James Baldwin's Home Among NYC Buildings To Get Landmark Status For Significance in LGBTQ History


New York real estate is famously expensive and hard to come by. In the fast-paced and ever-changing city, buildings are quickly sold and bought, torn down, or renovated into modern oases of luxury. While homes that are rehabbed typically sell twice as quickly as those that are not, some efforts in New York City are aiming to keep certain buildings off of the market and in their original state.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission of NYC formed over 50 years ago with the purpose of granting landmark status to certain buildings and neighborhoods based on their architectural significance.

The commission started these efforts after the demolition of the old Pennsylvania Station was met with outrage. The building wasn't any average train station with subway tiles that originated in the NYC subway stations of the early 1900s, but an amazing piece of architecture. Novelist Thomas Wolfe even described the old Pennsylvania Station as "vast enough to hold the sound of time."

Now, the commission is expanding its protections to buildings with cultural significance as well. With the World Pride celebration coming to New York City for the first time this year, it's no coincidence that the next buildings under consideration for landmark protection had critical roles in the gay rights movement.

Six buildings are now under consideration for landmark protection status because of their significance to LGBTQ history and culture. While five of these six buildings are in neighborhoods that are already designated historic districts, the new status would give the buildings an additional layer of protection if future owners ever tried to make exterior changes.

The new status would also be a recognition of the individual buildings' histories and their importance in LGBTQ rights. One of the buildings under consideration is 137 West 71st Street. This structure in the Upper West Side is where writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin kept an apartment for himself and his family.

The building was last altered in 1961 and, according to comments from the current owner Romeo Salta, it would fall within the 85% of homes in the country built prior to 1980 that are currently in need of home improvement. Salta said that he was considering fixing up the building's facade within the next few years as it is starting to look run down, making him a bit ambivalent about the building's impending landmark status. As Baldwin met with other literary and cultural figures and worked on many plays, screenplays, and novels in that apartment, the building certainly qualifies for cultural significance.

Another of the six buildings is in Greenwich Village on Cornelia Street. The ground floor of the building was once a restaurant called Caffe Cino from 1958 to 1968. Although 34% of Americans visit casual dining restaurants once a week, this space became much more than just a cafe for the city's gay artists in the middle of the 20th century.

At the time, the portrayal of homosexuality in theatrical productions was illegal. Local theater artists instead gathered at Caffe Cino to share their work with one another. This simultaneously made Caffe Cino the city's first gay theater and the birthplace of Off Off Broadway.

The other buildings under consideration include Audre Lorde's home in Staten Island and various centers in Manhattan for members of the LGBTQ community. The Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse is considered New York City's first gay community center and the Women's Liberation Center was a crucial home for lesbian organizations that wanted to break away from both male-dominated groups and feminist groups that wouldn't accept them.

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center is the sixth building under consideration. This center has been crucial to the LGBTQ community as a home for groups such as the Partnership for the Homeless and S.A.G.E and in its role as an HIV clinic. In today's times about 85% of urgent care centers are open seven days a week. However, the medical field was not quite so accessible or kind to members of the LGTBQ community in the 1980s, making this space an essential structure in the community's history.

Sarah Carroll, Chair of the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission, has said that there will be a public hearing to discuss these sites on June 4. The commission is expecting to make a final vote on the six buildings just before the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots and the city's Pride celebrations that take place at the end of June.