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Community participation sought for LGBTQ+ Historic Sites Project

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Photo of the Centenary Wilbur Methodist Church
Portlanders are invited to submit information about older buildings with historical ties and significance to the LGBTQ+ community.
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Saving old buildings, structures, and other historic resources has a long history in Portland. However, the historic preservation legacy in Portland and nationally has not always been equitable; standard preservation practices have largely excluded social, cultural, and intangible heritage.

Now the heritages of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer+ historic resources are being uplifted through the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability’s LGBTQ+ Historic Sites Project.

Portland’s efforts follow similar projects in places like New York and San Francisco, which aim to protect LGBTQ+ historic resources in the wake of erasure, gentrification, and demolition. In 2021, the National Park Service awarded the City of Portland an Underrepresented Communities Grant to develop the LGBTQ+ Historic Sites Project, a citywide effort to document and preserve these histories within the built environment. In March 2023, the City was awarded an additional grant from the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office to further expand the project.

The designation of Darcelle XV Showplace to the National Register of Historic Places in 2020 as Oregon’s first LGBTQ-designated landmark also helped generate interest and support for preserving other significant sites.

The grant funding will allow Portland to conduct an LGBTQ+ historic resource survey, author multiple LGBTQ+ National Register of Historic Places nominations and publish a context statement to guide future LGBTQ+ historic site preservation.

Portlanders can contribute to this effort by submitting information to an LGBTQ+ Historic Sites Questionnaire through July.

Fill out the questionnaire

Site selection and documentation process

To develop a baseline understanding of LGBTQ+ historic sites in the built environment, the LGBTQ+ historic sites project team will document 100 properties selected from an initial inventory developed through archival research and input from community members. These sites will include residences, bookstores, parks, bars, and others throughout the city, representing time periods from the early 1900s to the late 1990s.

A range of historic resources are being considered to uplift historically excluded experiences, including a landscape associated with lesbian histories, properties associated with public health, and gathering places for different community groups. The focus will be on sites with intersectional experiences, including a residence of Doctor Marie Equi, the former youth venue Ninth Street Exit Coffee House, and Washington Park. Responses to the online questionnaire will broaden and deepen the site selection and documentation process.

Photo of the Peacock in the Park event
Washington Park’s amphitheater hosted Peacock in the Park, a family-friendly drag show created by the late Lady Elaine Peacock, starting in the 1980s. The 1998 stage is visible over the audience. Image courtesy of Just Out, 1998.

Members of the project team will complete historic property records for each selected property this spring and summer, capturing architectural information and documenting associations with LGBTQ+ history. These historic property records will inform other project deliverables, including a historic context statement and individual National Register of Historic Places nominations.

Photo of one of Marie Equi’s apartment buildings
The 1984 citywide Historic Resource Inventory previously documented one of Marie Equi’s apartment buildings. Including such sites in the LGBTQ+ Historic Sites Project strengthens documentation of a resource’s significance in Portland’s LGBTQ+ past.

Following the documentation of 100 properties, the team will author several National Register of Historic Places nominations for properties with the greatest demonstrated significance to LGBTQ+ history. Although owner consent is required for National Register listing, several property owners have already provided their support for nomination.

Learning from locals

In addition to one-on-one meetings with project staff, the public is invited to contribute their knowledge through an online questionnaire. Open through July, the questionnaire seeks to broaden the project’s understanding of Portland’s associated LGBTQ+ resources. Information submitted will enhance ongoing research in archival materials and existing scholarship, completed by The Umbrella Project, The Gay and Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest, and others that have established an inventory of associated places, events, and people. This information will be incorporated into project deliverables.

Project team

The LGBTQ+ Historic Sites Project team comprises staff from the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, architectural and social historians at Salazar Architect, and several community members and organizations, including triangle productions!, whose founder Donnie/Don Horn has provided the project team with a foundation of research and knowledge of LGBTQ+ sites. Donnie/Don Horn spearheaded the Darcelle XV Showplace listing in the National Register and received, along with his company, the 2021 Oregon Heritage Excellence Award. A volunteer group of LGBTQ+ Portlanders with lived and professional experiences further supports the project’s development through input on the approach and review of different deliverables. Shayne Watson, an architectural historian based in San Francisco and co-author of The Citywide Historic Context Statement for LGBTQ History in San Francisco, is assisting project staff with best practices and review of materials. Kristen Minor, a preservation professional with 30 years' experience in architecture, planning, teaching, and leading Portland's Landmarks commission, is actively involved in the development of numerous project deliverables.

In March 2023, Cayla McGrail joined the Historic Resource Program as an Associate Planner to support the project. A graduate of the University of Oregon’s Historic Preservation Program, McGrail’s terminal project analyzed San Francisco’s approach to LGBTQ+ preservation to understand how Portland could bolster its queer preservation efforts. Their research and expertise will better ensure the LGBTQ+ Historic Sites Project considers and includes the voices of diverse LGBTQ+ community members, past and present. Individuals and organizations interested in participating in the project are encouraged to contact Cayla at cayla.mcgrail@portlandoregon.gov.

Next steps

The project team will document 100 historic properties throughout the spring and summer, with results of the documentation available in the fall. The first National Register of Historic Places nomination(s) will be available for public review in late summer. Stay tuned for additional engagement opportunities as project staff review feedback submitted through the questionnaire, analyze archival research, and incorporate guidance from community volunteers.

Questions and feedback can be directed to Cayla McGrail at cayla.mcgrail@portlandoregon.gov