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Federal Recognition Sought for San Francisco LGBT Historic Sites

by Matthew S. Bajko

An effort is underway to seek a National Historic Landmark designation for the Women's Building in San Francisco
An effort is underway to seek a National Historic Landmark designation for the Women's Building in San Francisco  (Source:Jane Philomen Cleland)

Historic preservation officials are seeking federal recognition for four sites in the city that played a role in the history of San Francisco's LGBT community.

Listing on the National Register of Historic Places is being sought for Glide Memorial United Methodist Church and the building that once housed the Japantown YWCA, the Bay Area Reporter has learned. A third site to be nominated for the register should be chosen in the coming weeks.

"We want the three to be as diverse as possible," said Timothy Frye, the planning department's?historic preservation officer.

The planning department in November learned it would receive a $55,000 Underrepresented Communities Grant from the Department of the Interior. The funds will be used to hire consultants to write National Register of Historic Places nominations for the three sites.

Yet the announcement by the federal agency and the National Park Service was largely overlooked at the time. And a news release about the funding did not specify which sites were being nominated.

It merely stated the grant would "support the preparation of three National Register nominations and a citywide inventory for properties associated with the advancement of civil rights for African-American, Asian-American, Latino American, LGBTQ populations, and women."

Initially, the city's planning department had included the Women's Building among the trio. But a separate effort is now underway to seek a National Historic Landmark designation for the structure located at class=xbe>3543 18th Street near Valencia Street.

"I have been talking with the National Park Service for a while now about how compelling it is as a place of national significance. They have come to agree," said Donna Graves, a public historian based in Berkeley who co-wrote the historic context statements for both San Francisco's Japantown and LGBTQ community.

Graves has received some funding to complete the paperwork required for the landmark designation through the National Park Service's LGBTQ Heritage Initiative, which earmarked funding specifically for LGBT landmark nominations.

"I convinced them the site is really significant in LGBTQ history but also in the history of people of color and women's history, all of which have been under-represented in our federal program," said Graves. "What is great about this building is it encompasses such a broad sweep of recent history."

Becoming a National Historic Landmark is one of the highest designations at the federal level a property can receive outside of being named a national monument or park site. According to the park service, there are just over 2,500 historic places that "bear this national distinction nomination."

As for the Women's Building, it was founded in 1971 by a group of women that included a number of lesbian leaders, such as Roma Guy and her wife, Diane Jones. It moved into its current building in the fall of 1979, where it has hosted numerous meetings of LGBT groups and conferences over the years, such as the inaugural African American lesbians "Becoming Visible" gathering in 1980.

"Although not an exclusively lesbian organization, the Women's Building of San Francisco ... is one of the anchors of the history of women, feminists, lesbians, and queer and progressive groups more generally in San Francisco," notes the city's LGBTQ historic context statement, which Graves, who is straight, co-wrote with Shayne Watson, an architectural historian based in San Francisco who is lesbian.

The building is so connected to the city's women's movement and lesbian community that the route of the annual Dyke March during Pride weekend has historically included that stretch of 18th Street between Guerrero and Valencia. A change in the official route last year that bypassed the Women's Building led numerous marchers to break away and walk by the site in protest.

It already has city landmark status, and Women's Building officials are excited about the prospect of it receiving national recognition. Tatjana Loh, the building's development director for nearly 10 years, told the B.A.R. there are two reasons that come to mind for why it deserves being a federal landmark.

"Number one just for the prestige of that recognition of all the history that has happened here for women, for marginalized populations, and for the structure itself and the mural," said Loh, referring to the MaestraPeace Mural that adorns the facade of the building and was created by eight female muralists in 1994. "It also seems to be a wonderful opportunity for Donna to put all of that big history together. It is kind of spread around in different places."


Trio of City Sites Will Be Nominated

Frye told the B.A.R. the trio of city sites being nominated for listing on the National Register tie into the three historic context statements the city has adopted, which cover the African-American community in addition to Japantown and the LGBTQ community.

He is in talks with National Park Service officials on what the third site will be in place of the Women's Building. He expects the grant agreement to be finalized within the next couple of months.

"One of the factors for choosing them was their ties to LGBT history," said Frye.

Neither the Japantown Y, located at 1830 Sutter Street and now occupied by the private, nonprofit childcare center Nihonmachi Little Friends, nor Glide church, at 330 Ellis Street in the city's Tenderloin neighborhood, are designated as city landmarks.

Frye told the B.A.R. that planning staff has yet to engage directly with officials of either group about their building's being nominated but that Graves had and both "are open to pursuing this."

According to the California State Parks Office of Historic Preservation, a property owner's permission is not needed to request that the site be listed on the National Register. However, the office notes on its website that the property "may not be listed over the objection of the owner."

The Japantown Y site, in May 1954, was where the pioneering gay rights group the Mattachine Society hosted its first convention, according to the city's LGBTQ historic context statement. Designed by famed architect Julia Morgan, it was built in 1932 by first generation Japanese immigrant women.

Due to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the building came under the umbrella of the American Friends Service Committee. It was included on the list of properties identified in the LGBTQ history document as possibly eligible for listing as a city landmark or included on the California Register and/or the National Register of historic properties.

Cathy Inamasu, Nihonmachi's executive director, did not respond to the B.A.R.'s request for comment by press time Wednesday.

According to a history of the Japanese bilingual childcare provider posted to its website, when it bought the historic building in March 2002, amid a settlement of a lawsuit the community had filed in an effort to save the building after the local YWCA had put it up for sale, it agreed as part of the purchase agreement it had a "responsibility to protect and promote the historic legacy of its Issei (first generation) women founders."

Leaders of Glide declined, through a spokeswoman, the B.A.R. 's request for an interview, citing their having limited information about the plan to seek listing of the church.

