Brooklyn gets first LGBTQ+ landmark with designation of Lesbian Herstory Archives

The Lesbian Herstory Archives building at 484 14th St. in Park Slope.
Photo by Susan De Vries

Commissioners on the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission unanimously voted to landmark the Park Slope headquarters of the Lesbian Herstory Archives in a public meeting Tuesday.

The vote followed an Oct. 25 public hearing where six people testified in support of landmarking the building at 484 14th St. due to its cultural significance. “Most lesbians don’t inherit queer culture from our parents, the Lesbian Herstory archives is our birthright and it’s the place where we can go to learn our own history,” LHA coordinating committee member Colette Denali Montoya-Sloan told commissioners at the hearing.

She added that the building, owned outright by the nonprofit, is “intricately linked to lesbian life in New York City as the archival home of anyone who identifies as a former or current lesbian, or in any way with the word,” and said all are welcome to visit and research, not just lesbians. LPC also received 34 letters in support of designation.

LPC Deputy Director of Research Margaret Herman told commissioners the house is culturally significant as the home of the archives since 1991, “the nation’s oldest and largest collection of lesbian related historical material,” which was founded out of an Upper West Side apartment in 1974 by lesbian activists.

For the past 30 years, the 1908 Axel Hedman-designed Park Slope house has been “a permanent headquarters that can serve as a direct response to the pervasive homophobia, sexism and lack of lesbian space that community had experienced throughout history,” Herman said.

Photo by Susan De Vries

The house already sits within Park Slope’s historic district, but given the district’s 1973 designation predated the arrival of the organization there’s no mention of the building’s LGBTQ+ significance in city records. Designating it an individual landmark would allow for that recognition.

LPC Chair Sarah Carroll said the designation would reflect an important layer of history, “but have a more subtle regulatory impact” given it is in the same architectural style as the rest of the historic district and already abides by those rules. She said Lesbian Herstory Archives could install a plaque if they wished, something she signaled support for.

“I’m really thrilled that we are voting on this building today. The Lesbian Herstory Archives is a nationally important organization and collection of LGBTQ+ historic materials and it’s really played an essential role in preserving and telling the most mostly unseen stories of a community of women, including many who have contributed to America’s cultural, political and social history,” Carroll said.

“The Archives has made this row its home for over 30 years for 30 years and it’s long association and stewardship of the building have added this layer, and so while there may not be architectural changes that speak to it, I think that our designation will really highlight and celebrate this sort of layer, very significant layer, of the building and I’m delighted that our vote and on this designation draws attention to the importance of lesbian Herstory archives to New York City’s history and the country’s history and the LGBTQ+ community.”

Commissioner Michael Goldblum said the designation was “one of a series of really important designations” Carroll had led the way on “that relate to the cultural history of New York City, and its various communities over the last couple of years.” He said he thought there were likely many other culturally significant buildings in the city that deserve this kind of “recognition and thoughtful designation.”

Commissioner Fred Bland added that LHA’s designation “is right in line with our society and its movements” and said it was critical that preservation keep up with societal movements.

“I have warned a little bit in the past that we’ve got to be careful about cultural designations because after all this is New York City, every block has some interesting thing that happened on it, you know, and we have to be careful about those cultural significant happenings, but somehow this one is so obvious it’s hard to put into words why this is so appropriate, and maybe other kinds of cultural designations might not be so obvious. This one is just so obvious.”

In a press release, project manager of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project Amanda Davis said the group was thrilled the women-owned building was now officially recognized as a New York City landmark, “further solidifying the importance of including LGBTQ history in the broader narrative of American history.”

“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,” Davis said.

This story first appeared on Brownstoner.