Historic Preservation seeks to reveal and recount not only the architectural history associated with a site, but the richer social and political history that lies within each brick, beam, and bolt. So, as a student of that very endeavor, Ken Lustbader grew frustrated at the glaring absence of gay history being explored in the field.
Historically, LGBT history has remained relatively unknown, undocumented, and not fully understood. But it exists. And as a population that has profoundly influenced music, fashion, dance, architecture, literature, politics, and activism, gay is a part of American history. Lustbader and fellow like-minded graduates of Columbia University’s Historic Preservation program , the first of its kind in the nation, found solace in a group called OLGAD or the Organization of Gay and Lesbian Architects and Designers.
It was with members of this group that former Historic Preservation Program Director at the J.M. Kaplan Fund, Ken Lustbader; former Senior Historian at the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, Jay Shockley; and Professor of Historic Preservation in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) at his alma mater, Andrew Dolkart, created what is believed to be the very first site-based gay history project.
In coordination with the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, they produced a fold out map celebrating sites in Greenwich Village, Midtown, and Harlem that helped to tell the story of LGBT history in New York City.
That was back in 1994 when the seeds for a larger undertaking were first sown. Twenty years later, the trio applied for and received a federal grant issued by the National Park Service as a part of the Underrepresented Community Grant Program. The goal would be to increase diversity within the National Register of Historic Places; the "official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation."
At the time only two sites out of the 92,000 sites listed were related to LGBT history. The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project was then launched in August 2015 and with the help of the initiative, that total number of LGBT sites has multiplied to over a dozen and isn’t stopping there. Now with project manager, Amanda Davis onboard the team plans to add more locations to their interactive website to inspire further investigation and engagement among its user base.
Visitors and especially young visitors to the site not only realize that LGBT history extends far beyond bars and decades, even centuries before Stonewall but that they are a part of it and can take pride in being connected to a continuum of pioneers, challenges, and triumphs that came before them.