LGBT COMMUNITY CENTER - EARLY HISTORY 208 WEST 13TH STREET, NEW YORK CITY
A few years ago a letter to the editor for the Gay City News included how the Center was given to the community for one dollar by Mayor Dinkins. I wrote a letter back explaining how wrong that was on so many accounts, and realized that the exact story of how the LGBT Community Center came about was not really well understood. So I am attempting to get more of the people involved to give their recollections of how the building went from the Food and Maritime High School to become the LGBT Community Center.
In the late 1970's I was working for the City of New York's Department of General Services' Division of Real Property. The building at 208 West 13th Street was one of my projects. Initially, I was a Real Estate appraiser for the Division and at that time conducted the appraisal for the building when its doors were first locked. Later that year I became the Executive Director of Real Estate Development for the Division and was involved with the ULURP and first leasehold auction for the building. I left my job with the City after the Caring Community's lease was terminated and the negotiations began with the LGBT community. I had no direct involvement with the process from that point on. So I wrote down what I remembered about the first part of this webpage and will get those directly involved to fill in the rest. There were many people who had input into creating our home; sad to say that some are no longer alive to tell their story.
HISTORY OF THE BUILDING AT 208 WEST 13TH STREET, MANHATTAN
RECOLLECTIONS OF RICK LANDMAN
Member of the Coalition of Lesbian and Gay Rights - CLGR, and a former Executive Director of the Division of Real Property, NYC. The entire bio is at the ABOUT section.
FROM 1869 UNTIL THE CLOSING OF THE HIGH SCHOOL
Construction Date and Use as Elementary School: The building at 208 West 13th Street was built c.1869 as Public School 16. The building was converted into a community center in 1997 by Francoise Bollack, and is currently the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Services Center, which bought the building in 1983.
Food and Maritime High School: The Food and Maritime Trades Vocational High School was expanded c.1859 and c.1899 by C.B.J. Snyder. By the 1970's it was in a joint program with a ship docked at the Christopher Street pier (now only the wooden poles stick up from the Hudson at the location near Morton Street) called the John Bowne. At its peak there were two ships docked there for the high school students to learn the maritime trades.
Fiscal Crisis of the 1970's : During the mid 1970's, NYC was experiencing urban flight and a massive phenomena of landlord's abandoning their buildings to the City in a in-rem tax foreclosure procedure. Since the population at large was decreasing, the number of public school students was also dropping. The City also had limited funds to keep schools open if they were not fully occupied. The Department of City Planning created a unit to examine which schools (also hospitals, fire houses, courthouses etc.) had to be closed. Over 300 public buildings were closed during this fiscal crisis era.In the West Village two schools were closed. One being the King Street School and the other being the Food and Maritime High School.
Closing of the Food and Maritime High School The school was closed on ....... and it was then transferred to the Mayor's jurisdiction for maintenance and disposition.
FROM CLOSING OF THE HIGH SCHOOL UNTIL THE NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE LGBT COMMUNITY
Disposition Process : At the end of the Beame Administration many of these closed schools and former public buildings were leased to various community groups on $1 a year month-to-month lease. In this way, no ULURP* process was required as a sale or long term lease would mandate. These $1 a year leases were very political and were given when certain local political figures were able to work out a deal with the Mayor's Office. But when the Koch Administration came into office, one of the first things to be examined were the $1 yr leases. The Mayor then decided that the former policy was not transparent or fair and the structures were not being well maintained. The new policy was that each community tenant would have to pay "fair market value" if they wanted to keep their surplused building. If they were a viable group, then they would have to bid against developers at a public auction. This proved fatal to most groups since developers could out bid them for luxury housing projects. That was the fate of the King Street School and the former Police Storage House at the corner at 196 Sixth Avenue.
Appraisal Process An appraisal was originally done as part of the initial process for disposition for all properties to be sold. I prepared the initial "Fair Market Appraisal" after the building was vacated.
