Author Archive

Out & Proud in 'Big City' Roanoke

Posted on: June 5th, 2009 by Guest Writer 3 Comments

 

roanoke_tpm

By Karen Gray

I have lived in – or on the outskirts of – Roanoke, Virginia for most of my life.

When I was young and our house was over 15 minutes away from the nearest grocery store, a trip to Roanoke was known as “going into town.” I always thought of it as the “big city” back then. Today, I appreciate its mix of small town charm and “big city” opportunity.
The Roanoke Star

The Roanoke Star

Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Roanoke is known as the “Star City of the South” (we are the proud home of the largest man-made lit star in the country, which shines above the city from Mill Mountain). 100,000 people big, we have a beautiful downtown neighborhood full of fabulous restaurants and shops, the Farmers Market and Roanoke Wiener Stand, and an impressive collection of museums.

While there is no longer a specific gay neighborhood (the yuppies moved into Old Southwest in the 1980’s), there is a “Gay Kroger” (a local grocery store), as well as a number of restaurants that are known to be accepting of LGBT clientele. We have a very active Metropolitan Community Church, as well as a Pride organization, Roanoke Pride, Inc., that sponsors events and activities throughout the year for the community. Our annual Pride event, Pride in the Park, continues to get bigger and better. In 2008, it pulled in a record attendance of 3,000.

Metropolitan Community Church

Metropolitan Community Church

We also have two lively bars in town, one of which has been open for over 30 years. The other, however, has a much different story – one that you probably heard about on the national news on September 22, 2000. That day, Ronald Gay walked into Backstreet, ordered a beer, sat for a minute, and then stood up and opened fire. His rampage injured six and killed one.

It has been said – both locally and by the massive media contingent that covered the tragedy – that this event blew Roanoke’s LGBT community clear out of the closet. While I personally don’t believe that it changed the way LGBT people lived their daily lives here, I do believe it made the rest of the city and state more aware that we are, in fact, here. The negativity hurled at our local paper for its coverage of the event was proof of that.

As Roanoke continues to grow, I believe more and more LGBT folks will find it to be an open and accepting place where people of all walks of life can be at home.

Karen Gray serves on the committee that is currently planning Roanoke's 20th anniversary Pride festival. She has lived in or around Roanoke for most of her life.

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Join the National Trust for Historic Preservation as we celebrate Pride + Preservation throughout the month of June. Want to help us show some pride in place? Upload a This Place Matters photo of a building, site or neighborhood that matters to you and your local LGBT community.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

Being Myself in Boystown

Posted on: June 1st, 2009 by Guest Writer 2 Comments

 

This Place Matters: Boystown

By Geoff Dankert

In 1993, the man I’d been seeing for all of a month had a crazy, impulsive idea.

“I bought us plane tickets to Chicago for the day,” he said, wary of whether I would consider such a gesture too much for such a new relationship.

He should not have worried; I was thrilled. And so one Sunday in December, with barely two nickels to rub together between us, we flew to Chicago. It was a great day of window-shopping and sightseeing, and it culminated with a taxi ride to the corner of Halsted and Roscoe streets on the north side of town.

It’s the place I now know to be Boystown. But back then, for a guy who’d been out for barely a year, it was the future.

Even then, it was a place teeming with gay bars and gay-friendly shops. It’s the first place I ever saw two guys holding hands, and at the time, I couldn’t believe that no one was bothering them. What I didn’t realize at the time was that “the gays” had been in this neighborhood for years.

They have moved to what was once a rough neighborhood just so they could live near where they gathered (and drank) – places like Little Jim’s and Roscoe’s. Eventually, they moved because their friends were there, or because it was near the lake, or because they could get a house and fix it up for cheap. Now, of course, it’s one of the most desirable – and most expensive – neighborhoods in Chicago.

When I made my first visit there, I didn’t know the history. I didn’t know that someday, people in Chicago would refer to the neighborhood as “Boystown” with the same ease and lack of judgment that they describe neighborhoods like Bronzeville, Hyde Park and Printers’ Row. I didn’t know that some day, the mayor of Chicago would dedicate enormous rainbow-striped pylons up and down Halsted Street, or that the city’s Pride parade would draw almost a half-million people. All I knew was that this was a place where gay people could just … be.

As we walked down the street that day, we came across a clothing store called “We’re Everywhere.” Owned by gay people, it sold catchy T-shirts, wristbands and dog tags to the out and the nearly-out. I was so thrilled that such a place existed that I bought what for years was one of my favorite garments: a simple white T-shirt with red letters across the chest:

SE TU MISMO.

Be yourself.

That night, over enchiladas at a Mexican restaurant a couple of blocks away, I felt more like myself – my true self – than I ever had.

Eventually, I wound up living in Chicago, barely a mile from Boystown. That restaurant is still there, and every time I walk or drive by it, I smile and remember that night and how it helped make me feel more comfortable about my life, and what my life could be.

Sadly, the T-shirt and the shop are gone. But the neighborhood and its people are still around, and every day, a few more young people move here and find a place where they can “be themselves.”

And by the way, the man whose impulsiveness and generosity made that trip happen? He’s still around, too.

