Six LGBT historic sites declared NYC landmarks

LGBTQ History Month

Six LGBT historic sites declared NYC landmarks

Manhattan's LGBT Center is now officially an Individual Landmark. (Courtesy NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project)

Just in time for LGBT History Month, the New York City Council announced at the end of September that six sites have been designated Individual Landmarks for their significance to LGBTQ+ history. While the six sites were selected during Pride Month this past June, they were required to go through a few more rounds of confirmations by the full 51-person City Council, the City Council’s subcommittee on Landmarks, and the Land Use Committee. While there are always naysayers in Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) public hearings, these significant landmarks have officially made it. 

This is great news for both the LGBTQ community and the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, an educational resource that began in 2015 with the goal of broadening people’s knowledge of LGBT history and geography “beyond Stonewall.” Sites are added to the project’s interactive map, which can be navigated through filters including “Cultural Significance,” “Neighborhood,” or “Era,” all of which aim to make “an invisible history visible.” 

“I am very proud of these designations, which recognize that despite the obstacles they faced, the LGBT community has thrived in New York City,” said Landmarks Preservation Commission chair Sarah Carroll in an earlier press release. 

Below are the six newly-landmarked buildings: 

Audre Lorde Residence (1898)

A photo of an old three story home with a small fenced in yard and drive way
Audre Lorde resided in this Staten Island home from 1972 to 1987. (Courtesy NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project)

Location: 207 St. Paul’s Avenue, Staten Island
Architect: Otto Loeffler

Audre Lorde (1934-1992), an American writer, feminist, and civil rights activist lived in this Staten Island home with her two children and partner Frances Clayton from 1972 to 1987. Born in Harlem, Lorde noted in an interview with Louise Chawla that this home was a perfect balance between nature and her commitment to raising her children in the city. While living there, Lorde was the Thomas Hunter Chair of Literature at Hunter College and spoke at the 1979 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. 

Caffe Cino (1877)

A photo of a small, green storefront attached to a brick building
This building was formerly known as Caffe Cino, a site commonly regarded as the birthplace of Off-Off-Broadway theater. (Courtesy NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project)

Location: 21 Cornelia Street, Manhattan
Architect: Benjamin Warner

Caffe Cino was designated for its significance as New York City’s first gay theater, as well as the birthplace of Off-Off-Broadway. The Greenwich Village Italianate-style building was occupied by Caffe Cino from 1958 to 1968 (closing a year before the Stonewall uprising) and currently houses a bar called The Drunken Monkey. The four-story tenement and store was constructed by Benjamin Warner in 1877 and features Philadelphia brick walls with iron and wood elements.  

LGBT Community Center (1845)

A perspective photo shows a brick building on a sunny day. A rainbow flag flies out front.
Manhattan’s LGBT Center has been officially designated as an individual landmark by the New York City Council. (Courtesy NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project)

Location: 208 West 13th Street, Manhattan
Architect: Amnon Macvey

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center has been an indispensable resource to hundreds of thousands of queer city dwellers since its opening in 1984. Colloquially known as “The Center,” the Italianate-style hub serves the community through health and wellness programs, political action, and social events. In 2001, the center brought on Françoise Bollack Architects to restore the facade and transform the former high school into its present-day program.

James Baldwin Residence (Remodeled 1961)

A photo of a modern, white, brick apartment building surrounded by taller apartment buildings on a tree-lined street.
The LPC designated this building as the most significant surviving building in the United States associated with James Baldwin. (Courtesy NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project)

Location: 137 West 71st Street, Manhattan
Architect: H. Russell Kenyon

This building is “the most significant surviving building in the United States associated with the celebrated novelist, essayist, poet, and civil rights advocate James Baldwin,” claims the LPC designation report. Born in Harlem, Baldwin made this his Upper West Side residence from 1965 until his death in 1987. H. Russell Kenyon expanded an existing row house from 1890 into a modern five-story apartment house in 1961. While here, Baldwin participated in events including a meeting at Carnegie Hall with Dr. Martin Luther King shortly before his death, and where he wrote Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone (1968), If Beale Street Could Talk (1974), and No Name in the Street (1972).

Women’s Liberation Center (1866)

A photo of a three-story brick firehouse on a city street surrounded by similar height buildings.
Located in a former firehouse, the Women’s Liberation Center was a space where queer women could organize separately from male-dominated LGBT organizations. (Courtesy NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project)

Location: 243 West 20th Street, Manhattan
Architect: Charles E. Hartshorn

From 1972 to 1987, this former Chelsea firehouse was known as the Women’s Liberation Center and was the home to many lesbian and feminist organizations, which broke away from the male-dominated LGBTQ organizations of the time. The space was run by volunteers and organized as a collective, serving as the primary meeting area for women fighting for LGBT rights through social service groups and political committees.

Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse (1881)

A three story brick firehouse sits on a city street surrounded by taller buildings.
Another firehouse in SoHo was the home of the Gay Activists Alliance, one of the most significant LGBT community centers in Manhattan before the opening of the LGBT Center in 1983. (Courtesy NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project)

Location: 99 Wooster Street, Manhattan
Architect: Napoleon LeBrun

Another firehouse, this one in SoHo, was also designated. The Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) used the building as headquarters from 1971 to 1974, making it one of the most important LGBT political and cultural centers during these years prior to the opening of the LGBT Center (number three on this list). The GAA lobbied for local civil rights laws, worked against police harassment, and aimed for the creation of fair housing legislation and employment. Located in the SoHo Cast Iron Historic District, the building features neo-Grecian and Queen Anne-style ornamentation including terra-cotta reliefs and stained-glass windows.