Group is Looking to Map LGBT History in Los Angeles

Black Cat Tavern in Silver Lake (Photo courtesy of GLBT History Museum)
Black Cat Tavern in Silver Lake (Photo courtesy of GLBT History Museum)

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]urveyLA, the Los Angeles historic resources survey, is launching an effort to map LGBT history in LA.

The group is partially funded by a $2.5 million grant from the J. Paul Getty Trust and its survey project is managed by LA’s Department of City Planning Office of Historic Resources. It has been surveying L.A.’s 35 community plan areas with an eye to its diverse ethnic and cultural history. Survey LA will kick off the LGBT effort with a meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Mar. 13 at the Neutra VDL Research House, 2300 Silver Lake Blvd., Los Angeles. Those who wish to attend can RSVP online.

“The vast majority of the city was essentially a blank slate,” said Ken Bernstein of L.A.’s Office of Historic Resources. “The scale is huge. It’s little wonder we’d never taken stock of our historic resources because the task seemed overwhelming.”

Bernstein said that because most potential historic sites have never been assessed, many have been lost. “We lose significant places and erode our significant historical neighborhoods constantly,” he said. Before SurveyLA launched its field surveys in 2010, only about 15 percent of Los Angeles had been surveyed.

Places that are detailed in SurveyLA’s work will not automatically be designated as historic. However, the survey could be used by property owners and others who want to take steps toward obtaining such a designation.

The survey is limited to sites that are within the Los Angeles borders, so sites located within West Hollywood, a major gay enclave, won’t be surveyed. However, LGBT people who live in West Hollywood and other areas are invited to attend the meeting to share their historical knowledge.

SurveyLA is focusing on sites with pre-1980 significance. That eliminates places associated with the AIDS crisis from consideration. Project representatives said they’re open to hearing input about more recent history, but that 1980 seemed like a logical cutoff point because it takes time to gain historical perspective.

Los Angeles has been the site of several major gay liberation movements, including the founding in 1950 of the Mattachine Society by Harry Hay and friends of his. A police raid in January 1967 on the Black Cat bar at 3909 Silver Lake Blvd. in Los Angeles sparked days of riots and protests almost 18 months ahead of the Stonewall riots in New York City that are seen today as the beginning of the modern gay liberation movement.

The March 13 meeting is intended as a way to collect information about forces that shaped L.A.’s LGBT history as well as significant sites and people. (For purposes of the historic survey, those people would need to be associated with physical places such as homes or businesses.) Information can also be submitted via the SurveyLA website. Depending on interest, there could be additional LGBT community meetings. SurveyLA also plans to make a list of people and organizations to talk to on an individual basis.

Some particular areas in which SurveyLA is seeking information include:
• Entertainment industry
• Churches, synagogues and other religious institutions
• Publications
• Writers/the literary community

SurveyLA anticipates concluding its survey work by the end of 2015 and publishing findings by the end of 2016.