THOUGHTS N FEELINGS

LA's Queer Story Depends On Places of LGBTQ History

Cooper Do-Nuts in (image via Kent MacKenzie's film The Exiles (1961)

Cooper Do-Nuts in (image via Kent MacKenzie's film The Exiles (1961)

by Tiffany Narváez, LA Conservancy

Greater L.A. has been the home to many LGBTQ firsts, like the world’s first gay pride parade, the world’s first LGBTQ synagogue, the country’s longest-running LGBTQ publica­tion, groundbreaking work in medical research and care for LGBTQ communities, and other milestones. Yet L.A.’s contributions to LGBTQ history are often overshadowed by cities like New York and San Francisco. Deeply significant historic places have been threatened or lost before their stories could be understood.
 
Just one example is Cooper's Donuts, a popular coffee shop in Downtown L.A. within the transgender community, which was demolished without regard for its significance. In 1959, the business was the site of a significant clash between law enforcement and trans men and women who resisted police harassment and arrest at a time when large numbers of people were imprisoned for “masquerading.”
 
While there is growing awareness of these places, people, and stories, a number of buildings with significant historical ties to queer communities are still at risk. Many are modest structures – unimposing by design – and require a deeper look beyond their facades to fully understand their cultural value. The diversity of stakeholders and perspectives within LGBTQ communities also poses unique challenges for preservation, as a single place can hold different meanings for different people. Preserving this history requires recognizing and confronting the full story.
 
Fortunately, in 2014, the City of L.A. completed its LGBT Historic Context Statement as a first step toward documenting important places citywide, and historic sites like The Black Cat and the Tom of Finland House have been successfully designated as L.A. Historic-Cultural Monuments for their associations with important queer events and people in the past.
 
Since 2015, the Los Angeles Conservancy has worked on a project to document, recognize, and preserve historic LGBTQ places in L.A. County. A microsite on our website offers general information and profiles dozens of places related to LGBTQ history. But these projects are only the beginning. It’s our duty as Angelenos to preserve the places that tell our stories before they disappear forever.

The Woman's Building, formerly in Chinatown, is one of several places of LA's queer history that have gone lost without LGBTQ-focused preservation efforts behind it (image via LA Conservancy)

The Woman's Building, formerly in Chinatown, is one of several places of LA's queer history that have gone lost without LGBTQ-focused preservation efforts behind it (image via LA Conservancy)