Los Angeles, Calif.
Harry Hay home/Mattachine Society
2328 Cove Avenue
This split-level house located in a cul-de-sac in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles was home to Harry Hay (1912-2002) and his wife, Anita, beginning in 1943. The living room boasted a grand piano and a view of the lake that was the Hays’ “pride and joy.” In those days, Hay was a member of both the Communist Party and the folk music movement, and his home was the site of numerous meetings and soirees.
But even while married, Hay began acting on his same-sex desires, becoming lovers in 1950 with Rudi Gernreich, future designer of the topless swimsuit for women. Because Hay had a wife and Gernreich lived with his mother, the lovers met clandestinely at the home of a friend at 313 Alta Vista Drive in Hollywood to be together. Hay later said that he and Gernreich formed a “society of two” that became the Mattachine Society.
It was at this Cover Avenue residence that Hay, Gernreich, and two of their friends, Chuck Rowland and Bob Hull, began meeting every week to discuss homosexuality and homosexual disenfranchisement. Hay discovered the name “Mattachine” in his research into folk songs. The Mattachines had been all-male troupes of jesters during the Middle Ages in western Europe, who boldly dressed as women and performed songs and dances throughout the countryside for the poor and oppressed.
The Mattachine meetings of the early 1950s were always secret. If a guest was invited, he would meet a member in public and be driven around to disorient him before being taken to Hay’s home. Eventually, as the group grew in size, public meeting sites were chosen. In 1953, a Mattachine convention at the First Universalist Church at Ninth and Crenshaw, a rift in the membership forced out Hay and other founders and brought in a more conservative leadership. The group became less political and eventually disbanded in L.A., resurfacing in a new form a few years later in San Francisco. Other Mattachine Societies sprouted up in cities across the country.