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Archive for the ‘architects’ Category

This week, LGBT history was ready for its close-up when the National Parks Service (NPS) of the Department of the Interior brought together 16 history scholars – myself included – for the launch of an LGBT initiative on June 10. This was a personal thrill for me, getting to hang with colleagues like pioneer gay historian John D’Emilio and to chat about same-sex marriage with the Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.

June 10 LGBT roundtable at the Dept. of the Interior; photo by Gerard Koskovich

June 10 LGBT roundtable at the Dept. of the Interior; photo by Gerard Koskovich

Two immediate goals of the LGBT initiative over the next 18 months are to increase the number of LGBT site listings on the National Register of Historic Places and to nominate sites for the more rigorous National Historic Landmarks program, or to amend current designations.

Currently, we have just one landmark – the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan – and four sites on the National Register: Frank Kameny’s home in Washington, DC; the Cherry Grove Community House and Theater on Fire Island; the James Merrill House in Stonington, CT; and the Carrington House on Fire Island.

Considering the richness and breadth of LGBT history in this country, that’s far too few. And in addition, these sites are all very heavily East Coast-centric and “G.” What about the L, B and T? Where are our sites in California, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Florida, and all the other states? Who are the people and what are the events that shaped LGBT history and civil rights in the Heartland or in the Deep South? Put your thinking caps on, folks!

The confab of scholars was a call to all of us to dig in and contribute. LGBT people don’t just live in New York City and San Francisco – we are, literally, everywhere and always have been. The NPS is looking for public input and comments on the initiative, which you can give by heading over to the dedicated website for this project or emailing lgbthistory@nps.gov.

Don’t be afraid to suggest sites that you think have a place on the National Register or to bring attention to LGBT local history projects in your town or city that may be interested in contributing to this historic drive for the visibility of our heritage. Or, if you prefer, email me at queerestplace [at] gmail.com and I’ll be happy to pass your suggestions along.

Let’s take advantage of this opportunity. June 10 was a moving day and I am still on a “history high” realizing that the work queer historians have been doing for years is finally getting the spotlight and recognition it deserves.

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glasshouse.jpg

New Canaan, Conn.

Glass House
798-856 Ponus Ridge Rd.

Philip Johnson (1906-2005) – the celebrated architect who designed the sculpture garden and east wing of the Museum of Modern Art, among numerous other structures – built this home in 1949 in one of the wealthiest areas of Connecticut. The idea for a “glass house” came from an argument with his mentor, Mies van der Rohe – could it actually be done? The two competed to solve the problem at the same time, with Johnson finishing his house first. (Van der Rohe’s, located in Plano, Ill., was not completed until the following year.)

Johnson’s Glass House is located in a thickly wooded area on a knoll overlooking a pond. “I learned from the Japanese…[that] a shelf keeps good spirits from straying, and the evil spirits will be unable to climb up to you,” Johnson noted about the location. The Glass House is a simple, modern structure, a 32-x-56-foot rectangle with one door centered on each side. Eight black steel columns form the framework, holding sheets of clear glass between them. A central brick cylinder extending the height of the house contains a bathroom. When Frank Lloyd Wright visited the completed house, he reportedly asked, “Am I indoors or am I out?” Said Johnson, “With the lights out and the snow falling, it is almost like a celestial elevator.”

Over the next 30 years, Johnson added other structures to his 40 acres of land – a solid brick guesthouse to contrast with the glass structure; an arched pavilion in the pond; an underground art gallery; and a climbable tower in the woods, built to honor his friend Lincoln Kirstein, co-founder of the New York City Ballet. One critic calls the compound Johnson’s “architectural autobiography”; he himself labeled it “the diary of an eccentric architect.” Johnson willed the property and all the buildings to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1986. The architect died in 2005, followed shortly thereafter by his longtime partner, David Whitney. The compound – complete with a visitors’ center designed by Johnson – opened to the public in April, 2007. 

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