ULURP* Process : Since 19.... the disposition of surplus property (and other land use matters such as zoning changes) go through Section 197C of the Charter which is called the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure or ULURP. It involves going to the Community Board Committee, then the full Community Board for a recommendation, then to the City Planning Commission for a recommendation and then to the Board of Estimate for a final vote. (The Board of Estimate was determined to be unconstitutional since each borough got one vote regardless of population) and now the City Council has the final vote.) The Mayor, Comptroller and City Council President (now Speaker)had two votes on the Board of Estimate and each Borough President got one vote a piece for a total of 11 votes. A winning vote required 6 votes. Community Board #2 voted to allow the disposition of the former Food and Maritime High School, but added a recommendation that the parcel have a Deed Restriction that is can only be used for "Community Facility - Use Group 3) zoning purposes. This would eliminate real estate developers from bidding for a site to develop for luxury housing. This was a rarely used move since most were denied at the Board of Estimate. The former Police Headquarters at 240 Centre Street was also able to get such a Deed Restriction, but it only covered the cellar area. The Deed Restriction for 208 West 13th Street covered the entire site and it was approved by the Board of Estimate for disposition as either a sale or long term lease. (research the actual vote) The building along with the Women's Fire House was not listed in the Developer's Guide and it was hopeful that both would be used by the local community.
Long Term Lease Auction to the Caring Community: At the time the vast majority of the surplus properties were sold at monthly real estate auctions. But since this building had a "community facility deed restriction" the initial concept was to hold a Long Term Lease Auction to determine the final lessee. The major legal tool for disposition was the auction process. Two major groups entered the picture. One was the Caring Community and the other was a educational program for students to learn how to cook and then distribute the cooked food to soup kitchens. They figured that they could use all of the food preparation equipment that was still in the High School. The auction was held and the Caring Community was the highest bidder and obtained a ten year lease.
Termination of Long Term Lease : After a few months, it was clear that the Caring Community was not able to use the space for the use intended in the lease and the lease was terminated and the building was taken back to the jurisdiction of the Division of Real Property for disposition.
CLGR Committee to find a location for a "Gay and Lesbian Community Center" At this time, Tom Smith head up a committee from CLGR to find a community center for the gay and lesbian community. Initially the ground floor or cellar of the Archive Building was the target goal for the community center, but the Community Board did NOT put a Deed Restriction on the disposition of this property and not favorable to the concept of a Gay and Lesbian Community Center on Christopher Street. But the idea was floating around.
FROM THE NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE LGBT COMMUNITY TO THE OPENING OF THE CENTER
Mayor's Office Willing to Consider a Sale Rather Than Lease Concept for the Building: When the building returned to the Division of Real Property no one was sure as to what the next step would be. The initial indication was to hold another auction for either a long term lease or a sale. The main disposition policy was that it had to bring in income and be at the "fair market value". No more $1 a year leases (whether month-to-month or long term) were being made; and the existing ones were being terminated. Somehow the community would have to come up with the money, if the City was going to find a way to usurp the auction process and have a directly negotiated sale.
Manhattan Borough President's Local Development Corporation : A local development corporation, (Section 14-11 of the State Not For Profit Law..... get exact citation) stated that the City could sell a property to an entity if it would create economic development. But it had to be at "Fair Market Value". It was debateable at first to determine if a community center could even be considered "economic development". But that is the route that was explored for the building at 208 West 13th Street; and the people pushing for it were coming from the Manhattan Borough President's Office. They had their own LDC and were willing to use it as a means of conveyance. The Mayor's Office also had an LDC, namely the Public Development Corporation (PDC)but they were not interested.
RECOLLECTIONS OF TOM BURROWS
From 1979 to 1981 Tom was Special Assistant to the Executive Director of the National Gay Task Force. Since he lived in the Village he was their defacto liaison to CLGR during the time we struggled with the Gay Rights Bill in NYC Council. From 1981-1984 he was Assistant to Manhattan Borough President Andrew Stein. 1984-1987 he was a Civil Rights Investigator at the NYC Commission on Human Rights. 1987-1994 he was an Assistant Corporation Counsel in the Family Court Division of the New York City Law Department.
In the mid-80's, he was a founder of the Gay and Lesbian Emergency Fund with Rev Karen Ziegler, Rev Paul Ables and Arthur Strickler and others in response to the Ramrod Shootings. He was a member (ex officio) of the original Steering Committee for the 208 W. 13th St Building. He was a member of the Executive Committee of GLID. He was a member of VID. He was an active member of the Christopher Street Block & Merchants Association and President from 1991-1994. He was a founding member and Vice President of the Christopher Street Patrol.
He went through some old materials and for some reason he kept a Journal that includes some historical information. He also have a May 1984 MCC Newsletter that include an article by Karen Zeigler about the Center.
Here are his notations:
10/16/82: The Gay Community needs a building. The space at the Archives Building will not do.
11/13/82: Over lunch during the Borough President's Arts Conference discussed with Michael Seltzer the need for something similar to the Eromin Center here in NYC. We need a full-time, funded, staffed social service agency to help our kids, to help the homeless, to help the sick. We also need to put together a "kitchen cabinet" to discuss priority issues and strategies to solve them.
