Gay rights ‘landmark’ faces demo
BY ALBERT AMATEAU | The new owner of an 1824 Federal Period house on Spring St. has applied for a demolition permit, prompting the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation to ratchet up its demands for a South Village Historic District.
The demolition application for the vacant four-story building at 186 Spring St. near Thompson St. was issued July 2. A Department of Buildings spokesperson said last week that the application was under review but that she could not say when a decision would be made.
Andrew Berman, G.V.S.H.P. executive director, in a July 13 letter to Robert Tierney, chairperson of the city Landmarks Preservation Commission, urged the agency to protect the immediately threatened 186 Spring St. and designate a 35-block area within which the building is located as a city historic district.
In the early 1970s, the Spring St. house was the home of several key figures in the early gay rights movement.
Jim Owles, founding president of the Gay Activists Alliance, one of the earliest gay advocacy organizations in the post-Stonewall era and the first openly gay candidate for political office in the city, lived in the building in the early 1970s. In 1973 he became the first openly gay candidate for the City Council.
Owles, who died in 1993, was a founder of the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats (GLID) in 1974, and in 1985 was a founder of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), now a nationwide group influencing media coverage and depiction of gays and lesbians.
Dr. Bruce Voeller, a pioneer in the fight against AIDS and a specialist in human sexuality and sexually transmitted diseases, also lived at 186 Spring St. in the early 1970s and 1980s. Voeller is said to have changed the early terminology from Gay Related Immune Defense Disorder (GRIDD) to the more accurate Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
Voeller, who died in 1984, was a founder of the Mariposa Education and Research Foundation, which commissioned George Segal’s “Gay Liberation” sculptures at Sheridan Square to commemorate the Stonewall rebellion.
In 2010, L.P.C. designated one-third of the proposed South Village Historic District, but the rest — between Sixth Ave. and Broadway from Bleecker to Canal Sts. — is unprotected.
An L.P.C. spokesperson said last week that after a visit to 186 Spring St. three weeks ago, L.P.C. determined that the building did not rise to individual-landmark level.
Although the structure still has its original gable roof and some Flemish-bond brickwork, no original fabric remains on the ground floor, and lintels and sills have been replaced, according to L.P.C.
“However, subsequent to this determination we have received information about the building’s connection to the gay rights movement,” the spokesperson said. “We are going to weigh those associations in the context of the building’s architectural characteristics and will make a decision as soon as possible on whether to recommend it to the full commission.”
But the spokesperson said designation of the entire district is not L.P.C.’s immediate priority, “because of the many other historic districts we are pursuing throughout the city.”