Cherry Grove house to be deemed historic

The Cherry Grove Community House and Theater could The Cherry Grove Community House and Theater could become the second LGBT site in the country to be listed on the National Register. (July 11, 2010) Photo Credit: Jason Andrew

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It played host to famous auteurs of midcentury America. Author Carson McCullers and photographer Richard Avedon passed through its doors.

Now, the Cherry Grove community house -- built in 1945 in Sayville and floated on a barge across the Great South Bay to Fire Island to serve one of the country's first gay and lesbian communities -- is set for designation as a historic site on state and national registries.

On Friday, the state Board for Historic Preservation recommended the Cherry Grove Community House and Theater as one of 27 state sites or resources to be added to the New York and National Registers of Historic Places.

The community house served "the small hamlet's civic needs and played an enormous role in shaping what gradually evolved into 'America's First Gay and Lesbian Town,' " according to a release from the state board.

Upon approval by Rose Harvey, commissioner of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the designation should bring recognition and access to grants and tax credits.

"We're very pleased. It's not only a community house and historic icon; it's the heart of the gay community for the last 60 to 70 years in Fire Island and Cherry Grove," said Joyce Yaeger, vice president of the Cherry Grove Community Association, which filed the application for historic status.

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The Cherry Grove community group also is raising $600,000 to restore and renovate the community house in a multiyear campaign. About $300,000 has been raised so far.

In the conservative climate of the mid-1940s, the community provided a rare sanctuary, where "the integration and self-affirming presentation of homosexual men and lesbians in Cherry Grove's social life" gave it "exceptional historic significance," according to the application.

The community house was built in Sayville because construction resources were tough to come by on Fire Island after World War II, Yaeger said. The theater was added in 1948, and Yaeger believes it's one of the oldest "continuously used gay theaters in the United States, and probably in the world."

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Alexandra Wolfe, director of preservation services for the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, praised the recognition of Cherry Grove's special place in regional history.

"I think this type of nomination represents how the narrative of history expands to include all these different stories, and it's another layer to understanding the stories that contribute to history," she said. "It isn't just one thread."

Cherry Grove is the second LGBT site in the country to be listed on the National Register, "and it's exciting the second one ended up being in Long Island," Wolfe said. The first, she said, is Stonewall Inn, the New York gay bar where riots broke out during police raids in 1969.

 

 

A brief timeline

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1945 The Cherry Grove Community House is built in Sayville and floated across Great South Bay on a barge to Fire Island

1948 The theater is added. The first show at the theater is presented: "The Cherry Grove Follies of 1948."

2011 A multiyear campaign is launched to restore and renovate the community house.

2013 The site is nominated for designation as a state and national historic place.

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