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CA Panel Backs Historic Listing for Women's Building

by Matthew S. Bajko

The Women's Building
The Women's Building  (Source:Jane Philomen Cleland)

A state panel is supporting the San Francisco Women's Building's request to become a national historic site. Such a designation would make it one of a handful of properties across the country given such federal recognition due to its place in LGBT history and only the third on the West Coast.

California's State Historical Resources Commission voted unanimously at its meeting February 2 to support the listing of the Women's Building on the National Register of Historic Places. The nomination is now under review by the State Historic Preservation Officer for certification.

By the end of the month it will be forwarded to the Keeper of the National Register in Washington, D.C. for final determination. They have 45 days to review the nomination and make a decision.

As the Bay Area Reporter has previously reported, the Women's Building was founded in 1971 by a group of women that included a number of lesbian leaders, such as Roma Guy, whose life and advocacy for the building was depicted last year in the ABC miniseries "When We Rise" about a number of LGBT San Francisco leaders.

In 1979 the Women's Building 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.

The Women's Building had initially sought to become a National Historic Landmark, a designation with higher stature than that of a national historic site. But after the election of President Donald Trump, and on the advice of federal park advocates, the decision was made to seek placement on the National Register of Historic Places.

Donna Graves, a public historian based in Berkeley, has spent the last two years working on the Women's Building application. Her work has been funded by a grant from the National Park Service's LGBTQ Heritage Initiative, which earmarked money for the nomination of LGBT historic sites from across the country.

"I'm excited to see the Women's Building get this recognition at the national level," Graves told the B.A.R. following the state panel's vote. "This increases the number of sites designated for their association with LGBTQ and post-war American feminism - important areas of U.S. history that are almost invisible in historic designations."

Last June saw the first West Coast LGBT historic site be listed, the Federal Building (50 UN Plaza) in San Francisco. It was the site of the AIDS/ARC Vigil, a decade-long protest against the lack of a federal response to the deadly disease that was started in 1985 by several gay men who chained themselves to the building's doors.

Last September saw the addition of the Great Wall of Los Angeles, a half-mile long mural that depicts numerous California historical events and figures, including the struggle for LGBT rights.

The Park Service's webpage for its LGBT initiative currently lists 21 LGBT historic places, some landmarks and others historic sites, at https://www.nps.gov/subjects/tellingallamericansstories/lgbtqplaces.htm

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