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Archive for June, 2010

Photo by Fred MacDarrah

New York, N.Y.

GAA Firehouse

99 Wooster Street

Gay Manhattan’s first social and community center was the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) Firehouse, which opened in 1970 during the blossoming of gay liberation activity following the Stonewall riots. GAA was one of the leading groups of the early movement, and initiated the infamous “zap,” a short, quick political action, usually the disruption of an event or a confrontation with a gay-unfriendly politician. When it wasn’t engaged in zaps, GAA held meetings and dances at this abandoned firehouse. Vito Russo, who would later author The Celluloid Closet, ran “movie nights,” screening such gay faves as The Wizard of Oz. Arson ended activities at the firehouse in 1974, although GAA continued its work until the early 1980s.

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Williamstown, Mass.

Cole Porter home

“Buxton Hill”

1411 Main Street

In 1919, composer Cole Porter (June 9, 1891-1964) married sophisticated divorcee Linda Lee Thomas, a woman eight years his senior. Linda proved a perfect “beard” for her husband, agreeing to separate bedrooms early in the marriage and tolerating his frequent, though always brief, sexual encounters with men. Some rumors suggest Linda may have been queer, too.

The Porters had homes in Los Angeles and New York City before purchasing this estate in the northwest corner of Massachusetts in 1940 as a summer getaway. Cole hated the place at first, complaining that it was too far removed from the social life of Manhattan. Later, he grew to love the sprawling estate, when he discovered he could entertain in the style he enjoyed and accommodate numerous guests in the spacious main house and separate guest cottage. Prospective weekend visitors received a detailed map directing them to Buxton Hill (“down dirt road & up over hill”), complete with a schedule of the best train service from Grand Central.

As his private workplace, Cole used the gatekeeper’s cottage, posting a warning sign saying “No Trespassing.” Here he could work any hour of the day or night without disturbance, and he reportedly wrote much of the score for Kiss Me, Kate there.

Linda Porter died in 1954, and during the remaining 10 years of his life, Cole became a virtual recluse at Buxton Hill. He was embarrassed and incapacitated by the amputation of one of his legs, which was crushed in a riding accident in the 1930s. According to one of his biographers, visitors to Buxton Hill became fewer and fewer because most weekends Porter was drunk and ignored his guests, some of whom dubbed the farm “the torture chamber.”

At Cole’s death, Buxton Hill went to Williams College, but returned to private hands in 1966. It is now a luxury inn, with tennis courts, “the largest private swimming pool in the Berkshires,” and nature trails.

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