Groundbreaking of a new visitor center at Stonewall National Monument to kick off NYC Pride

These Walls Are Talking

Groundbreaking of a new visitor center at Stonewall National Monument to kick off NYC Pride

The Stonewall Inn, pictured in 2019. Pictured at the right is 51 Christopher Street, site of the future Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center. (Antigng/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY SA 4.0)

A storied Greenwich Village dive bar will soon have its own visitor center.

As first announced yesterday by the social advocacy and community engagement nonprofit Pride Live, an informational and educational hub located directly adjacent to storied watering hole the Stonewall Inn will break ground this Friday with a planned opening date next summer. The tavern, best known for its cheap drinks, upstairs drag shows, and status as arguably the most famous single landmark in American LGBTQ+ history, anchors the Stonewall National Monument, which is a unit of the National Park Service.

The roughly 3,700-square-foot facility—to be located at 51 Christopher Street—will be the first-ever visitor center within the national park system exclusively focused on LGBTQ+ history. As noted in a press release announcing the future Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center (SNMVC), 51 Christopher Street was part of the original Stonewall Inn, which comprised both 51 and 53 Christopher Street. It closed in the late 1960s. (The gay bar at neighboring 53 Christopher Street known as the Stonewall Inn has been operated by its current management since 2006.) Concerns about the future of the vacant storefront at 51 Christoper Street emerged last summer when its landlord, following two years of negotiations with Pride Live, decided to put the building on the commercial real estate market, nearly thwarting the visitor center plans.

The crisis was averted and, as noted by Pride Live, “the future home of the SNMVC will reunite the historic Stonewall Inn and memorialize the events of the Stonewall Rebellion in their authentic locations.”

The space will be co-managed by the NPS and Pride Live.

As detailed in Pride Live’s announcement, the SNMVC “will offer an immersive experience welcoming all people to explore and experience LGBTQ+ history and culture through in-person and virtual tours, lecture series, exhibitions and visual arts displays.” The building will also serve as a station for the NPS rangers who serve as dedicated stewards of the 7.7-acre Stonewall National Monument.

MBB Architects has been tapped to helm the design of the SNMVC and will work alongside LGBTQ+ historians, activists, and community leaders. Local Projects will lead the experiential and exhibit design.

Anchored by the Stonewall Inn, the Stonewall National Monument was designated by former president Barack Obama in 2016 as the first national monument dedicated to LGBQ+ history; in addition to the Stonewall Inn itself, the monument also encompasses the streets and sidewalks surrounding the gay bar where the Stonewall Rebellion of June 28, 1969, unfolded. Widely considered as the event that sparked the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States, the Stonewall uprising occurred when the tavern’s predominately gay and trans clientele—Marsha P Johnson among them—said enough is enough and fought back following an onslaught of police harassment that culminated in a raid in the early morning of June 28. Thirteen Stonewall patrons and employees were arrested during the melee and an extended period of protests, some violent, followed in the days after. The event was a hugely catalytic one, inspiring mass organization among LGBTQ+ Americans.

“On this spot, an energized group of people created a movement for equality that continues to this day,” said National Park Service Director Chuck Sams in a statement. “The visitor center and its exhibits will celebrate and acknowledge LGBTQ+ accomplishments and serve as a place where people can learn about and connect with the LGBTQ+ community’s ongoing struggle for civil liberties.”

In 2019, 50 years after the raid, the New York City Police Department formally apologized. “The actions taken by the NYPD were wrong, plain and simple,” then-police commissioner James O’Neill said. “The actions and the laws were discriminatory and oppressive, and for that, I apologize.”

The SNMVC is being funded in part by the largesse of the community and its allies; as detailed by Pride Live, the effort also includes more than a few major corporate and foundational supporters including, among others, Google, Target, The Kors Le Pere Foundation, JPMorgan Chase & Co., the New York Yankees, and Amazon. Prominent members of the LGBTQ+ community including Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi and Lana and Lilly Wachowski are also among the backers. Global activist and ally Josephine Skriver contributed the inaugural donation to the campaign.

This Friday’s groundbreaking ceremony will be livestreamed on YouTube beginning at 10:30 A.M. ET.