Michigan native Geoff Dankert has lived in Chicago for ten years, and yet every morning, when he sees the skyline from the “L” train on his way to work, he still can hardly believe it. He and his partner live in a renovated turn-of-the-century home on Chicago’s north side.

rainbow_crawler

Join the National Trust for Historic Preservation as we celebrate Pride + Preservation throughout the month of June. Want to help us show some pride in place? Upload a This Place Matters photo of a building, site or neighborhood that matters to you and your local LGBT community.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

Teaching Preservation Matters

Posted on: May 29th, 2009 by Guest Writer

 

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Good Hope Cemetery is important because it tells the stories of the many heroic soldiers from our area who bravely fought for our country. It’s also where my classmates – my friends – and I spent our senior year getting dirty and learning about history in a way that I will always remember.

Two Civil War soldiers by the names of John Alexander Harper and David Jones are buried there. Harper was wounded during his service, and Jones was a recipient of a Congressional Medal of Honor. Both showed bravery as they served our nation. Without Good Hope, their stories would be lost.

This place definitely matters.

I hope we’ve proved that this semester.

- Alyssa D.

Alyssa D. is (for a few more days, at least) a senior at Washington High School in Washington Court House, Ohio. This semester, she and her Research History classmates have worked on a variety of preservation projects, including documenting and preserving local cemeteries like Good Hope. See their full blog to relive this exciting project.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

Looking for Little Saigon

Posted on: May 28th, 2009 by Guest Writer 5 Comments

 

Written by Kim A. O’Connell

This circa-1929 building--with its distinctive swan's neck parapet--once housed Saigon Market, one of the first two Vietnamese stores to open in Little Saigon.

This circa-1929 building--with its distinctive swan's neck parapet--once housed Saigon Market, one of the first two Vietnamese stores to open in Little Saigon.

When I was a child, my mother, a Vietnamese immigrant, would often drive us from our home in suburban Maryland to the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington, Va., to go shopping. There, in an enclave of markets, boutiques, and restaurants known informally as “Little Saigon,” she could speak in her native language to shopkeepers and fellow customers. We would gorge ourselves on spring rolls—called cha gio—and have sweet sesame balls filled with bean paste for dessert. To an American-born girl like me, the sights, smells, and sounds were fascinating. To my mother, it was like going home.

Today, hardly any trace of Virginia’s Little Saigon remains. Arlington County, as a close-in suburb of Washington, D.C., has become increasingly urbanized in the last three decades, especially along its busy transit corridors. Washington’s Metro subway system had played a direct role in the development of Little Saigon, but it eventually hastened its demise as well. Researching this history has become both a personal and a professional quest of mine.

When my graduate preservation program encouraged projects that promoted cultural diversity, I saw an opportunity to study Little Saigon and learn more about my own heritage at the same time. In addition to doing archival research, I interviewed several former refugees—people like Nguyen Ngoc Bich, who often served as a community representative in the 1970s, and Anhthu Lu, who arrived in Arlington as a teenager and helped her aunt run a gift shop in Clarendon. They and others revealed a common struggle to retain their traditions while assimilating into American life, a phenomenon that a Vietnamese priest once described as “catching two fish with two hands.” In their voices, I heard my mother’s voice too, and felt new empathy for her experience.

... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

Endangered Rural Virginia School Seeking New Life

Posted on: May 27th, 2009 by Guest Writer 3 Comments

 

Written by Sonja Ingram

The Konnarock School in Hillsville, VA.

The Konnarock School in Hillsville, VA.

Being the field representative for Preservation Virginia and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, I receive many phone calls and emails asking for assistance on a variety of preservation topics. When I received an email about the Konnarock School in Smyth County, my initial thoughts were that it would be a typical request for grant information -- but I was wrong.

My first trip to Konnarock School in March of 2009 was an adventure itself. As I left Danville, I traveled across the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains along the Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. Further up the Crooked Road travelers will find Bristol, Virginia, the birthplace of country music and Carter’s Fold, the home of the famous Carter family where bluegrass is still played every Saturday night.

But my trip did not take me that far west; instead I successfully navigated my way across Lover’s Leap near the town of Stuart, named after Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart, then through the scenic Meadows of Dan and onto the aptly named town of Hillsville.

Penny Herring points something out on a tour of the school.

Penny Herring describing the building on a tour.

When I arrived at Konnarock School, located at the foot of Whitetop Mountain and near Mount Rogers, the two highest peaks in Virginia, I was met by two fantastic folks, Penny “the Penster” and Monroe Herring; and one very friendly dog, Buddee. Once we started discussing the school, I began to fully realize the importance of the Konnarock School and what it has meant -- and still means -- to this community in western Virginia.

The Konnarock Training School was built in 1924 by the Lutheran Church as a boarding school for girls. For the next twenty-five years, the school educated many girls in this rural part of Virginia who would not have received the opportunity otherwise. The school also engaged in extensive health, educational, and religious outreach throughout the mountains of Southwest Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. A companion school for boys, the Iron Mountain Lutheran School for Boys and Young Men, was built in the 1930s.

The Konnarock School was built of native hardwoods and is sided with the bark of the American Chestnut tree, a species that is nearly extinct after its decimation during the Chestnut blight in the 1930s-1940s.

... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.