SF LGBT historic site downgrades federal landmark request
by Matthew S. Bajko
With President Donald Trump in office, an LGBT historic site in San Francisco has dropped its request to become a National Historic Landmark, the Bay Area Reporter has learned.
The leadership of the Women's Building in the city's Mission district had been working with Donna Graves, a public historian based in Berkeley, to fill out the paperwork for the structure to secure a landmark designation, one of the highest honors at the federal level a property can receive outside of being named a national monument or park site.
Graves had secured a grant from the National Park Service's LGBTQ Heritage Initiative, which earmarked funding specifically for LGBT historic nominations, as the B.A.R. first reported in March. The Women's Building was founded in 1971 by a group of women that included a number of lesbian leaders.
In 1979 it moved into its current location, at 3543 18th Street near Valencia Street, where it has hosted numerous meetings of LGBT groups and conferences over the years and continues to do so. The building is already deemed a city landmark, though it was listed for its historical significance predating the modern LGBT rights movement.
Had its National Historic Landmark nomination moved forward and been approved, it could have been the third property listed specifically for its LGBTQ significance. As of January, there were only two such landmarks, according to the Interior Department.
Due to the nomination of Republican Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke to be the federal agency's secretary, who in that role would sign off on National Historic Landmark applications, Graves was advised to seek a lesser listing for the Women's Building on the National Register of Historic Places, which has a different approval process, said a person briefed on the matter.
Asked this week about the change in federal recognition for the building, Graves told the B.A.R. she needed to first consult with the National Park Service before responding. In an emailed reply, she wrote, "We're doing a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places because that's what the funding allows."
Tatjana Loh, development director for the Women's Building, did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Andrew Munoz, a spokesman for the Park Service's Pacific West Region, told the B.A.R. Wednesday morning the decision was made for financial reasons.
"The funding source for the National Historic Landmark project is through the National Park Foundation. The advice given was it would be better to pursue a National Register nomination because the funding available is not enough to complete the historic landmark process."
Shayne Watson, who co-wrote with Graves a historic context statement for San Francisco's LGBTQ community and contributed a chapter to the park service's LGBTQ theme study, said the news raised a "red flag" for her when she learned about it.
"It is scary to be honest," said Watson, adding that as has happened with LGBT pages on other federal websites since Trump's swearing in last week, "the LGBTQ theme study they can just delete the PDF off the website, that is kind of terrifying to me."
Other designations move forward
It remains an open question if any nominations of LGBT historic sites to the national register will advance under the Trump administration. As of press time Wednesday, the Park Service's webpage for its LGBT initiative was still available, though its list of four LGBT historic places remained out of date, as the number is now up to at least eight.
Earlier this month, prior to President Barack Obama's leaving office, the Interior Department announced it had awarded $50,000 to the District of Columbia Office of Planning and $49,999 to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, & Historic Preservation Office to work on adding LGBT historic sites to the federal register.
In San Francisco the planning department's historic preservation division is moving forward to list two sites with ties to the city's LGBT history on the National Register as well as designate them city landmarks. It has hired Watson to work on the application for Glide Memorial Church, at 330 Ellis Street in the city's Tenderloin neighborhood, and Graves to complete one for the building that once housed the Japantown YWCA, located at 1830 Sutter Street and now occupied by the private, nonprofit childcare center Nihonmachi Little Friends.
"The contracts are being finalized as we speak and we expect research work to start in the next few weeks," said Timothy Frye, the planning department's historic preservation officer.
Also in the pipeline is granting city landmark status to seven LGBT historic sites the planning department first identified in August. The list includes 710 Montgomery Street, formerly home to gay bar the Black Cat, and 440 Broadway, once the site of lesbian bar Mona's 440 Club.
Two buildings that served as headquarters for early LGBT rights groups are on the list: 689-93 Mission Street, known as the Williams Building, where both the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis first met, and 83 Sixth Street, the early home of the Society of Individual Rights.
The other three locations are 101 Taylor Street, where transgender and queer patrons of Gene Compton's Cafeteria rioted in the mid 1960s; 1001 Potrero Avenue, which houses Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital's Ward 86 AIDS clinic, the first of its kind in the country; and 623 Valencia Street, which houses Community Thrift, a secondhand store that raises money for LGBT nonprofits and others founded by the Tavern Guild, the country's first gay business association.