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:


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.


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

Old + New = Green: CASA de Maryland’s New Balancing Act

Posted on: May 29th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment


Written by Erica Stewart

This Place Matters! (Photo: mario Quiroz)

This Place Matters! (Photo: mario Quiroz)

A broken bone in my foot and thirty-odd sawdust covered steps didn’t diminish my appreciation for the transformation that CASA de Maryland is leading at the McCormick-Goodhart Mansion in Langley Park, Maryland. I joined a group of National Trust for Historic Preservation members and staff recently for a tour of the former grand country home that will become a multicultural center for the extremely diverse and under-served community outside its doorstep. Despite the fancy-footwork-on-crutches that my visit required, I was thrilled to witness this exciting marriage of many important ideals that underpin that buzzword on everyone’s lips: sustainability. The presentation and hard hat tour clearly illustrated how, after years of negotiation, compromise and fundraising, historic preservation, community development, and green building are neatly conjoined in this currently very messy rehabilitation project.

First, a little context. The Georgian Revival McCormick-Goodhart Mansion was built in 1924 amid a vast 565-acre estate. Decades later, the mansion was vacated and a crop of low-income, garden style apartments sprung up around the edges of the home. The surrounding community is one of the most diverse in all of Maryland, with residents hailing from all corners of the globe: French-speaking Africa, India, Central America and Poland, to name a few. Per capita income is just $11,300 and more than 150 languages are spoken at the local elementary school.

Back-view rendering by Bucher/Borges Group, LLC.

Back-view rendering by Bucher/Borges Group, LLC.

This environment makes the McCormick-Goodhart Mansion the perfect home for CASA. The nonprofit was founded in a church basement in1985 to serve the basic, immediate needs of the primarily Latino immigrant community in Maryland: food, shelter, health care. As that community has grown and evolved, so has CASA. That evolution necessitated a larger facility from which to serve its ever-growing client base. Enter Sawyer Realty LLC, owner of the badly weather-damaged mansion. At the cost of $1, ownership was transferred to CASA in 2007 and an ambitious fundraising campaign began. A key component was the complex historic tax credit deal brokered by the National Trust Community Investment Corporation that secured $12 million in state/federal historic and New Markets Tax Credit equity from Enterprise Foundation and Bank of America.

Once the rehab is completed, CASA’s new headquarters will house its expanded programs: financial literacy classes, computer literacy classes, a justice center for pursuing legal and civil rights issues, and cafeteria for service industry training. Several other social service organizations that specialize in serving other minority populations will take up residence as well, ensuring that the region’s many immigrant communities receive the best possible assistance.

... 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.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Teaching Preservation Matters

Posted on: May 29th, 2009 by Guest Writer



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

This Place Matters: The Videos

Posted on: May 28th, 2009 by Sarah Heffern 1 Comment


Preservation Month may be nearing its end (have you placed your bids in the online auction yet?) but our theme, "This Place Matters" is only getting started.  Hundreds of photos have been submitted of places across the country, and our map is getting so full of flags that entire states are obscured. And now, videographers are getting into the act. Just today I found out about two great This Place Matters videos on YouTube -- one via email and the other through Facebook. They're very different in style, but are wonderfully alike in the fact that they share a passion for saving places.

The first comes from Marietta, Ohio, where the Campus Martius museum is threatened by  state budget cuts.

According to the Marietta Times, the same young preservationist who posted that video also made an appearance before the Ohio Senate.

Marietta Middle School eighth-grader Cheyenne Lemasters, 14, visited Columbus last week to get that message to Ohio's Senate, still debating the budget.

"I just wanted to get the word out and thought it would be different from just making phone calls if they heard from me face to face," she said. "I wanted them to remember how important this is."

Lemasters, who also organized a recent rally in support of the museums, testified before four senators.

"It was very nerve-wracking," she said. "They were kind of intimidating but very nice to me. They gave me a lot of respect."

Our second video comes from students at SCAD, the Savannah College of Art & Design. Four students worked together to take "This Place Matters" to their home states, talking about endangered buildings in Albany, NY (The Hotel Wellington); Lexington, KY (The Gratz Park Historic District), Denver, CO (The Daniels & Fisher Tower); and the California State Parks. Each of the segments of the video share a little of the history of the places, as well as their preservation status.

Learn 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.

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern is the social media strategist for the National Trust’s Public Affairs team. While she embraces all things online and pixel-centric, she’s also a hard-core building hugger, having fallen for preservation in a fifth grade “Built Environment” class. Follow her on Twitter at @smheffern.


A solid team effort on our part before the Louisiana House Health and Welfare Committee resulted in House Bill 780 passing unanimously out of committee yesterday. The bill would require Louisiana State University to produce a financing plan for its proposed replacement medical center in New Orleans, and that the plan be approved by the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget before LSU acould seize any property on the proposed hospital site.

Joining Sandra Stokes, of the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, and me in testimony before the committee was Mickey Weiser, owner of a multi-million-dollar security business headquartered in the proposed LSU footprint. Under the current plan, his headquarters could be expropriated and demolished for "future expansion" space for the new hospital. In addition, we had Kevin Krauss, Mid-City homeowner; Mary Howell, an attorney with an office adjacent to the proposed site; Bill Borah, land-use attorney; Richard Exnicios, of Deutsches-Haus; and Brad Ott, of the Committee to Re-Open Charity Hospital.

Next week the bill goes to the House, and we return to Baton Rouge for the next stage.

Learn 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.