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By Priya Chhaya

Imagine a construction project in the United States lasting 127 years.

Something

Barcelona's Sagrada Familia is 127 years in the making...and still counting!

It’s pretty hard to do, isn’t it?

This past June, I stepped into a structure that has been under construction for just that long – and will continue to be worked on until its completion many, many years from now.

This is Barcelona’s famed Sagrada Familia. Arches – sweeping and fingerlike – frame an entryway flanked by imagery and sculpture narrating the history of the Christian faith. Here and there, splashes of color indicate the handiwork of Antoni Gaudi, the master architect behind other Barcelona landmarks such as Casa Mila/La Pedrera and Parc Guell. It is a masterpiece with its own history beyond that of the hundreds of people who have worked on it.

This is a preservation story of a different kind – not of a building locked in time, but one that is quite literally entwined with the present. The construction uses some modern planning and drafting technology, but depends mostly on the written descriptions of Gaudi’s followers (a fire during the Spanish Civil War destroyed the original models and plans). More importantly, this magnificent cathedral is a part of Barcelona’s ever-changing identity, and in preserving the traditional trades and styles, the generations of workers and designers are making history.

The construction of the Sagradi Familia is dependant entirely on donations and entrance fees. The estimated completion date for the cathedral is 2026 – 100 years after Gaudi’s accidental death on the Sagrada Familia site.

I know that the places we fight for all have a deep connection to our own personal identities. Please take a moment and share with us a place that defines where you live and/or who you are. What stories does it tell?

Priya Chhaya is the program assistant in the office of Training and Online Information Services at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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.

Protecting & Preserving Historic Harpers Ferry

Posted on: June 30th, 2009 by Guest Writer

 

Harpers Ferry

By Nell Ziehl

Last Thursday, June 25, was a great day for Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

In an event cosponsored by the National Park Service and the West Virginia Civil War Sesquicentennial Commissions, the Civil War Preservation Trust transferred 176 acres of critical battlefield land to the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. The transfer ceremony, held on the historic School House Ridge, was part of several planned events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the legendary John Brown’s Raid.

A controversial abolitionist infamous for fighting slavery through violent insurrections, John Brown put Harpers Ferry on the map when his 1859 attempt to incite a slave revolt in this mountain town sent shockwaves through the nation. Though he was ultimately defeated by Colonel Robert E. Lee, Brown’s actions are widely credited as being the spark that helped ignite the fire of the Civil War.

However, despite these amazing stories and the great work being done to preserve them, the fight to protect this historic place continues today.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently cosigned a letter with the Civil War Preservation Trust and the National Parks Conservation Association requesting that the Department of the Interior reopen an investigation on the private development interests that, in August 2006, used heavy equipment to illegally dig two massive parallel trenches (totaling 45 feet wide, 5-10 feet deep and nearly 2,000 feet long) through the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

Immediately following this destructive excavation of a treasured American landscape, the same coalition reached out to the Bush Administration and urged that the illegal activity be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Unfortunately, the case was not pursued, leaving open the possibility that the perpetrators could profit from their illegal trespass.

Today, we are hopeful that the Obama Administration will take up the case, which could otherwise set a terrible precedent for America’s national parks.

Nell Ziehl is a program officer for the Southern Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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.

Today's the Day: Celebrating Stonewall 40

Posted on: June 28th, 2009 by Guest Writer

 

Stonewall

By Dave Bidon

Every year on the last Sunday of June, New York City's Pride March takes over the streets Manhattan, snarling east-west traffic and transforming one of the world's most iconic urban landscapes into the backdrop for a celebration that is part protest and part art. Though every Pride March is undeniably special, this year's will be different, and the hundreds upon hundreds of contingents that are waving rainbow flags in the day-long trek will notice as soon as they hit Christopher Street.

During the hot summer of 1969, this narrow street was thrust into the national spotlight when a riot erupted between the police and the gay patrons of the Stonewall Inn. They definitely didn't know it in the heat of the moment, but what they did launched a civil rights movement that officially turns forty years old this year.

Now, I used to dance at the Stonewall, and I can tell you that there are a lot of myths out there about that critical weekend. Let me start by giving you an idea of what it was like to be young and gay in New York in the late 1960's, as well as what is was like to visit a gay bar in those days.

First, it was literally against New York's liquor laws for there to be more than four gay people in a legal drinking establishment. That meant that any bar that catered to gays was illegal. Gay bars were all owned by "organized crime" or sometimes by cops, but never by gay people. They tolerated us just long enough to take our money for watered down drinks. Most places like the Stonewall were absolute dumps – the walls and windows were painted black, and there was usually a rough looking guy (think "Sopranos") at the door who decided who got in.

