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Why “Double Designate” Stonewall?

Stonewall was designated an individual landmark on June 23, 2015. Since then, people have asked us why, if the building was already located in a designated historic district, was the “double landmarking” necessary?

51-53 Christopher Street following conversion to Bonnie’s Stonewall Inn, c.1934
Illustration: Courtesy of Tom Bernadin

When an application to modify a property comes before the LPC, they review the designation report as an important determinant of what should be protected and why.

Stonewall is located at 51-53 Christopher Street, part of the Greenwich Village Historic District designated in April, 1969. The designation report includes a brief description of each property within the district. 51-53 Christopher street’s description is two paragraphs: These two-story buildings, now treated as one at first floor level, were originally stables. No. 51 was built for A. Voorhis in 1843. No. 53 was built in 1846 for Mark Spencer, whose large country mansion stood in spacious grounds at what was then the northwestern end of the block ( West Fourth and Tenth Streets). No. 51 was raised to three stories in 1898 and reduced again to two in 1930, when the two buildings were altered and joined together. The front is simply treated in brick with arched doors at the first floor. The upper floor is smoothstuccoed and has casement windows with iron flower-box holders. It was redesigned to serve as a restaurant.”

51-53 Christopher Street in 1928
Photo: Percy Loomis Sperr, courtesy of the Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

Designating Stonewall-51-53 Christopher Street as an individual landmark was a logical and critical step to protect the site because of its historical importance as the Stonewall Inn, “Where Gay Pride Began”. With all due respect to the building’s history as Mark Spencer’s large country mansion stable, many people now primarily view the building as the home of the gay bar, the raid upon which sparked the Stonewall riots, protests, and demonstrations which many credit as where the modern gay rights movement was born. As the designation report was written prior to April, 1969, the Stonewall Riots, did not take place until several months later starting June 28, 1969.

Designation reports over time have changed. Early designation reports for both historic districts and individual landmarks focused mainly on preserving the historical architecture. The “Site History” or “Historic Description” section was much smaller on older reports. In the original Greenwich Village Historic District this section was only four pages long, while in the recent Stonewall report this section is 10 pages. Contemporary designation reports include detailed reports on the surrounding community history, the culture of the historic district, and detail important events that may deserve consideration.

The new designation report for “STONEWALL INN, 51-53 Christopher Street,” includes information not just about the property at 51-53 Christopher Street, but recognizes Stonewall’s important historic and cultural role. While one page of the designation report describes the building’s architecture, ten pages describe the site history including sections on discrimination against gays, gay activism and resistance, and three pages dedicated solely to the Stonewall uprising/rebellion/riot. Another two pages discuss “Gay Power and Gay Pride: The Legacy of the Stonewall Rebellion”.

Without the critical information regarding Stonewall’s history as the birthplace of the gay rights movement, any application to change this property would not have necessarily taken this history into account. Now that the property is an individual landmark with its own detailed designation report including the gay rights movement, any modification to the property must consider the details in that report, which makes clear that the condition the building was in in 1969 when these historic events took place are the buildings important features which should be protected and preserved.

You can access the designation reports for every historic district and individual landmark in the Village, East Village, and NoHo on our resources webpage here.  You can also learn more about the LGBT history of these neighborhoods on our LGBT history page here.

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