By Brian J. Pape
At a recent Design Justice charrette held at the Center for Architecture, participants offered a challenge for the National Parks Service’s Stonewall National Monument in Greenwich Village. Since its June 1999 listing on the National Register of Historic Places, and the recent 2015 designation by NYC’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) as its first LGBT historic site, the international appeal of the historic gay liberation movement site has grown immensely, but the site has little to show visitors.
The Stonewall Inn at 51-53 Christopher Street was a gay bar when riots broke out in 1969 to protest the treatment of gays. This event propelled the gay rights movement to national attention. The bar closed in 1969, and the space was rented for other businesses until 1991 when a new bar opened in a portion of the space, until 2006. In 2007, new owners opened the current bar. But what is there to keep it from closing again in this competitive real estate market and obliterating this historic site?
In response to the projected crush of visitors, an ambitious plan appropriate for this urban site would include a spacious entrance for ticketing, a gift shop, and public restrooms, assembly and exhibit areas, public access to educational programs, and improved pedestrian safety. The typically narrow streets and sidewalks of Greenwich Village will need room for throngs to congregate and take photos.
Christopher Street passes right in front of the Inn, and given today’s security concerns for federal property, there is a strong argument for prioritizing pedestrian traffic on adjoining streets between Waverly Place and 7th Avenue. Grove Street is on the south side of the Park, splitting off from Christopher Street at Waverly Place before turning off onto 7th Avenue. The Park Service and City police have SWAT-style security in place, so the cost for security could be a public/private partnership for fundraising and operations.
An adequate Visitor Center would necessitate the acquisition of the now privately-owned Stonewall Inn building, and the transfer of the adjacent Stonewall Inn Park from the City to National Parks. The Northern Dispensary should also be considered to be part of the complex.
The Northern Dispensary was built by the City in 1831 to house and aid the poor and sick on the City’s then northern reaches; the deed states that it must always be used for that purpose. In 1998, mogul William Gottlieb purchased the site, which is currently controlled by real estate company principal Neil Bender. Locks on the doors and gates of the wrought iron fences protect the empty structure’s interiors. With three triangular floors plus a basement, the building would make an excellent exhibition and meeting space for the national landmark site.
With a nod to I.M. Pei’s Louvre addition in Paris, the challenging program would be served by a new visitor entrance in the park in the form of a glass greenhouse, placed where the General Sheridan statue is located. (Park officials may look at relocating the statue to the apex of the Sheridan Square Viewing Garden, which is appropriate for its namesake.) This new greenhouse “lobby” would then connect downstairs to assembly rooms, tunneling under Christopher Street and part of Grove Street. From there, connections to the restored Inn and Dispensary buildings would provide continuous exhibits and community rooms.
The need is there; the conversation for planning should start now.