NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission Designates The Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn as an Individual Historic Landmark

 

 

 

On Tuesday, October 25, 2022, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) held a public hearing on the proposed designation of The Lesbian Herstory Archives at 484 Fourteenth Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The proposed individual landmark is culturally significant as the home since 1991 of the Lesbian Herstory Archives, the nation’s oldest and largest collection of lesbian-related historical material.

On November 22, 2022, LPC voted to approve The Lesbian Herstory Archives, located at 484 Fourteenth Street in Brooklyn, as an Individual Historic Landmark. It is the first individual landmark in Brooklyn designated for its LGBTQ+ associations.

“I am delighted Commission has designated the home of the Lesbian Herstory Archives, an important community space and a nationally important collection of LGBTQ+ historical materials,” said Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair Sarah Carroll. “For over 30 years, the building has been the site of the Archives’ essential role in preserving and telling the stories of a mostly unseen community of women, including many who have contributed to America’s cultural, political, and social history. This designation draws attention to the importance of the Lesbian Herstory Archives to New York City and the country’s history and to LGBTQ+ communities.”

There are 1,400 Individual Landmarks throughout this City.

“We’re thrilled that the Lesbian Herstory Archives, a women-owned building, has been officially recognized as a New York City Landmark, further solidifying the importance of including LGBTQ history in the broader narrative of American history,” said Amanda Davis, project manager, NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project. “The designation — the first for an LGBTQ site in Brooklyn — acknowledges the pioneering lesbian women who, nearly 50 years ago, came together to create an affirming space for their community. Perhaps most significantly, these women reclaimed their past by saving and preserving lesbian-related records, photographs, and ephemera for future generations of queer women.”

484 14th Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn, is culturally significant as the home since 1991 of the Lesbian Herstory Archives, the nation’s oldest and largest collection of lesbian-related historical material. The three-story Renaissance Revival row house was originally constructed as a two-family dwelling in 1908 and designed by Axel Hedman for the Prospect Park West Realty Company. 484 14th Street is located within the city’s Park Slope Historic District, which was designated in 1973.

The Lesbian Herstory Archives is an entirely volunteer-run non-profit organization founded in 1974 by activists Joan Nestle, Deborah Edel, and others, housed until 1991 in Nestle and Edel’s apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The Archives began as a grass-roots attempt to end the silence around lesbian history, and to create a physical archive for study, analysis, and community gathering. At a time when the LGBTQ+ community faced enormous legal and social discrimination, the Archives fought to bring lesbian cultural artifacts into public view, and to normalize them as an integral piece of American history. The project was intentionally feminist in nature, using the term “herstory” to note the rejection of patriarchy, and inclusive, with women of color counted among the organization’s early supporters and contributors.

Madeline Davis (L), Frances Dowdy next to her, Gayle Rubin third from left, Pat Califia on the right. Sabrina Williams is pictured sitting on the floor. This gathering took place after the Barnard Sex Conference in 1982. Photo by Morgan Gwenwald.

The Archives were conceived as a living repository and grew to include a wide variety of materials dating from the 1950s to the present with a national scope, collected and donated by lesbians themselves. Materials in the Archives include periodicals, files on lesbian activist and community groups, audio-visual materials, oral histories, and the personal and professional papers of lesbians from a diversity of cultural, ethnic, and class-based communities. Among many others, significant collections include those of the organizations Daughters of Bilitis, the Salsa Soul Sisters, and the New York Chapter of ACT-UP, as well as the papers of Archives cofounder Joan Nestle, 1960s LGBTQ+ organizer Barbarba Gittings, and the African American activists Mabel Hampton and Audre Lorde.

The collection had outgrown its space by 1990, and by 1991 the Archives had raised enough funding to purchase 484 14th Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn. After more than a year of renovations, the building was transformed into a new headquarters for the Archives, with exterior alterations limited to accessibility and security improvements necessary for the building’s new use. Since 1991, the Archives has continued to grow its collection, adding materials relating to more recent lesbian individuals and organizations, and to issues like lesbian parenthood, political organizing in the 1990s, and the marriage equality cases of the 21st century.

Photo: Happy archives coordinators gathering for the opening of the new location in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Photo by Saskia Scheffer, 1993.

As a nationally important collection of LGBTQ+ historical materials, the Lesbian Herstory Archives plays an essential role in telling the story of a mostly unseen community of women who contributed to America’s cultural, political, and social history. 484 14th Street is culturally significant as the Archives’ headquarters for over 30 years, where it expanded its collection, grew to national prominence, and has served as a vital educational organization, community space, and center for lesbian history and culture.

The Lesbian Herstory Archives building is located at 484 14th Street in Brooklyn. On a tax map, you will find the building in Block 1103, Lot 31.

In honor of Pride Month 2022, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) launched the interactive story map, Pride: Celebrating LGBTQ+.

Take a look at other New York City Landmarks.

Did you know that the Julius’Bar Building is moving forward toward its final step as an Individual Historic Landmark?

About the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) ~ The Landmarks Preservation Commission is the mayoral agency responsible for protecting and preserving New York City’s architecturally, historically and culturally significant buildings and sites. Since its creation in 1965, LPC has granted landmark status to more than 37,500 buildings and sites, including 1,446 individual landmarks, 121 interior landmarks, 11 scenic landmarks, and 154 historic districts and extensions in all five boroughs. For more information, visitwww.nyc.gov/landmarks and connect with us via www.facebook.com/NYCLandmarks and www.twitter.com/nyclandmarks.

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