Political Notes: CA panel supports designations for three LGBTQ historic properties

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Friday January 21, 2022
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Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco received support for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo: Courtesy Kyle Jarret
Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco received support for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo: Courtesy Kyle Jarret

A trio of California sites important to the history of the LGBTQ community has received support for being designated as such from a state panel. One of the three is Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco.

The California State Historical Resources Commission unanimously voted 6-0 Friday, January 21, to recommend the liberal congregation's Tenderloin sanctuary plus an adjacent apartment building and the Morris Kight House in Los Angeles for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. It also voted to add the Black Cat Tavern in Los Angeles to the list of California Historical Landmarks.

The three were among eight properties of historic significance for various reasons throughout the Golden State that the commission voted on at its first quarterly meeting of 2022.

"California certainly has a diverse history," said commission chair Lee Adams III.

For Glide and the Kight house it is now up to the State Historic Preservation Officer for approval and submission to their federal counterpart. 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.

As the Bay Area Reporter has previously reported, there are few LGBTQ historic sites among the federal registry's more than 96,000 properties as of the end of 2020.

There are currently 38 LGBTQ historic sites according to a list compiled by the National Park Service. Four are located in California, with three being in San Francisco: the Women's Building, the Federal Building at U.N. Plaza, and the Japanese YWCA/Issei Women's Building.

The San Francisco Planning Department used a $55,000 Underrepresented Communities Grant from the Department of the Interior to hire consultants to write National Register of Historic Places nominations for the Japantown site and Glide, as the B.A.R. reported in 2016. The coauthors of the city's LGBTQ historic context statement were hired.

Donna Graves, who is straight, wrote the one for the Issei building, and Shayne Watson, an architectural historian who is lesbian, compiled the one for the church. It is her first National Register nomination.

"The importance of Glide is impossible to categorize because Glide's significance is unconditional love. There's no place in San Francisco that has done more for underserved communities," Watson told the B.A.R. "My heart is overflowing today knowing that this special place is getting its day in the sun."

James W. Plachek designed Glide's 91-year-old church building in the Mediterranean Revival style. It and several other buildings Glide's 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. But at the time Glide's significant to LGBTQ history had gone unmentioned.

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.

"Glide Memorial Church was the midwife of the modern LGBTQ movement, not just in San Francisco, but nationally," as Susan Stryker, Ph.D., a transgender scholar and LGBTQ historian, notes in the church's nomination form for listing. "Its early support for addressing the social costs of anti-gay and anti-transgender discrimination from an ecumenical perspective was absolutely crucial for gaining mainstream attention to these issues."

Stryker called its LGBTQ-focused religious council "absolutely pathbreaking" and the police raid on its 1965 Mardi Gras Ball, "a largely unheralded turning point in civil rights and sexual liberation struggles."

She credits Glide's co-founder the Reverend Cecil Williams and other socially progressive ministers he worked with for integrating the pastoral care of LGBTQ people into its broader sense of Christian mission.

"Glide was home to the first organization to support dispossessed and abandoned queer kids and sex-workers living on the streets of the Tenderloin, and to the first support groups for transgender individuals," states Stryker in the nomination form. "The church was, and remains, a vital nexus for promoting the radical idea — which should not be radical at all—that all people are of equal worth and deserve to live in health and happiness with basic dignity and adequate food and shelter."

For its national register listing Glide is being recommended not only due to its role in early LGBTQ history in the 1960s, but also for its association with social history as a women's residence in the 1930s-1950s, Black and Asian ethnic heritage in the 1960s, and as a significant example of Plachek's work, noted the California State Parks. The state agency oversees the historical resources panel.

Gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) told the B.A.R. "it is fantastic" to see Glide being recognized.

"Glide, it is a pillar of the San Francisco community, and Glide is such a safety net organization for an enormous number of San Franciscans," he said. "In addition, Glide has played a huge role in the LGBTQ community in San Francisco. It was one of the first major institutions in the city, if not the first, to embrace our community, so it is long overdue."

Los Angeles properties

The Kight house is a Craftsman bungalow constructed in 1911. According to a state parks release Kight, a Los Angeles gay activist who died in 2003, moved into the house in 1967. His home became a meeting place and organizing center associated with multiple gay rights organizations and events, including the L.A. chapter of the Gay Liberation Front, the Christopher Street West parade, and the Gay Community Services Center (later the Los Angeles LGBT Center), the release stated.

Kate Eggert, a lesbian who pushed for the designation for Kight's home, thanked the commission for its support. She and her wife, Krisy Gosney, own the firm Gosney-Eggert Historic Preservation Consultants and together wrote the nomination for the property.

It is often difficult to landmark LGBTQ properties, Eggert noted, due to their lacking architectural significance in addition to their cultural significance.

"It's kind of unreal what he did at that location and how all these institutions he co-founded ... how it just created such a solid foundation of social service and gay visibility, which propelled the gay liberation movement into its next phase, which was really politics," said Eggert, who for years now has worked to save and recognize important LGBTQ properties in Los Angeles County. "Morris, he gave gays and lesbians just a new language to speak, to be comfortable, to be proud with one's sexuality and just created the institutional stability on which LGBTs now prevail."

The Black Cat tavern on Sunset Boulevard was the site of the first LGBT civil rights demonstration in Southern California, noted the state agency. Following the arrests of 14 men on New Year's Eve 1966 at the bar for kissing, several hundred people protested at the Black Cat on February 11, 1967. The legal battle from the arrests laid the groundwork for California LGBT rights organizations to overturn the state's sodomy laws, according to the release.

Placement on the national register can help bring positive attention to a historic place, according to the state parks release. Registration also provides incentives for preservation of historic properties, including special building codes to facilitate the restoration of historic structures.

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