11//17/82: Still having problems with "The Community Center". The group that calls itself "The Community Center" continues to look as the community as them and the board as us. As long as they continue the Us vs. Them attitude they won't get anywhere. I spoke to Bob DeDonato, Michael Seltzer and Ken Dawson about how to address this. Walter McCaffrey suggested that we begin to push for resolution of the issues, set deadlines and pursue options for individual groups to rent space rather than a community center.
12/2/82:During a great meeting with a collection of gay and lesbian child care workers, psychologists, psychiatrists etc. discussing exactly where as a community we want to go next with regard to foster care, preventive services and family counseling, it was felt it is time to form the NYC Gay and Lesbian Community Services or expand what exists.
12/4/82: Lesbian & Gay Community Council meeting was as unproductive as ever. More concern about process than about issues and results. Discussion focused on whether we should have individuals signing letters on behalf of Council. As long as the "group" (Kochettes) are not in charge they do not want anyone else to be leaders.
12/18/82: Meeting with Emery Hetrick, Joyce Hunter and Gail Kong and staff at SSC to continue developing services for gay adolescents.
1/8/83: The monthly Lesbian & Gay Community Council meeting. What a frustrating group. If they ever accomplish anything it will take a long time. The group must have leadership and must take positions. Today they made a big deal out of my coordinating a community meeting at CBS-TV without the council's consideration. GLYNY applied for membership in the council today.
1/17/83: Ginny Apuzzo called to discuss the Community Center in the Archives Building. Ken Dawson called to strategize about saving the building SAGE is located in on 13th Street.
1/18/83: Press conference. (That's all I have, don't recall)
2/2/83: Moving closer to getting a building. Maybe W 13th St?
2/3/83: Setting up meeting of Paul Popham and Larry Kramer with Terry Moan.
2/4/83: Set up appointment for the Caring Community building sub-tenants with Terry Moan. Met with two of the folk from the NYC Community Center (Archives Building). I don't think they can pull it off.
2/5/83: Lesbian & Gay Community Council was uneventful but drinks with Ken Dawson, Larry Kramer and Paul Rapaport was productive.
2/9/83: Participated in panel at GLID about 13th Street Building.
2/16/83: Wednesday's big item was the meeting with DRP and Terry Moan with Ken Dawson, Paul Rapaport, Larry Kramer, Vicki Streitfeld and I. We finally got the facts and take the information back to our groups and make a decision.
3/27/83: Today we had a good meeting at MCC about the saving of the 13th St. Building. There is hope.
3/29/83: Well, today The Caring Community gave up. Now its into high gear to acquire the 13th St. building. It's not going to be easy, but we will succeed. Also today I met with Roger Enlow to plan a Gay & Lesbian Health Fair for May. (This is the one that was planned for PS41 but when parents expressed concern about AIDS was moved to the 13th Street building, our first big event in "The Center")
3/30/83: Spent most of the day scaring up action on the W.13th Street building, not an easy undertaking.
4/1/83: Had a tour and discussion about saving the 13th Street building for the Lesbian & Gay Community. I hope I can get everybody psyched to save the building.
4/6/83: The past two days have put a lot of time and energy into the building, 13th St Issues, meetings and phoning. Tonight there was a major meeting at the building. All the interested parties were told where we were, what the option were and were confronted with: "What do we do now?" I am optimistic.
4/10/83: Another meeting in the continuing effort to decide the fate of the W.13th Street building.
4/14/83: Tonight the building meeting went well and I am hopeful.
4/20/83: 10:00am, A.I.D.S. Network meets with the Mayor. 11:00am they met with the Board of Estimate Health Committee. The Mayor said "No Way" on the 13th Street Building and not to deal with the Board. We, the Committee, took it as a challenge and may help provide funding and support for the building.
4/21/83: Another good building meeting.
4/22/83: Still struggling for the building with more people involved. AIDS March planning going well with today a beautiful day for a walk through.
4/24/83: Met with Gay & Lesbian Community Services to discuss their future. I hope I can develop a complete social service structure for gay men and lesbians between 21-55 by utilizing GLCS's structure. The Institute for the Protection of Lesbian and Gay Youth will take care of under 22 and SAGE above 55 but the in-betweens need help.
5/1/83: Wonderful afternoon at the Chelsea Gay Association Street Fair. Everyone was there. Registered voters, leafleted for the AIDS march and the Health Fair. We also petitioned for the building. GMHC at the Circus that evening.
