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Historic SF LGBT site listed on federal register

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The YWCA/Issei Women's Building is located in San Francisco's Japantown. Photo: Courtesy California Department of Parks and Recreation.
The YWCA/Issei Women's Building is located in San Francisco's Japantown. Photo: Courtesy California Department of Parks and Recreation.  

A third site in San Francisco with ties to LGBT history has now been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Japanese YWCA/Issei Women's Building is the fourth property on the West Coast given such federal recognition due to its place in LGBT history.

The property at 1830 Sutter Street was officially listed on the National Register January 10. It is also now listed in the California Register of Historical Resources, providing some protections to the two-story-over-basement, wood frame structure designed by famed architect Julia Morgan.

She worked pro bono on behalf of a group of Issei, or first generation, Japanese American women in the United States who were barred from using the YWCA's other facilities. The building was constructed in 1932 and sports an eclectic Japanese-inspired style. (An addition also designed in a Japanese-inspired style was built in 2017.)

As explained in a letter to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors — dated January 13 and included in the board's February 25 meeting packet — State Historic Preservation Officer Julianne Polanco noted, "Placement on the National Register affords a property the honor of inclusion in the nation's official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation and provides a degree of protection from adverse effects resulting from federally funded or licensed projects."

The Japantown Y site was where the pioneering gay rights group the Mattachine Society hosted its first convention in May 1954, according to the city's LGBTQ historic context statement. Bayard Rustin, the late gay African American civil rights leader, also taught a course at the site, according to research done by Donna Graves in preparing the request for listing on the National Register.

(While visiting Pasadena, California January 31, 1953 as part of his lecture tour on the topics of anti-colonial struggles in West Africa, Rustin was arrested after being discovered having sex with two men in a parked car and forced to register as a sex offender. Earlier this month, Governor Gavin Newsom posthumously pardoned Rustin.)

The two other sites in San Francisco listed on the National Register partly due to their LGBT historical ties are the Women's Building and the Federal Building at 50 UN Plaza.

There are now at least 27 LGBT national historic places. To learn more about the various sites, visit https://www.nps.gov/subjects/tellingallamericansstories/lgbtqplaces.htm

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