At the intersection of 132nd Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard in Harlem — the place an eight-story condominium complicated is at present present process development — as soon as stood the first main Renaissance-style theater to desegregate in the metropolis, showcasing productions that featured Black performers, many of them queer, in the late 1910s. The place an unremarkable parking zone lies immediately, marking the nook of a hundred and fifty fifth Avenue and Frederick Douglass Avenue, an annual drag ball would draw as much as 8,000 attendees by the Nineteen Twenties and Nineteen Thirties. At 147 West 142nd Avenue — the web site of an condominium complicated in-built 2008 the place hire has skyrocketed in the previous decade — Jamaican American poet and author Claude McKay hosted salons the place dialog typically revolved round breaking free of dominant ideologies of race and sexual id.
These and different locales are half of the just lately revealed Disappearing Queer Spaces, a digital pamphlet that compiles seven Harlem Renaissance-era areas that have been the lifeblood of the queer neighborhood throughout that intensive interval of literary and creative expression and Black jouissance, however which have since been razed.
“Harlem is a rapidly gentrifying community,” Abriannah Aiken, a Grasp’s pupil at Columbia College’s Graduate Faculty of Structure, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP), informed Hyperallergic. “We’re losing a lot of culture … It’s affecting everyone in this community, but specifically, it’s affecting queer people of color.”
Aiken and Brian Turner, co-leading chairs of Queer College students of Structure, Planning, and Preservation (QSAPP) at Columbia, labored on Disappearing Spaces together with a number of different members of the group.
Collectively, the seven places remind us that the Harlem Renaissance was, as historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. put it, “surely as gay as it was Black” — one other means of saying that it was full of creative experimentation; heated mental dialogue; and massive events patronized by a wealthy, straight, feminine ally (A’Lelia Walker, heiress to Madam C. J. Walker, typically crowned America’s first Black feminine self-made millionaire).
“She invited like 3000 people [to her home for parties],” Turner explains. “No one could get in, because it was always so packed!”
QSAPP collaborated with Andrew Dolkart, a professor in Columbia’s Historic Preservation Program and one of a number of preservationists concerned in cataloguing over 400 LGBTQ+ websites in the metropolis in one searchable map. Though groundbreaking, that complete map didn’t embrace historic websites that not exist. QSAPP needed to recollect some of the areas that queer individuals all through historical past have inhabited and reveled in, even when they haven’t survived to the current day.
These places embrace Lodge Olga, established in 1920 and supposed for Black vacationers who have been visiting Harlem, which supplied lodging to queer celebrities reminiscent of blues singer Bessie Smith and author and thinker Alain Locke; the “Niggerati Manor,” a brownstone the place writers together with Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston convened to debate concepts and artwork; Jungle Alley, the “epicenter of [the Renaissance’s] thriving nightlife”; and Claude McKay’s condominium, the place he hosted “rent parties,” a social phenomenon widespread in Harlem at the time whereby hosts placed on social, musical, and creative occasions and charged admission to cowl the price of hire.
“We really wanted to tell a comprehensive history of what was going on during the Harlem Renaissance and what kind of spaces there were for the queer community and how they existed at that time,” Aiken stated.
“There were lavish drag balls,” she added, “but then there were also intimate settings like house parties.”
“We also found in the research we did that a lot of poor White people would come to Harlem to escape the more conservative spaces of more established New York because they could be more accepted and invisible,” Turner stated. “And that wasn’t true for the Black and other people of color residents in the area — they couldn’t go out — but they were very accepting of people that came in. So it was kind of like this melting pot of people that just enjoyed each other’s company.”
Aiken’s favourite of the disappeared areas is Edith’s Clam Home, a speakeasy the place lesbian and cross-dressing blues singer Gladys Bentley carried out in her iconic tux. “I love the idea of a regular bar that is transformed into a queer space by this icon coming up, singing, and bringing queerness onto the stage,” she stated. Turner’s favourite is A’Lelia Walker’s dwelling, dubbed “The Dark Tower,” the place queer musicians, writers, and artists partied. He additionally notes that misplaced to historical past alongside all the structure is a big erotic mural adorned with brightly coloured phalluses made by author and painter Richard Bruce Nugent.
QSAPP will hand out bodily copies of Disappearing Queer Spaces at the Harlem Pride celebration this Saturday, June 25, from 12 to 6pm.