According to Frye, Glide's church and several other buildings its foundation owns are listed as contributors to the National Register district of historic sites known as the Uptown Tenderloin Historic District, which was created in 2009.

"It doesn't specifically talk about why the building is significant for LGBTQ history," noted Frye.

As detailed in the city's LGBTQ historic context statement, Glide's pastoral leaders were instrumental in fostering a dialogue between faith leaders and LGBT people in the early 1960s. Their outreach led to the creation in December 1964 of the Council on Religion and the Homosexual, notable for being the first group to use the word "homosexual" in its name.

"Glide Memorial Church's involvement in homophile activism was extraordinary in the mid-1960s," noted the document.

The church and its leaders not only established a welcoming place of worship for LGBT people, but they have been at the forefront of various LGBT equality fights, from protesting police harassment to arguing for marriage equality, and caring for people living with HIV and AIDS.

For the property nominations to move forward, the State Historical Resources Commission must first approve them. Its recommendation for listing on the National Register is then sent to the State Historic Preservation Officer for approval.

The Keeper of the National Register in Washington, D.C. makes the final determination within 45 days after receipt of the nomination from the state officer.


Bayard Rustin Apartment Listed

As the B.A.R. has noted in previous stories, there are only a handful of sites in the U.S. that are federally recognized for their ties to LGBT history or figures.

According to a list compiled by the National Park Service - which can be found online at http://www.nps.gov/history/heritageinitiatives/LGBThistory/list.html - there are two LGBT sites designated as National Historic Landmarks: the Stonewall Inn gay bar in New York City and the Henry Gerber House in Chicago.

There are now five sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places, all of which are on the East Coast. The most recent to be listed, which has yet to be added to the park service's website list, is the apartment the late gay African American Quaker and civil rights leader Bayard Rustin lived in at 340 West 28th Street in Manhattan.

Due to the work of Mark Meinke, a gay man who founded the Washington, D.C.-based Rainbow History Project, the residence was listed March 8, days ahead of what would have been Rustin's 104th birthday on March 17.

As noted in the online description of the home, found at http://www.nps.gov/articles/Bayard-Rustin-Residence.htm, Rustin lived in apartment 9J in Building 7 of the new Penn South Complex in the West Chelsea section of Manhattan from September 11, 1962 until his death in 1987. Not only "his longest and most permanent place of residence as an adult," according to the listing, but his partner, Walter Naegle, who moved there in 1977, "continues to reside there, preserving the apartment almost exactly as Rustin left it."

The listing of several other sites is now pending, according to LGBT preservationists and historians.

Tuesday Meinke announced that the New York State Board for Historic Preservation had approved the landmarking of Julius', one of the oldest gay bars in Manhattan's Greenwich Village located at 159 West Tenth Street. It will now be nominated for listing on the National Register.

Also on Tuesday the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission announced it had selected 23 new state historical markers, including one to be placed in Philadelphia honoring Barbara Gittings, described as an "early LGBT leader who was instrumental in having homosexuality removed from its classification as a mental illness and promoting the inclusion of gay publications in libraries across the nation."

Gittings died in February 2007 at the age of 74. A dedication ceremony of the marker is planned for 11 a.m. Monday, July 25 at the corner of 21st and Locust streets.

The blue-with-gold-lettering signs can be found across the Keystone State. One found directly across the street from Independence Hall in downtown Philadelphia marks the site of the Annual Reminder, a gay rights demonstration Gittings helped organize that took place each July 4 from 1965 to 1969. Another can be found in front of the building that housed Philly's LGBT bookstore Giovanni's Room, now the home of Philly AIDS Thrift.

Meinke was also successful in January in securing local historic landmark status for the Washington, D.C. house at 219 11th Street, S.E., which was the headquarters in the 1970s of the Furies Collective, an influential lesbian feminist group. He is now seeking the property's listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Will Roscoe, Ph.D., a San Francisco-based community organizer, is pushing the National Register of Historic Places to amend the listing for the Wheelwright Museum in New Mexico so it includes the involvement of two-spirit leaders in the founding of the museum, specifically that of co-founder Hastíín Klah, a respected Navajo traditionalist who was a nádleehí, the Navajo term for a third gender or two-spirit person.

"As both a medicine man and a weaver, Klah bridged the roles of men and women. In the 1920s and 1930s, his masterful tapestries helped win recognition for Navajo art worldwide," Roscoe noted in an email. "The documentation for the museum's NRHP certification does not mention Klah's two-spirit status."

The New Mexico Historic Preservation Office is expected to consider the proposed update for the listing April 8. Roscoe has asked supporters to email New Mexico State Historic Preservation Officer Jeff Pappas, Ph.D., at jeff.pappas@state.nm.us on why Klah's background should be added to the museum's listing.

If passed at the state level, then Roscoe will submit the amendment to the National Park Service for final approval.

As for the National Historic Landmark LGBTQ Theme Study and proposed framework, which the B.A.R. first reported on in January 2014, it should be released this June, according to lead author Megan Springate.

It is part of the National Park Service's LGBTQ Heritage Initiative, which has also been encouraging members of the public to submit nominations of places important to the country's LGBT community for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places or to be designated as a National Historic Landmark.

One outcome of the initiative has been the push to see President Barack Obama designate the area around the Stonewall Inn as the country's first LGBT national monument. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti made headlines last week when he sent Obama a letter March 16 urging him to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to establish a Stonewall Inn National Monument.

"The struggle for equality touches us all and our National Monuments are an excellent apparatus for telling America's history," wrote Garcetti. "I hope that by designating Stonewall as a National Monument we preserve a part of history that has long lived in the shadows."

For more information about the push to create what would be the first LGBT unit within the National Park Service, visit https://www.npca.org/advocacy/5-a-national-park-for-stonewall.


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