Gay bars were often raided by the police, so they opened and closed all the time. I was in a few potential raids and there was a script. A couple of plainclothes cops would walk in, push the jukebox away from the wall and pull the plug. One of them would stand and stare, daring us to say something. The other would walk over to the bar. If the cash register opened, ka-ching, they both turned and left, and the bartender or manager would plug in the jukebox and tell us it's over. If the register didn't open, one of the cops would walk to the door and let in some uniforms. Then the announcement: "This is an illegal establishment..." Sometimes they just made the patrons leave and arrested the manager, bartenders and waiters. Other times they brought everybody down to the station.

These were the days of Weegee photos of "perverts" getting into paddy wagons and then having their names published all over the press. You didn't even say the word "homosexual" in mixed company back then. It was pretty frightening.

A lot of Stonewall myths have arisen from a lack of understanding of the time. Stonewall catered largely to young gays. Yes, many of us didn't have a permanent address, and a few may have accepted money once in a while from an older guy who offered, but we weren't really hustlers or homeless. Full drag was only allowed two nights a week at the Stonewall –Tuesday and Sunday I think, but definitely not on a Friday or Saturday when the riot took place.

That's the second most common myth. Absolutely all of us were flamboyant back then, both in dress and manner. We wore silk scarves and beads and baby blue bellbottoms (we were just taking hippie a few steps further) and we also styled our longer hair. This was still a few years before most young gays would even dream of looking butch. The Christopher Street clone hadn't been invented yet. So, when you see the pictures today, we may look like drag queens, but we were really only "fem and fierce."

And yes, at the time of he riots, Judy Garland's body was on view at Frank Campbell's uptown. However, most of the regular Stonewall denizens were too young and could have cared less. We were into Aretha and dancing to "My Cherie Amour."

The police were raiding bars left and right that month. And that was after a long period with fewer and fewer incidents, so we were taken by surprise and getting worried. The story going around the city was that the police commissioner was at war with John Lindsay, our very liberal independent mayor. Supposedly the commissioner had learned that Lindsay's brother was gay, and he was trying to catch him in a raid to embarrass the mayor.

I wasn't at the Stonewall that fateful night, but I was there the next day. My best Lesbian friend and I went running and skipping all around the Village, jumping in and out of stores and yelling "I'm Gay!" at everybody and laughing together. Somehow, I think we were all ready for it at the time. It felt like queer VE Day or something. Gay people – especially young gays – had been getting angry for a long while. After all, this was the sixties: civil rights, anti-Vietnam and hippies. We'd just had enough.

That was officially the beginning of a new life for of us. We embraced our gay identities and wore them on the outside in defiance. And it gave us new feelings of freedom, righteousness and joy. This was like an electric shock that went through us all overnight. A new gay consciousness was riding on the waves of the many social movements of the sixties, and we weren't going back.

A year and day later, I joined the first Stonewall march. I remember we gathered on Christopher Street in little nervous groups that morning. There weren't many people there, and I think we delayed our start time a little. It was scary. There were signs that said "Hi Mom." Then I looked across the street and saw TV crews. Suddenly, I put the two together and realized that I could outing myself. I quickly moved back a few rows from the front of the march and started watching for cameras.

I can still remember what it felt like to step out onto 6th Avenue. I experienced complete internal panic and then I just let go. We didn't know if there would be gangs ready to beat us up or ugly name shouting or what. This wasn't a parade like later years; it was a demonstration. And it wasn't a march really, as it was more like speed walking. By the time we got up into the teens, we started getting applause here and there, and we could see lots of gay people hanging out of windows and standing on the sidewalk trying to make up there minds about joining. So we had our first chants, "Out of Your Buildings, Off of the Sidewalks, Into the Streets!"

And people did just that.

It got a little more festive as we got further uptown, and I remember meeting Taylor Meade, poet and sometime Warhol superstar (who was a little too solicitous) and other notable queers of the day. I believe I learned my favorite chant of all time that afternoon. A cute guy with a tambourine jumped out ahead and announced, "a Tarantella." All I could think of was that song by Cyril Richard as Captain Hook. Anyway, it went: "Ho Ho Homosexual, the Ruling Class Ineffectual!"

The last thing I remember was the subway ride back downtown. The cars were full of shirtless beauties all going back to our turf – the Village.

Photo by Ross Bradford

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

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This Place Matters: The Heart of LGBT Oklahoma

Posted on: June 25th, 2009 by Guest Writer 1 Comment

 

Dennis R. Neill Equality Center

By Debby Mayabb

The Dennis R. Neill Equality Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma matters because it is the permanent home of Oklahomans for Equality – the oldest and largest organization serving the LGBT community of Oklahoma, as well as the four-state region of the Heartland.

