Protect and preserve: Activists push to landmark key sites in gay-rights movement
Preservationists want the city to landmark two legendary Greenwich Village spots made famous by the gay-rights movement, though the Landmarks Preservation Commission seems in little hurry to do so.
The Stonewall Inn at 52 Christopher Street was the site of a riot on June 28, 1969, when patrons of the gay bar clashed with New York police officers who had come to raid it. The riot is generally considered the starting point of the gay-rights movement. The Stonewall was also the site of celebrations in 2013, when the Supreme Court overturned the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act. The other spot preservationists are pushing for landmark status is Julius’ at 159 West 10th Street, the nation’s oldest gay bar.
Both already fall within the Greenwich Village Historic District, meaning any significant changes have to be run by the landmarks commission. But the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation — a non-profit dedicated to preserving the Village’s cultural and architectural heritage — says that protection is not enough. “They’re not getting the explicit protections and recognition that they should be getting,” Andrew Berman, the GVSHP’s executive director, told DNAinfo. “It’s very, very easy for this history to get lost to the sands of time, and that’s one of the purposes of landmark designations — to make sure that it’s not lost, that it is recognized.”
Compounding the GVSHP’s worry about the properties’ future is their outdated placement within the historic district. The Landmarks Preservation Commission’s report on the district, which detailed the significance of each building, dates to 1969 — it was drafted two months before the Stonewall riots, and therefore does not mention the bar’s important place in the gay-rights movement.
Having both bars individually landmarked, preservationists say, would add a layer of protection. “We don’t really want to leave these things to chance,” Berman said.
To that end, he and local state Sen. Brad Hoylman wrote letters to Robert Tierney, chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, asking for the buildings to be landmarked, according to DNAinfo. The commission has received the letter, and says it’s aware of the historic significance of the Stonewall and Julius’. In fact, the pair may get a sympathetic airing, though not necessarily a favorable designation ruling. The landmarks commission has been studying how to protect culturally important properties of groups historically underrepresented among the city’s designated landmarks, among them those tied to the gay-rights movement.
As of mid-February, however, the commission was still considering the request. — Tom Acitelli
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