5/3/83: Great AIDS candlelight march last night. Now to save the building. Andrew Stein agrees to lead the fight if we can raise the money.
5/8/83: Joe VanEs has been a big help in doing the phoning for the building meetings. We met again on Wednesday night, 5/4, after a commitment from the Deputy Borough President. On Friday, 5/6, Joe Papp called Andrew, so he is fully on board in support of the building. The Saturday, 5/7, community council meeting was focused on the building and getting petitions signed. I really think we can do it. I must call Glenn Loomis at Riverside Church to arrange to get chairs and engineers for the building.
5/9/83: Building steering committee meeting.
5/15/83: Thursday, 5/12, had a successful political action meeting regarding the meeting which was set up for Friday. On Friday, 5/13, a group of us "gay leaders" had lunch with Senator Cranston. I then rushed off to a building strategy meeting with Marcy Kahn, Tom Lahiff, Vicki Streitfeld and Jose Cintron. Marcy and Tom then met with Carol Bellamy's office and Peter Vogel and Karen Ziegler met with Howard Golden. It is looking good.
5/17/83: We did win one today. A six-month layover on the building.
5/22/83: The layover has been the big news. Now we must stop the evictions and raise money. On Wednesday night, 5/18, we had a successful building meeting. Today was a wonderful day. 8:30am to 7:00pm at the "Gay and Lesbian Community Service Center", our first gay and lesbian health fair. Bigotry and AIDS phobia forced the move out of PS 41. But is was a "godsend" to use 208 W.13th Street. It really worked, it was our own space and it got people used to the building.
6/2/83: Wednesday, 6/1, in the morning was a successful press conference with Andrew Stein, Carol Bellamy and Joe Papp. The mayor relented and I think we can do it. Wednesday evening was another building meeting, a bit of a struggle, and Thursday night was press release writing night.
6/4/83: Gay and Lesbian Community Council meeting held at the Gay and Lesbian Community Service Center. It went very well.
6/12/83: Monday night, 6/7, had Steering Committee meeting at the Center and selected what should be an effective starting Board of Directors. Thursday morning the AIDS Network held its meeting at the Community Center.
6/19/83: Tuesday, 6/14, building board meeting. Tonight, 6/19, SAGE benefit at the Purple Barge. Both Ken Dawson and Henry Weiss manage to upset March Kahn with their concerns about the building.
7/31/83: Yesterday, 7/30/83, was a great day. 9:00am - 5:00pm we moved what was the St. Mark's Clinic from University Place to the New Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center at 208 W 13th St. We did it!!! Ed Murphy and Red Mahoney provide the truck and some manpower. Joe Van Es and I helped. Pyramid Place, thankfully, sent 8 clients who were a tremendous help. A bunch of guys from St. Mark's and eventually some young people from GLYNY. We got everything moved in and secured and its going to be great. Serendipity had Barbara Starrett as my primary care physician and when St Mark's was losing its lease because of AIDS phobia and I made the offer to move in and she sold it to her Board. Now, the only AIDS service provider in the City housed in the Center Building there is now way we will get thrown out. It is going to be great.
8/22/83: Borough President hired Joe VanEs as my assistant.
8/28/83: GMHC backed out on moving into the building.
1/16/89: 11:00am - 4:30pm at Marcy Kahn's and Diane Churchill's to meet with Ken Dawson, Irving Cooperberg, Steve Ault, Jim Fouratt, Diana Leo and Chris Collin regarding the history of the Community Center. We covered the period of 9/82 to 12/83.
Some of the names involved over the years:
208 W.13th Street
Karen Ziegler, Pastor MCC
Marcy Kahn, Chair of Board, MCC
Ken Dawson, ED at SAGE
Joe VanEs - GLYNY
Stan Isaac, Flor Lorenzo -GLYNY
Lou Avanzato, MCC
Village Development Archives Building
Gay & Lesbian Emergency Fund
Rev. Paul Ables
Community Health Project
(St. Mark's Clinic & Gay Men's Health Project)
Dr. Barbara Starrett
Manhattan Borough President's Office
City Comptroller's Office
Council President's Office
Do what you can with this information, it should be shared somehow.
Other issues to be discussed:
Board of Estimate Members Support:
Negotiations on Sales Price :
Search for Acquisition Funds from the LGBT Community : How Irving Cooperberg raised the funds.
Board of Estimate Vote:
Preparing Documents for Sale and Purchase Money Mortgage :
Creating a Steering Committee and then a Board of Directors: