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Archive for August, 2009

locke

Washington, D.C.

Alain Locke home
1326 R Street NW

African-American scholar and intellectual Alain LeRoy Locke (1886-1954) defined his role in the Harlem Renaissance as that of “philosophical midwife to a generation of young Negro poets, writers, and artists.” His anthology, The New Negro, was the defining text of that artistic movement.

The Harvard- and Oxford-educated Locke was a professor of philosophy at Howard University for many years, and lived at this address near Logan Circle from 1912 until his death (it is marked with a historic plaque). At Howard, Locke encouraged the study of black culture and history along with the European classics, and founded The Stylus, the university’s literary journal, in which Zora Neale Hurston published her first story. His attention tended to focus on the brightest and most attractive male students, and he routinely warned female students that they could expect no better than C’s in his classes.

Locke shuttled back and forth between Washington and Harlem, where he mentored several queer young poets of the Harlem Renaissance. His protégé Countee Cullen introduced him to Langston Hughes. “You will like him,” Cullen told Locke of the elusive and sexually ambivalent Hughes; “I love him.” A romantic triangle formed and may have been the root of the mysterious rift between Cullen and Hughes from 1924 on.

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New York, N.Y.

Edna St. Vincent Millay home
75-1/2 Bedford Street

Following her 1923 marriage to businessman Eugen Boissevain, bisexual poet Edna St. Vincent Millay lived at this address in Greenwich Village in what she nicknamed “the dollhouse.” The diminutive brick house on Bedford Street is only 9-1/2 feet wide, and when Millay lived there, had one room and a fireplace on each of the three floors. Behind the house was a beautiful but tiny courtyard. In 1995, New York’s Historic Landmarks Preservation Center installed an oval medallion at the residence with the inscription, “The irreverent poet, who wrote ‘My candle burns at both ends,’ lived here in 1923-1924 at the time she wrote the Ballad of the Harp-Weaver, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize. Conveniently, Millay’s house was only a few blocks from Chumley’s, a speakeasy (still in operation as a bar and eatery) that was one of her favorite hangouts. From Bedford Street, Millay and Boissevain moved to a farmhouse in Austerlitz, N.Y., which they renovated and lived in until their deaths.

Millay’s “dollhouse” is now on sale for $2.7 – read more about it here.

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ts-herndon gravesite

Lexington, Ky.

Sweet Evening Breeze home
186 Prall Street

Born James Herndon in 1892, “Sweet Evening Breeze,” or “Miss Sweets,” was well known and respected in Lexington before and after World War II as the most conscientious hospital orderly in town. Sweets was an African-American gay man who had been abandoned at Good Samaritan Hospital in the city as a child, and eventually came to live and work there.

Sweets was also famous for her drag performances. In a conservative Southern city that had a law on the books against cross-dressing (except on Halloween), Sweets was amazingly accepted and tolerated because of her notable kindness, generosity, and expert abilities as an orderly. (There is one story, though, of her being arrested for cross-dressing and entertaining the guards with a drag show.) Her home on Prall Street (in a predominantly African-American neighborhood) was reportedly an ad-hoc gay center; for a while, she lived here with Henry Faulkner, who went on to become a noted “primitive” artist.

When Sweets died in 1983 at the Homestead Nursing Center in Lexington, the Royal Sovereign Imperial Court of All Kentucky named its highest honor the James Herndon Award. She is buried in Lexington Cemetery.

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Evanston, Ill.

Frances Willard home
“Rest Cottage”
1730 Chicago Avenue

Frances Willard (1839-1898) left her hometown in Wisconsin to attend Evanston College for Ladies. After a teaching career at various women’s colleges, she became president of her alma mater in 1871 and then dean of women at Northwestern University when the schools merged two years later. In 1874, with the founding of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Willard resigned from her post to become the WCTU’s corresponding secretary. Five years later, as WCTU president, she led a national movement for “Home Protection.” Her temperance campaign was a direct reaction against the violence (both physical and emotional) perpetrated on women and children by alcohol-abusing men, and it eventually led to the enactment of Prohibition in 1919.

