Fire Island‘s Cherry Grove Community House and Theater was recently named to the National Register of Historic Places for “the enormous role it played in shaping what gradually evolved into America’s First Gay and Lesbian Town.” The Cherry Grove Community Association sought landmark status for the theater to spark interest in funding its reservation.
The theater is only the third gay rights landmark to be recognized by the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service for historical designation. It follows New York’s Stonewall Inn, site of the 1969 uprising that sparked the modern gay civil rights movement, and the home of pioneering gay rights activist Dr. Franklin E. Kameny in Washington, D.C., which served as a headquarters and safe haven for activists.
From the NPS listing:
Located in the hamlet of Cherry Grove on Fire Island, the building was floated across Long Island’s Great South Bay to serve as the community house for the Cherry Grove Property Owners Association, Inc., which organized in 1944 to serve this small, beach colony’s civic needs. In 1948, a theater addition was constructed, completing the building seen today. As an organization, the association influenced the community’s development, facilitating gradual social acceptance, self-affirmation, and integration of its gay and lesbian residents into Cherry Grove’s governing affairs and civic life. This integration of homosexual residents into daily life and events at its community house afforded Cherry Grove a singular status; it became the one of the first and, for many years, the only gay and lesbian influenced geography in the United States.
Though you can be gay practically anywhere in America — if you ignore most of Texas — Cherry Grove remains a “hidden jewel” to its residents and visitors and predates the neighboring Pines as a gay mecca. Over the years, Cherry Grove has played host and home to queer poets, artists and entertainers, including W.H. Auden, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and Tallulah Bankhead.
“The message is, we have arrived, finally,” Diane Romano, president of the Cherry Grove Community Association, told the AP. “We remember when we could be arrested just for being gay. To now be applauded and to be allowed to marry and to be recognized by the government for being a gay theater for so many years is just thrilling. It’s thrilling.”