Sacramento seeks public input on LGBTQ history

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday April 3, 2024
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LGBTQ bars located on K Street in Sacramento's Lavender Heights neighborhood include The Depot and Badlands. Photo: John Ferrannini
LGBTQ bars located on K Street in Sacramento's Lavender Heights neighborhood include The Depot and Badlands. Photo: John Ferrannini

The city of Sacramento is seeking the public's participation as it documents the state capital's queer history and preservationists write a historic context statement. That document could determine if the city's LGBTQ Lavender Heights neighborhood should be designated a historic district.

The meeting will be Thursday, April 18, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church at 2100 J Street, in the Lavender Heights neighborhood, and about two blocks from the 20th and K intersection in midtown Sacramento at which are located three of the city's six LGBTQ nightlife spots.

Henry Feuss, a historic preservation planner with the city of Sacramento, said that his team is seeking oral history interviews from members of the public.

"This is going to be the first meeting for the project — an opportunity for the public to speak with us, an overview of our methodology, an overview of how the public can participate and an opportunity to directly participate and let us know if we need to look at something deeper," he said.

The context statement will be accompanied by a survey of potentially historic sites.

"The survey aspect is to be a list of properties potentially significant under this historic context — anything to the location where something happened, the historic location of a bar, a nightclub, a bathhouse, or something like that — and identify the significance or lack thereof of these historic sites," he said.

Feuss said that his team is discovering a lot of the area's LGBTQ history is in West Sacramento, a separate city in neighboring Yolo County perhaps best known as the home of the Sacramento River Cats minor league baseball team. This tracks with the Bay Area Reporter's own reporting last year that the former longtime Sacramento County Sheriff John Misterly had kept gay bars and bathhouses from opening in the county.

It wasn't until 1977 that the Mercantile Saloon was the first gay bar to open in the Lavender Heights area, at 1928 L Street. It was followed by the Wreck Room and the Western Pacific Depot (now simply The Depot), so named because of a nearby railway depot. Faces opened across the street in the 1980s.

One goal, Feuss said, is to determine "if there is a potential historic district around Lavender Heights or not. Our definition of Lavender Heights is a lot different than it would have been. The gay bars are not necessarily concentrated where they are now."

Gay Faces owner Terry Sidie stated to the B.A.R., "I'm interested in following this."

TJ Bruce, a gay man who now manages San Francisco Badlands in the LGBTQ Castro neighborhood, owns three businesses at 20th and K in Sacramento — The Depot (2100 K Street), Sacramento Badlands (2003 K Street), and Roscoes (2007 K Street). He told the B.A.R. he is also interested in the historic context efforts.

"I support the idea," he stated. "Makes sense it would be near 20th Street and K Street. Most of the gay bars have been within a block or two of that center."

Faces is another LGBTQ nightlife space located on K Street in Sacramento. Photo: John Ferrannini  

Thematic overview
The context statement will be "a thematic overview of the LGBTQ+ community in the city going back to the city's founding and before," and there are five major themes identified, Feuss said.

These are the 1940s and before, "going back to Native American heritage as well," Feuss said; the period from World War II to the 1960s; the development of publicly-visible LGBTQ spaces in the 1960s; the development of the LGBTQ+ community; and the AIDS crisis.

"These are very much draft themes," Feuss said. "They are subject to change."

The California Office of Historic Preservation provided $40,000 in funding to the city. Feuss said the city provided a $26,000 match for a total of $66,000.

Ultimately, the context statement and survey has to be completed by January as a condition of the state funding, Feuss noted.

San Francisco completed an LGBTQ historic context statement and it was adopted by the city's Historic Preservation Commission in 2015, as the B.A.R. previously reported.

Sacramento City councilmember Katie Valenzuela, a straight ally whose district includes Lavender Heights, told the B.A.R. that the process started when she asked the city's preservationists "about potentially making Lavender Heights a historic landmark."

"In their professional judgment the Lavender Heights area would not qualify, but they suggested we explore funding to do the LGBTQ+ stories project," she said. "We had great success with our African American stories project. I thought this was a fantastic idea since there is so much history of the LGBTQ+ community in Sacramento beyond what has occurred in Lavender Heights. Staff was successful in getting funding to initiate the project last year, and I believe they are working now with a committee to fundraise additional resources."

Feuss said that officials are working with the city's LGBTQ+ community.

"We want the community to take hold of this and be active in it," he said. "We want it to be a historically supported document and something everyone can get behind."

One group they're working with is the Lavender Library at 1414 21st Street, a volunteer-run LGBTQ archive and library in Lavender Heights.

"The Lavender Library is thrilled to collaborate with the City of Sacramento on the historic context statement and survey of the Lavender Heights District," Mauricio Torres, a gay man who is vice president of the Lavender Library's board of directors, stated to the B.A.R. "As stewards of Greater Sacramento's LGBTQ+ history, the Lavender Library eagerly offers our extensive archive and resources to support the city on this project.

"To this end, we are also collaborating closely with the research team to promote outreach events and facilitate access to unpublished oral histories housed within our Library. We aim to ensure that the historical context statement reflects the multiplicity of lived experiences that define our community's vibrant tapestry. We are honored to contribute to this endeavor, affirming the enduring presence and resilience of LGBTQ+ individuals in shaping the cultural landscape of our city and beyond," Torres added.

Pending an additional grant and community fundraising, the Lavender Library hopes to facilitate stipends to volunteer researchers and compensate community members who offer their oral histories.

"At a time when queer rights face backlash, initiatives like this play a vital role in preserving and celebrating our community's rich legacy," Torres said. "We must underscore the enduring presence and contributions of LGBTQ+ individuals in our communities and ensure our stories are recognized and woven into the fabric of our region's collective memory."

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