In her autobiography, Glimpses of Fifty Years, Willard included a chapter titled “Companionships,” in which she outlined her passionate friendships with women over the years. One was with a woman in Evanston she calls “Mary B., for whom my attachment was so great that when she properly preferred my brother… the loss of her was nothing less than a bereavement, a piteous sorrow for a year or more, as my journals testify, one of the keenest of my life.” She referred to her relationships with women as “attachments, so much less restful than friendships.”

For 33 years, Willard’s live-in private secretary was Anna Gordon, also a devoted temperance worker. Willard called Gordon “the rarest of intimate friends” and by the pet name “Little Heart’s-ease.” Gordon stayed on in the house after Willard’s death, becoming president of the WCTU herself in 1914.

Willard and Gordon’s restored home in Evanston, a National Historic Landmark, is open to the public, appearing much as it did when they lived there. On exhibit are many memorabilia of Willard’s years as a temperance warrior.

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Arzner

Los Angeles, Calif.

Dorothy Arzner/Marion Morgan home
2249 Mountain Oak Drive

While doing research for a study of film director Dorothy Arzner (ca. 1900-1979), professor Judith Mayne discovered boxes of material relating to Arzner in the UCLA research collection. Inside one box was a photograph of the atrium of Arzner’s opulent home in the Hollywood Hills, with an annotation in the director’s own writing: “Home of Marion Morgan and Dorothy Arzner/1930-1951.” “That moment of discovery was thrilling,” Maybe later wrote in Directed by Dorothy Arzner, “for here was evidence of a home and a life shared by two women.”

Starting as a script typist and working her way up to film editor on such silent movies as Blood and Sand, Arzner progressed to directing in 1927. With credits including The Wild Party, Working Girls, Christopher Strong, Dance, Girl, Dance, and The Bride Wore Red, the butchy Arzner was the only successful female director in Hollywood during its golden age.

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It was on the set of her first movie, Fashions for Women, that Arzner met Marion Morgan, a vaudeville dancer with her own performance troupe and a busy career choreographing movie dance sequences. After working together on several movies, the two women set up their home together in 1930, and they remained devoted to each other until Morgan’s death 40 years later.

Also in the boxes Mayne discovered were numerous snapshots of Arzner and Morgan entertaining guests (among them, Marlene Dietrich) at their elegant home. The photos of the house’s lush atrium suggest a love of natural light and greenery. After Arzner’s retirement from directing in 1951, they moved to a new home in La Quinta, a community in the Southern California desert. There Arzner was an avid gardener whose correspondence made frequent and proud mention of her roses. But even in her retirement, Arzner continued to keep a hand in the industry, teaching at UCLA’s film school, producing plays, and directing Pepsi Cola commercials for Joan Crawford.

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RU12

Burlington, Vt.

RU12? Community Center
34 Elmwood Avenue

The LGBT community center which would perhaps win the “most unique name” contest celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, founded in 1999 by University of Vermont students who “believed that Vermont needed a multi-generational, substance-free queer space open to people of all ages, races and genders,” to quote its mission statement. The first location for RU12 was “on the waterfront,” but the center moved to this charming building downtown in 2003 (see photo above by Travis Dubreuil, who travels the country photographing queer community centers; visit him at www.thecentersproject.org). Over the years, RU12  merged with the Anti-Violence Project and Equality Vermont, making it a powerful agent for change in the Green Mountain State.

You’ll find an array of programs at the center, such as social and support groups, lesbian health care, a cyber center, a lending library, the Vermont Queer Archives, Vermont TransAction, and the LGBTQ Elder Project. They also sponsor an annual queer community dinner; the Run Against Rape; and the Transgender Day of Remembrance.  Don’t miss it if you travel to scenic little Vermont: it’s the only queer center in the state!

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Albany, N.Y.

Capital District Gay and Lesbian Community Center
332 Hudson Avenue

One of the two LGBT community centers founded in 1971, Capital District Gay and Lesbian Community Center has a unique distinction: it has been in this same location for all of its 38 years. (See photo above.) Executive Director Norah Yates wrote to me that:

We’ve been in this building since 1971; we were started in 1970 and had a storefront at one point, but then started meeting at our address when it was the home of one of our founders.

CDGLCC provides numerous services, including youth programs, cultural events, a café, an art gallery named after lesbian painter Romaine Brooks, an LGBT library, confidential AIDS testing, and a newspaper, commUNITY. The center also sponsors Albany’s annual Capital Pride celebration in June.

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