Tag Archives: Christopher Street

Revisiting the Stonewall Riots: The Evolving Legacy of a Violent Night

PODCAST The legacy of the Stonewall Riots and their aftermath, in a podcast history told over nine years apart (May 2008, June 2017).

In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, undercover police officers attempting to raid the Stonewall Inn, a mob-controlled gay bar with darkened windows on Christopher Street, were met with something unexpected — resistance.

That ‘altercation’ was a messy affair indeed — chaotic, violent, dangerous for all. Homeless youth fought against riot police along the twisting, crooked streets of the West Village. And yet, by the end, thousands from all walks of life met on those very same streets in the days and weeks to come in a new sense of empowerment.

In May of 2008, we recorded a podcast on the Stonewall Riots, an event that galvanized the LGBTQ community, giving birth to political organizations and a sense of unity and pride.

So much has changed within the LGBTQ community — and so much was left out of our original show — that’s we’ve decided to do something unique. In the first half, we present to you our original 2008 history on the Stonewall Riots, warts and all. In the second half, we present newly recorded material, exploring the effects of Stonewall on the crises that faced the gay community in the 1980s and 90s.

Now an official U.S. National Monument maintained by the National Park Service, the Stonewall National Monument preserves New York City’s role in the birth of the international LGBT movement.

And please forgive us in advance for being extra personal in this show near the end.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Google MusicStitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #231: THE STONEWALL RIOTS REVISITED

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An early advertisement put out by the Mattachine Society, urging people to look at homosexuals different.

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An example of the types of flyers circulating in the West Village following the Stonewall incident.

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The Stonewall Inn was closed shortly after the battle with police, not to be reopened again until 1990.

Photographer Diana Davies, courtesy NYPL
Photographer Diana Davies, courtesy NYPL
Photographer Diana Davies, courtesy NYPL

From the first parade (in 1970) to Central Park, the first of what would later be called the Pride Parade.

Diana Davies/NYPL

The parade ended with a gigantic rally in Sheep Meadow in Central Park.

Diana Davies/NYPL

From the parade the following year:

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From a 1971 demonstration in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

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….and another near Radio City Music Hall.

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Gay rights demonstrations from 1971 at the state capitol in Albany, NY, from an incredible collection of pictures by Diane Davies, courtesy the New York Public Library.

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The entrance to Christopher Park in 1975, photo by Edmund Vincent Gillon

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Gay Liberation, how the statues looked when they were first installed in 1992.

Edmund Gillon/MCNY

An early AIDS march from 1983 which began near Stonewall in Sheridan Square.

During the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 90s, many turned to the example of Stonewall as a way to unite the community and fight back against homophobia.

Photographer Gran Fury, Courtesy NYPL

An ACT UP sign for the Stonewall 25 parade and rally “How many of us will be alive for Stonewall 35?” On the opposite side: “AIDS. Where is your rage? ACT UP.”

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A sobering ACT UP ‘welcome wagon’ message. “But remember, when you are back at home, the brave legacy of the rebellious queens and dykes who sometimes embarrass you when you see our marches on television.”

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In front of Stonewall in 2013 after the announcement of the Supreme Court verdict in United States v. Windsor, overturning the Defense of Marriage Act.

Photo by Greg Young

Stonewall Inn and Christopher Park, 2015

Photo by Greg Young

Outside the Stonewall in 2016, following the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida.

Photo by Greg Young

 

Stonewall 2016, now with police protection! Taken in August 2016, following the announcement of Stonewall as a National Monument.

