The Stonewall Inn, an icon of the LGBT rights movement for nearly 50 years, is up for consideration as a New York City landmark this week.
As gay pride month kicks off, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission will discuss making the bar an official historic site, which would mean any changes to the structure would have to be approved by the city.
“We definitely think it’s an incredibly important and long overdue idea. It’s something that we’ve proposed and put forth for some time. This is a site that has international renown as the birthplace of the modern LGBT or gay rights movement,” said Andrew Berman, Director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.
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In 1969, the historic hotel was the scene of the Stonewall riots, in which protests erupted for several days after police raided the bar (in line with New York City’s discriminatory laws against homosexuality in public at the time). The anniversary of the riots is coming up at the end of June.
David Carter, a historian who has researched and written extensively about LGBT rights, said protecting historic landmarks is especially important to recognize and legitimize LGBT history, because those stories are often omitted from the history books.
“The history of the struggle for LGBT civil rights has generally not been taken seriously as American history, or as civil rights history, or as human rights history, and I think it is all of those,” he said. “I think society is now almost at the point of being willing to see that.”
Carter is involved in research and writing for historic status proposals for the inn, including the current proposal before the city. In part thanks to his work, the Stonewall Inn is already a heritage site on state and federal levels - it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999, and is recognized as a historic site by the New York State.
“It’s important that the physical sites be recognized and protected and preserved because to go to a place where a historic event took place, you build a deeper connection to that event. It makes it more real.”
But the state and federal designations are largely symbolic, and don’t officially preserve or protect the site from development or alterations.
“[The Landmarks Preservation Commission status] adds a very special layer of protection, basically saying that this is a site of singular importance, connected to the events that took place around the protests/riots in June of 1969,” said Berman. “And it means that the Landmarks Preservation Commission is therefore charged with ensuring that the building continues to look like it did when those tremendously important historic events took place.”
The Stonewall Inn briefly closed in 2006, and was then bought up by a group of investors.
“We as the investors and owners of the Stonewall Inn are extremely excited and we think this is a huge win for the community overall,” said Stacy Lentz, one of the investors. She added that the group had no plans to change the external facade of the site, as they originally bought it to prevent it from being turned into a coffee shop or restaurant.
The historic status can be imposed by the city without relying on the owner’s approval in any case.
"The agency has been working on this for some time and LGBT Pride Month [June] is an ideal occasion to recommend this iconic cultural landmark and recognize its central significance in the American LGBT movement," Meenakshi Srinivasan, chair of the Landmarks Commission, told the Daily News.
The commission will consider the proposal at a meeting on June 2nd, which could be followed by a public hearing and a vote in the coming months.