The Equality Center is housed in a 1920's structure originally built as the business office of an oil refinery. The refinery lasted only eight months, and in 1921, the Independent Torpedo Factory purchased the building to use for its labs and business offices. Prior to 1930, torpedoes were manufactured in Tulsa as blasting mechanisms for drilling oil wells. The walls of the defunct oil refinery were reinforced so that they could withstand the blast of nitroglycerin explosions.

Today, it's our Equality Center.

In 1980, Dennis R. Neill founded a group by the name of Tulsa Oklahomans for Human Rights. In the 1990's, the organization opened the very first LGBT community center in Oklahoma. After 12 years of rented space and nervous landlords who would not allow the organization to display rainbow flags or signage, a capital campaign was launched to raise the funds necessary to create a permanent home for our LGBT community. Seven years of fundraising lead to the purchase of 621 E. 4th Street, and after 7,000 hours of volunteer-led renovations, the doors were opened.

The Robert S. Cisar memorial lobby maintains the original terrazzo floors, a 1920’s operational office dumbwaiter, and the original accounting partitions that lead to the still-functional vault that was installed by the Schwab Safe Company when the building first opened nine decades ago. Today, the lobby houses a reception area, a Pride gift shop and the staff offices of Oklahomans for Equality. It opens up into the Sue Welch Great Hall, which is named after the chair of the building's capital campaign. This unique space functions as the "living room" of the Equality Center, and it is where panels of the internationally-famous AIDS Quilt (once displayed on the National Mall in Washington, DC) are on permanent display.

The Great Hall leads into the renovated elevator lobby, where the doors of the original freight elevator are on display. In this space, you'll also find community conference rooms and our art gallery, which offers a unique venue for regional artists through monthly showcases.

The Equality Center’s event room is the largest of our renovated spaces, and is home to holiday balls, trade shows, education and employment fairs, theatrical productions, and concerts. Because of its size, it's also where floats are built and decorated for our annual Pride parade.

On the second level of the building, you'll find the Veteran’s Billiard Lobby. This area was dedicated on November 8, 2008, to honor the many LGBT veterans of the United States. The Lambda Bowling League raised the funds to purchase and donate the pool table in honor of Sergeant Harold Joseph Hooker, a highly-decorated veteran who served in the Korean War. Close by, the Nancy and Joe McDonald Rainbow Library has over 10,000 books, including the largest children's section for LGBT families in the region. At any given time, over 5,000 books are checked out by Center members, as well as by high school and college student groups. The library also houses its own legal clinic, where attorneys aid members of our community with their legal issues on a pro bono basis.

Interested in some yoga or strength training? The second floor also features our Wellness Center, which is used for a variety of health and wellness-related endeavors. In the common area, the David Bohnett Cyber Center was created as a place where Center visitors could access the Internet. David Bohnett actually donates computers to LGBT community centers nationwide, and Oklahomans for Equality was the first center to be granted this wonderful resource. Here, members of our community check their e-mail, do homework, and fill out job applications.

The waiting area outside the Wellness Center and the David Bohnett Cyber Center was created by physician Dr. Clio Robertson in loving memory of his son, Ryan, who at the young age of 22 committed suicide. This area serves as a place of serenity and contemplation. Nearby, the Neill/Southard History Project Room archives every piece of news that has been generated by Tulsa Oklahomans for Human Rights and Oklahomans for Equality, creating a fascinating look at LGBT life in our state.

Sharing the same floor, the Center’s medical services room offers HIV testing five days a week. It is here that the Tulsa County Health Department has monthly health fairs focusing on issues such as diabetes screening, cholesterol testing, breast examines, hepatitis testing, and weight loss instructions. Nearby, a classroom area serves as the Center's venue for lectures on LGBT issues and workshops on coming out.

For these reasons (and so many more), the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center is a place that truly matters.

Debby Mayabb is the office manager for Oklahomans for Equality, which, like so many things, is proud to call the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center home.

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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.

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DJ & Mike

By David “DJ” Johnson

First off, I should confess something considering my audience here.

Up until this point, neither I nor Mike, my partner of over four years, considered ourselves preservation enthusiasts. Living in our nation’s capital, we were basically aware of the history that surrounded us, but more from our past history classes than through conscious knowledge or first-hand experience.

All that changed when we decided to get hitched.