Stonewall Inn: The story of New York’s newest National Monument (NPS 100)

This month America celebrates the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, the organization which protects the great natural and historical treasures of the United States. There are a number of NPS locations in the five borough areas. Throughout the next few weeks, we will focus on a few of our favorites.   For more information, you can visit National Parks Centennial for a complete list of parks and monuments throughout the country.  For more blog posts in this series, click here.
The following also features an excerpt from the Bowery Boys Adventures In Old New York, now available for sale wherever books are sold and online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

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STONEWALL NATIONAL MONUMENT
CHRISTOPHER STREET, WEST VILLAGE, MANHATTAN

On June 24, 2016, President Obama — who had conjured the name of Stonewall Inn in his 2013 inaugural speech — designated the location of the 1969 Stonewall Riots as a National Monument, to be overseen by the National Park Service.

Twelve days earlier, a gunman walked into a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and killed 49 people. It was the deadliest terrorist attack since September 11, 2001, and certainly the greatest single attack upon the American LGBT community in history.

For days after, a makeshift memorial to the Orlando victims sat in front of Stonewall Inn. Even today, as you enter the building, a list of their names greets you upon the wall, next to an older sign that states ‘THIS IS A RAIDED PREMISES’, a vestige of a time when gay bars were diminished, not decorated.

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Thus is the power of Stonewall’s symbolism, the dignity and community represented in the air around this stumpy, architecturally unspectacular structure.

Recognizing the enigmatic atmosphere of this place, Stonewall National Monument is actually the building proper and the portion of Christopher Street which sits in front of it, as well as the entirety of triangular Christopher Park.  This includes one very relevant piece of art — the four human statues known as the Gay Liberation Monument (placed here in 1992) — and one somewhat random inclusion — a statue to Union general Philip Sheridan.

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But perhaps the most unusual aspect to the National Park Service’s newest acquisition is that Stonewall Inn is still very much an active bar, even more so now for its fame. Its Big Gay Happy Hours are but one of many things which sets this NPS site apart from, say, Grant’s Tomb.

There’s a constant police presence in front of Stonewall Inn. On a given night you may even see armed guards out in front, a curious dichotomy with the drag queens who perform on the second floor. I cannot wait to see how they incorporate a temporary ranger station and a visitor center.

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It’s unfortunate that Stonewall — a historic symbol of safe space — should feel like slightly less of one because of current events. But this situation does provide another, more hopeful optic: the image of an alert and engaged law enforcement, entrusted in keeping a gay bar safe and secure.

If you could somehow go back in time to tell the men and women who were arrested in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, about this, they would have laughed (and maybe spit) in your face.

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In the 1960s the mob had a veritable monopoly on the Greenwich Village gay scene, tucked invisibly down the neighborhood’s side streets. No bar catering to gays and lesbians could stay open without paying bribes (to both the mob and the police), and complaining bar owners had a funny way of finding themselves arrested—or worse. Indeed, police detectives sometimes posed as gay men to corner alleged “homophiles.”

One of these dank and unappealing bars on Christopher Street was the Stonewall Inn. Its history was long and colorful: A former stable, it became a notorious “teahouse” in 1930, then a somewhat respectable restaurant, then was gutted in a fire before becoming a darkened-window dive bar catering to homosexuals in 1967.

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There was nothing especially notable about the Stonewall, with its watered- down drinks and its hat-and-coat check. There was dancing and a jukebox and a good mix of white, African American, and Hispanic patrons just looking to have fun. Wouldn’t you be upset if they kept shutting you down for no good reason?

This is precisely what the police attempted just after 1 a.m. on June 28, 1969, when uniformed and undercover cops raided the packed bar and prepared to arrest the patrons.

Protesters gathered in the streets outside the Stonewall Inn in the days following the riots on June 28.

Courtesy CNN
Courtesy CNN

But people were not having it. A crowd outside the bar began heckling the officers as they started their arrests, pulling patrons from the bar and loading them into wagons. One woman in handcuffs fought fiercely, inspiring an extraordinary coalition of street youths and drag queens to push back against restraint. The crowds swelled as patrons from other bars joined the fracas, filling Christopher Street and pushing back against police harassment until well after four in the morning.

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What began as proper “rioting”—or aimless anger in the streets—grew more focused over the next several days, as hundreds of marginalized New Yorkers returned to the street in front of the Stonewall with a newfound sense of solidarity. Their example inspired people throughout the city—and around the country.

