Arts & CultureHistory

Landmarking Caffe Cino & The LGBT Community Center

In 2015, StoneWall Inn became the first designated landmark in the National Register of Historic Places that is in commemoration of LGBT history. Today, it still stands as the only LGBT historic site. But with pushes from advocacy groups such as NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project and Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, efforts to expand landmark status for sites that are connected to LGBTQ rights movement have been in full effect!  

Six landmarks specifically were discussed at a recent Landmarks Preservation Commission public hearing: Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse; Women’s Liberation Center; the LGBT Community Center, Caffe Cino, former residence of Audre Lorde, and a home owned by James Baldwin. Two of them, Caffe Cino at 31 Cornelia Street and LGBT Community Center at 208 West 13th Street are in Greenwich Village. 

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At age 26, Joe Cino took $400 out of his savings to buy a coffeehouse on Cornelia Street. And from 1958 to 1968, he ran Caffe Cino which was one of the first safe spaces for gay artists to perform their plays, songs, and poetry despite it being illegal to depict homosexuality on stage at the time. Starting off as an artsy coffeehouse, Joe Cino slowly started to allow small avant grade theatrical performances which eventually lead to Caffe Cino being established as “the birthplace of Off-Off Broadway Theatre.” With admission being free, Caffe Cino became a hot-spot for theater-goers that wanted to experience something besides the typical, big Broadway productions. For the first time, not only playwrights, but directors, lighting and set designers, and actors were able to come together to produce gay theater at Caffe Cino.  

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The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center was established in 1983 to foster and celebrate the city’s LGBT community. The Center has a long history of being a hub for diverse and significant community groups such as Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE)South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association, and Metropolitan Community Church of New York. From bringing prominent activist leaders to speak like Audre Lorde and Fran Leibowitz for its “Second Tuesdays” cultural program beginning in 1985 to serving as a vital meeting place for over 400 community groups today, the LGBT Community Center has been a longstanding space dedicated to empowering LGBT folk. In 1989, the Gender Identity Project (GIP) established one of the nation’s first transgender driven peer counseling and peer support programs as well as the city’s first transgender medical clinic. GIP was a pioneer in developing an HIV/AIDS prevention program for those affected in the city. 

As Caffe Cino and the LGBT Community Center is on its way towards landmark designation, the urge to increase the number of landmarks in remembrance of LGBTQ history is heightened. Landmark designation and building ownership are highly demanded by the LGBTQ community because it is a step in allowing “independence outside of political control,” instead, landmark confirmation will aid in establishing the LGBT community’s ability to determine its own needs. 

Landmarking Caffe Cino & The LGBT Community Center

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