Last July, I asked Mike if he would do me the honor of commemorating our love and our commitment to each other in front of our closest family and friends. While I’ve supported marriage rights for same-sex couples throughout my adult life, I didn't really know if it was something that I would do myself. Then I met Mike. Over the years, I've watched our love bloom to a point where I simply could not imagine anyone else ever understanding, contrasting (in a good way) and loving me so completely.

Now I'm a believer. 

The decision was made, but now we needed the perfect venue. Mike considers himself a New Yorker (he lived there for 13 years) by way of Minnesota (where he was born), and I’m more of a gypsy (my family moved five times before I was 16). Washington, DC is where we truly began our life together, and for this reason, it is where we decided to have our ceremony.

As for us, Mike and I are both fairly laid back people – more hoi polloi than elite (though we think it’s funny to use words like "hoi polloi"). And at this point, both of us are more spiritual than religious. We wanted a secular location that was simple but not plain, elegant but not pretentious, and that spoke to both our shared interests and to sophisticated DC life. And as someone who grew up around the lakes, forests and natural beauty of the Midwest, Michael hoped for a place with some connection to nature where we could hold our ceremony outside.

Now, here’s where I need to debunk a major gay stereotype. Unlike what you’ve seen on "Sex and the City" or "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," not all gay men have an automatic knack for event planning. Some of us have to really work at it. And some of us just flat out need help. Enter the wedding planner...

Ours booked appointments and site visits for us all over the hills and dales of Maryland, Virginia and the District. We looked at mansions (too "Gossip Girl!"), country estates (where's the public transportation?), concert halls (there goes the budget!), and even an enormous log cabin (um, bugs!).

The beautiful garden at the Woodrow Wilson House where we'll get hitched.

The beautiful garden at the Woodrow Wilson House where we'll get hitched.

Then we visited the Woodrow Wilson House, which is located only a couple of blocks from our apartment in the adjoining neighborhood of Embassy Row. On the outside it looks like a simple brick building, making it easy to underestimate. But once you step inside, it has a powerful elegance that leaves a lasting impression. From its sweeping staircases to its preserved furnishings, we fell in love with everything about the place. And the second floor outdoor garden was just the place we were looking for to hold our ceremony – stunning and bucolic without being too over the top. It also overlooks the very street where our apartment is located, which we think makes it even more special.

After we settled on the locale, I started to research our 28th president and his final residence. I didn’t know much about him before, other than the fact that he was commander-in-chief during World War I, eventually helping to write the framework for the original Treaty of Versailles. However, it turns out that he had many similarities to my family. He came from a family of Presbyterian ministers (my mother’s side), lived in New Jersey (my father’s side) and he was known as a diplomat (something I aspire to be). He also had some similarities to Mike, as Wilson was in a fraternity, had a PhD (so far, he’s the only president of that distinction), and possessed a great love of the science of structures.

Oh, and it didn’t hurt that, for two self-professed “mama’s boys” like us, Woody was the first president to declare Mother’s Day.

Of course, there were some other more thought-provoking milestones in his life. While he helped progress the women’s suffrage movement (yay!), he was also a vocal supporter of segregation (boo!). Being an interracial couple, Mike and I talked about this last fact quite a bit. Ultimately, we decided that, like with most events in history, it’s important to remember the good ideas that were ahead of their time, as well as the not-so-great ones that were simply a product of their era.

As we continue to plan every important detail of our big event (I'm trying really hard not to turn into one of those bridezillas you see on TV...yikes!), life goes on. Every morning, my fiancé and I rush to work from our one-hundred-year-old apartment building that is located across from DC’s own reproduction of the Spanish Steps in Madrid. I pass countless other older and historic buildings with amazing architectural detail along the way. However, unlike before, I now notice them.

For that, I thank the Woodrow Wilson House.

Not only will it be the backdrop to what promises to be one of the happiest days of my life, but it has taught me and mine to look at – and appreciate – our city and neighborhood with brand new eyes.

David Johnson ("DJ" to his friends and "My Boo" to his fiancé, Mike) is a journalist turned non-profit professional in Washington, DC, where he lives in the very historic – and very gay – Dupont Circle neighborhood.

Interested in having an event or commitment ceremony at the Woodrow Wilson House? With intimate and elegant spaces furnished with the personal effects of a president, Wilson House offers the perfect surroundings to entertain in classic Washington style. Dine intimately in the Presidential Dining Room, enjoy cocktails throughout the main museum rooms, linger in the tranquil period garden, or relax and unwind on the terrace. The only presidential museum in Washington, DC, Wilson House offers a unique setting for any occasion – from dinner for two to garden receptions and commitment ceremonies for up to 125. For more information, please contact Sarah Andrews at sarah_andrews@nthp.org or visit our website, WoodrowWilsonHouse.org.

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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.