One year after the raid, activists would gather in front of the Stonewall and march up to Central Park, an event that would become the city’s annual LGBT Pride March.

Today gay pride celebrations and parades in many European countries are referred to as “Christopher Street Day” celebrations. Although Stonewall Inn has gained national importance today, it is Christopher Street itself that retains the symbolism for many.

And that is why a very small portion of that street — forever associated with struggle —  is America’s newest National Monument.

WANT MORE INFORMATION? Visit the NPS Stonewall National Monument site for more information.

LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST! We have an entire show on the Stonewall Riots. It’s Episode #49. You can find it on iTunes at the Bowery Boys Archive, featuring our older shows.  Or download it from here.

You can also hear it here via SoundCloud:

The tale of Newgate, the New York state prison in the West Village

You may not be aware of the Weehawken Historic District, a collection of 14 buildings of unique architectural character in the far West Village.  It lies at the foot of Christopher Street and centers around the one-block-long Weehawken Street. You really should take a stroll down here. It will take you all of one minute; the street is approximately 63 feet long.

But a surprising structure once sat on this very spot two hundred years ago — Newgate Prison, the official state prison of New York from 1796 to 1828.

The city of New York was still very much confined to the area below today’s Canal Street. The new prison lay on the outskirts of Greenwich Village, a hamlet of farms and estates that served as New York’s first suburb of sorts. Just a few feet from Newgate was the Greenwich Market, south of Christopher Street (on the spot of the big red, Federal Archives Building).

The prison was considered a progressive upgrade to New York’s dreadful Bridewell Prison, which sat near the area of today’s City Hall.  Built before the Revolutionary War, Bridewell had no windows and wretched facilities; prolonged incarceration here often met death.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

 

With Newgate, enlightened reformers moved the prison out of the middle of town — always a good thing — and nearest the water, providing better ventilation and access to ferry transportation. “A more pleasant, airy, and salubrious spot could not have been selected in the vicinity of New York,” said one writer in 1801.*

Newgate was named (or rather nicknamed) for its larger, more infamous counterpart in London which became a favorite setting in Charles Dickens novels. New York’s Newgate was similarly ominous, with high stone walls mirroring the shape of forts along the waterfront.  Indeed Fort Gansevoort, in the area of today’s Meat-Packing District, was built several years after Newgate.

Below: From the original 1796 survey of the spot where Newgate was constructed. Today’s Weehawken Street would have been later laid at the spot of the prison’s western border. Skinner Street would later be known as Christopher Street. Amos Street is now West 10th Street.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

This soon proved an inadequate and ill-placed facility. Overcrowding led to prison riots and jail breaks, hardly the behavior you want to see across the street from a civilized public market. By the 1820s, the area of Greenwich Village became desirable real estate as the boundaries of New York — bolstered by the slow development of the 1811 Grid Plan — moved northward.

The western edge of Greenwich Village would be spared from the installing the grid thanks to tenacious land-owners. But it certainly wouldn’t do to have a wily prison sitting next to a developing neighborhood. In 1824, former New York mayor Stephen Allen (technically the first elected mayor) was put in charge of relocating the state prison to someplace more remote. And so, in 1828, Newgate’s prisoners were transferred to a new facility — in Sing Sing.

Weehawken Street in 1900 looking south….

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Photo by Robert Bracklow, Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

… and north.

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The hefty walls of Newgate were torn down, and  l’il Weehawken Street — all 63 feet of it —  was then created and paved in 1830.

By the way, Weehawken Street did get its name from the town of Weehawken, as it was the dock of a colonial ferry that connected with the picturesque New Jersey town. Weehawken was the site of the famous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr in 1804.

They both get their name from the same Lenape Indian source meaning either “place of gulls” or “place of rocks that look like trees.”

 

 

*From the official Weehawken historic designation