Cherry Grove site put on National Register

The Cherry Grove Community House and Theater on

The Cherry Grove Community House and Theater on Fire Island has joined almost 400 other Nassau and Suffolk sites on the National Register of Historic Places. (July 11, 2010) (Credit: Jason Andrew)

The Cherry Grove Community House and Theater on Fire Island has joined almost 400 other Nassau and Suffolk sites on the National Register of Historic Places.

The designation -- announced Friday by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) -- protects the site famous in the gay rights movement from damage or demolition from most federal construction projects. Otherwise, it is mostly a symbolic but important honor.

"We are overjoyed that the nation is recognizing this powerful symbol of civil liberties for the LGBT community," said Diane Romano, president of the Cherry Grove Community Association. "This is a great honor and a thrill and we are so grateful to everyone who played a role in achieving this historic milestone."

Gillibrand, who had lobbied the National Park Service to approve the designation, said in a statement she was "thrilled" that the first home for a civil rights organization for the LGBT community was acknowledged. "It represents the first civic entity to integrate gay and lesbian interests into governance and social life," Gillibrand said.

The community house was built in 1945 in Sayville and floated on a barge across the Great South Bay. The theater was built as an addition in 1948 and still hosts plays and cultural events.

At the time, the building was the headquarters of the Cherry Grove Property Owners Association when there wasn't a civil rights organization specifically dedicated to the advocacy of LGBT rights. In 1948, the Cherry Grove Community House played a major role in the development of gay performing arts and initiated the first American venue to feature productions by gay people.

Author Carson McCullers and photographer Richard Avedon were visitors.

The Community House and Theater "provided the first setting for a collective gay identity to openly appear in our nation's history," Gillibrand said when she pressed the park service for the designation.

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

The Cherry Grove building is the second LGBT site in the country to be listed on the National Register after the Stonewall Inn, the New York City gay bar where riots broke out during police raids in 1969.

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