As this year’s Pride overlaps with the city’s ongoing Save The Showbox debate, a panel discussion held earlier this month at the downtown branch of Seattle Public Library titled ‘There Goes the Gayborhood’ considered “inclusion in preservation” and the history and future of Capitol Hill as a “gayborhood.”
The panel, organized by SPL, Historic Seattle and Cynthia Brothers of Vanishing Seattle, initially set out to discuss the question “how do we save the places that anchor Seattle’s LGBTQ communities but may lack the architectural significance typically required for landmarking” in the face of rapid redevelopment.
But much of the discussion veered towards a trip down memory lane and a need for keeping stories alive.
Here are eight things CHS heard at the panel:
- “The property home to The Eagle is for sale. Fred Wildlife Refuge and Neighbours is for sale,” said Cynthia Brothers of Vanishing Seattle in her introduction. She said that as LGBTQ+ and creative spaces and people are pushed out, “preserving space requires more than façadism, (…) rainbow flags and crosswalks.”
- The 1905 building of The Wildrose, the longest-running lesbian bar in the country, is eligible for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places, said Jeff Murdock of Historic Seattle. Murdock pointed out that the building has seen very few changes (an aspect that would help a landmark nomination) though added that “one could argue the most significant aspect of this space is its longtime tenant, the Wildrose.”
- Though Pioneer Square was the city’s “original” gayborhood, it was never a residential home for queer people, said historian Kevin McKenna, a contributor to the LGBTQ section of the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project. McKenna explained that Pioneer Square was partly a gathering place for queer and marginalized people because it wasn’t a place “that white, middle-class Seattleites would go to,” which afforded “some freedom.” As Pioneer Square became more of a tourism destination and the 520 Bridge helped move Jewish and Christian families to other parts of town, queer people and hippies moved to the Hill, and soon bars and businesses followed.
- Doghouse Leathers’ Jeff Henness, who has lived on Capitol Hill since 1982, revealed that a lot of the queer bars had nicknames back in the day “so you could say at the office, I’ll meet you at Sylvia’s,” he said, the name for Spags. The Cuff was known as The Puff, Henness noted, and The Eagle was/is known as The Albatros or “The Dirty Bird.”
- In 1984, Seattle had two Pride Parades, Henness said. “Because we had one group (…) that wanted nothing to do with the word AIDS, they just wanted a celebration of being gay,” he said. That was Saturday. “The rest of the community said no, we must take care of our brothers and sisters,” and hosted a more successful parade on Sunday.
- Steve Bennett, owner of for-sale LGBTQ landmark The Gaslight Inn, said he mostly started the Gaslight Inn as a B&B because he loved the house and because he wanted to have a place for the families of his friends. He said that back then, “the owner was willing to sell it to me with a handshake and very little money down.” But the way people travel, and thus his clientele — initially mostly folks “wanting to be in the gay community” — has changed: “I have lost that community touch with my clientele, they are great people, but [it’s] Mr. and Ms. Dunson from Omaha. (…) It’s become sort of flat.”
- Kevin McKenna lived on the Hill in 2011-2012, and said even back then “it still felt very gay.” Not anymore, McKenna said. “The crosswalks getting painted rainbow as violence is rising seems like almost a slap in the face, as opposed to a real response from the city,” McKenna said while audience members snapped their fingers in approval.
‘Dragtivist’ Aleksa Manila, also Program Supervisor of Addiction Services at Seattle Counseling Service, said that it was important to remember Capitol Hill’s queer scene as including, besides queer-owned or gay-centered businesses, also critical services such a the Chicken Soup Brigade (now Lifelong) and Stonewall Recovery Services. “We need a hub,” she said to a question about whether a “gayborhood” was necessary. “It’s not just for partying, it’s for community.” Manila also called for the creation of a gayborhood preservation task force and said: “I want to approach it from a humanistic perspective. Earlier you said is it nostalgia? I think that’s pathologizing what we are hanging on to. It’s only been 50 years ago that we created the modern LGBTQ civil rights movement. That’s not very old. We are still trying to figure out who we are and what else we can do. (…) People have stories that are so beautiful, let’s keep telling them.”
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