clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Rejoice, Stonewall Inn Is Officially a New York City Landmark

New, 13 comments

With more than 20 testimonies in favor of landmarking Stonewall Inn coming from LGBT activists, preservationists, local politicians, and Stonewall riot survivors—and none in opposition—a "no" from the Landmarks Preservation Commission would probably have incited another protest of historic proportions. Thankfully, no such thing happened, as the Commission unanimously voted to bestow upon the gay bar—notably, the site of an epic 1969 police raid and, according to almost every speaker at the hearing, the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement—landmark status. The room erupted in applause, with audience members embracing one another in celebration of the news, which has coincided with the start of New York City's Pride Week.

This recognition took about a year to come to fruition. Although the Inn falls within the Greenwich Village Historic District, designated mere months before the riots took place, and has been a National Historic Landmark since 2000, preservationists argued that, without a city landmark designation, the building would still be vulnerable to real estate development.

Several testifiers, including New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, compared Stonewall to other important sites in American civil rights movements, including Seneca Falls and Selma, Alabama. Like these other historic locations, Stonewall carries importance "for every community in the city of New York," James said. "Everyone needs to know this story of rebellion," she added. David Saltonstall, assistant comptroller for policy, who also spoke on behalf of Comptroller Scott Stringer, called Stonewall a "national symbol of dignity and defiance," proving that "things can get better" and "a small group of people can change the world."

The building is the first to be designated for its significance to the LGBT community—but it's also the rare building to be deemed "culturally significant" enough (rather than aesthetically so) to merit landmark status.

The speakers at today's public hearing implored commissioners to continue looking beyond architectural features in order to determine a building's worth. Many testimonies made mention of other LGBT-relevant locations proposed by the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation as potential landmarks: Julius's Bar, the site of the first planned civil disobedience for the LGBT movement; the LGBT Community Center, where Act Up was founded; and the Firehouse at 99 Wooster Street, the headquarters of the Gay Activists Alliance. Some speakers suggested finding a way to commemorate Christopher Street and Christopher Park.

Andrew Dolkart, director of Columbia's Historic Preservation Program, said the LPC should look into landmarking sites that were pertinent to other groups, such as women, as well as Chinese and Hispanic populations, to name a few. "New York has to catch up," he said.

Many speakers shared stories of how Stonewall played a role in their own lives as LGBT youth in the city. Openly gay Council Member Corey Johnson, whose district contains Stonewall, said that when he first visited New York at the age of 17, Stonewall was his first destination. Council Member Rosie Mendez, who identified herself as an out lesbian when she took the floor, recalled how the community has returned to the bar multiple times since the riots, usually after major events concerning LGBT rights and marriage equality. "It continues to be the place that people from all over the world come to... to see the birthplace of our movement," she said. David Ehrich, an activist with SaveStonewall.org, spoke about the recent tragedy of Tyler Clementi's suicide, comparing his own upbringing to that of Clementi's. "My only salvation... was going to Stonewall," he said.

A couple speakers had suggestions for further preservation of Stonewall. Christabel Gough of the Society for the Architecture of the City asked if there was any way to recreate the neon sign that once marked Stonewall's location. Barbara Zay of the Historic Districts Council proposed finding a way to preserve not just the physical space of the inn, but also its function; in a perfect world, she said hopes Stonewall can be maintained as a public gathering space.


The only speaker who shared qualms over the landmarking proposal was a Stonewall survivor who said he still remembers the bar as a "symbol of oppression," not a "symbol of liberation." The historical event, he noted, took place not in the bar, but out in the streets. He supports the landmarking inasmuch as it commemorates the history that transpired, but cautioned against failing to contextualize the incident.

Following the testimonies, Commissioner Michael Devonshire agreed that the building is culturally crucial if not architecturally significant. "It ain't a pretty building," he said, eliciting laughs from the audience. Still, he echoed support for the movement at this particular moment, not just because of its relevance to Pride Week, but in light of the recent shootings in Charleston. Devonshire expressed a desire for more tolerance and a move toward being "more human." Commissioner Michael Goldblum added that this landmarking would raise a challenge for the LPC to develop a broader definition of landmark. Reminding everyone that this year marks 50 years of New York's landmarks law, he called this a "great step for the next 50 years."
—Wesley Yiin
· Preservationists Move to Protect Downtown LGBT Sites [Curbed]
· Stonewall Inn One Step Closer to Landmark Designation [Curbed]
· Stonewall Inn to Be Considered for Landmark Status [Curbed]
· All Stonewall Inn coverage [Curbed]