SF planners aim to landmark a number of LGBT historic sites

  • by Matthew S. Bajko
  • Wednesday August 24, 2016
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San Francisco planning officials are aiming to grant city landmark status to a number of LGBT historic sites in the coming years.

The properties run the gamut from former bars to the headquarters of early LGBT rights groups. Listing among federal historical properties is also being eyed for the locations, which were compiled by Hannah Fong, a summer intern working with the planning department's historic preservation staff, from the city's LGBT historic context statement adopted last fall.

Speaking before the city's Historic Preservation Commission at its August 17 meeting, Fong noted that the locations "reflect the deep roots and networks" LGBT people built in the city "despite the discrimination" they often faced.

There are 10 sites of LGBT historical significance now under consideration for landmark status. Of the seven new sites identified by Fong, the list includes 689-93 Mission Street, known as the Williams Building, which in 1954 housed the national headquarters of the Mattachine Society, an early homophile organization that relocated from Los Angeles, and 83 Sixth Street, which from 1966 through the 1970s served as the headquarters for the Society of Individual Rights, another homophile organization that was founded in San Francisco.

Also included are two North Beach properties: 710 Montgomery Street, once home to the legendary gay bar the Black Cat, where drag queen Jose Sarria worked and used as his 1961 supervisor campaign headquarters, and 440 Broadway, once the site of lesbian bar Mona's 440 Club, famous for its male-impersonating performers clad in tuxedos.

The former site of Gene Compton's Cafeteria, at 101 Taylor Street, where 50 years ago this August transgender and queer patrons rose up against police harassment, and 1001 Potrero Avenue, which houses Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital's Ward 86 AIDS clinic, the first of its kind in the country, are also on the list.

As is 623 Valencia Street, which houses Community Thrift, a secondhand store founded by the Tavern Guild, the country's first gay business association, that raises money for a host of local nonprofits.

(While plaques can be found at the former sites of the Black Cat and Compton's explaining their place in LGBT history, neither of the buildings has been landmarked.)

The members of the Historic Preservation Commission gave their tacit approval for adding the septet of LGBT sites to the planning staff's workload over the next decade. The department would work in-house on seeking city landmark status for the sites and engage consultants who would pursue federal landmark status for them.

Planning staff are now working to prioritize all 40 of the sites they have identified for landmark status and will present their suggested timeline for how to move forward at the commission's meeting in September. Because none of the LGBT sites are in imminent danger of being demolished, they are unlikely to be immediately worked on.

"I have tried to prioritize the properties that are threatened because they are on the market or have projects going on," explained preservation planner Susan Parks at the hearing.

Commissioner Jonathan Pearlman noted that the oversight panel "18 months ago was complaining" that the department's landmark program "was willfully inadequate," yet "now we have a plethora of options."

The seven LGBT historical sites are in addition to the three buildings in the city for which listing on the National Register of Historic Places was already being sought due to the role they played in the history of San Francisco's LGBT community. As the Bay Area Reporter first reported in March, those sites are Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, the building that once housed the Japantown YWCA, and the Women's Building.

The planning department is using a $55,000 Underrepresented Communities Grant from the Department of the Interior to hire consultants to write National Register of Historic Places nominations for Glide and the YWCA.

The Japantown Y, located at 1830 Sutter Street and now occupied by the private, nonprofit childcare center Nihonmachi Little Friends, and Glide church, at 330 Ellis Street in the city's Tenderloin neighborhood, are also being considered for designation as city landmarks.

In May 1954, the Mattachine Society hosted its first convention at the Y building, while Glide's leaders have long pushed for LGBT rights and cared for people living with HIV and AIDS. The nomination forms could be complete by next summer.

(The city is likely to pursue as its third choice for federal landmark status under the grant a property of historical significance to the Filipino community.)

As for the Women's Building, which is already a city landmark, its leadership is working with Donna Graves, a public historian based in Berkeley who co-wrote the historic context statements for both San Francisco's Japantown and LGBTQ community, to seek federal landmark listing. Graves secured funding through the National Park Service's LGBTQ Heritage Initiative for preparing the application.

The building was founded in 1971 by a group of women that included a number of lesbian leaders. It has since hosted numerous meetings of LGBT groups over the years.