGBT history museum being established in New York before the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion in 2019 and additional conversation about putting it in the combined storefronts of the original 1960s-era Stonewall Inn.

“I hope that there is always something in that building that has a connection to the Stonewall Uprising,” Berman said. “There are lots of different ways that that can be kept alive — a museum, a visitors center, an exhibition space, a community center.”

The buildings are in private hands now.

The City Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing on the Stonewall sites is 10 a.m. on June 23 at One Centre Street on the ninth floor, and a photo ID is required to enter. Testimony is limited to three minutes per person.

The National Parks Conservation Association forum on creating an LGBT historic district around the Stonewall is at 7 p.m. on June 23 at the Center at 208 West 13th Street. RSVP to Timothy Leonard at tleonard@npca.org or call 646-324-8303.

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