Thursday, January 29, 2015

Paradise Club

Los Angeles (1950s)
Paradise Club

Location: Los Angeles, California, USA

Opened/Closed: 1950s

First saw mention of the Paradise Club in Martin Turnbull's list of old Hollywood Places. Unfortunately, he doesn't say much:

Paradise Club – lesbian venue (60/89)

Turnbull says learned about the Paradise Club from the book Gay LA by Stuart Timmons and Lillian Faderman (2006). This source reports that the Paradise Club arose in the 1950s--along with several other lesbian bars--and that it was a place "where butch-and femme couples less fashionable that those at the Gypsy Room could dance." (We'll put the Gypsy Room on the list of places we'll get to at another time).

In Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, Faderman includes the Paradise Club in a list that includes three other LA lesbian bars from the 50s. She observes that "the customers were young women who were supermarket clerks, waitresses, factory workers, beauty operators, prostitutes. They were almost invariably elaborately made up, dressed in high heels and skirts or capris, or totally without makeup, in pegged, fly-front pants, black penny loafers, and a ducktail haircut. A couple would consist of one of each. Dress was the indicator of whom one may or may not flirt."

Depressing aside. If you google "Paradise Club" and "Los Angeles" together without any other terms, you get...a "gentlemen's club."

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Geneva House

Geneva House
96 Geneva Street today - an empty lot

Location: 96 Geneva Street, Highland Park, Michigan, USA

Opened: Early 1970s

Closed: Mid to late 70s?

This description of Geneva House is taken from a longer June 2014 PrideSource article called LGBT Time Capsule: Dr. Tim Retzloff Chronicles Detroit's LGBT History:

While commune style living may be more synonymous with San Francisco, the Detroit area had its own lesbian commune in the early 1970s when a small group of women took an ordinary wood-frame house at 96 Geneva St. at the corner of Second Blvd. in Highland Park and turned it into a lesbian-feminist sanctuary.

Geneva House had its origins with a feminist guerilla street theater troupe that performed on the Wayne State University campus and around downtown Detroit, but soon shifted to an all-lesbian commune that founder Jaye Spiro said housed the "Dyke House Gang."

Generally, five women lived at Geneva House at any given time, along with several pets, in an area that was racially mixed. There were four bedrooms, with one resident putting up a hammock to sleep in. One of those residents, Merilee Melvin, said "We all had very bad haircuts and there was a lot of no bra stuff and cotton T-shirts, baggy jeans; there was no dressing up. No girly stuff, it was a very anti-femme scene. And the Geneva House was sort of that thing."

"It kind of became, to some extent, a kind of lesbian community center," Melvin explained. "The Wayne State Gay Liberation Front would refer calls from women to our phone number. So we became this sort of informal lesbian helpline. And I remember talking to people on the phone. Man! Because in the early '70s, it was really hard to get information about what it means to be a lesbian."

Today, 96 Geneva Street is a vacant residential lot. In fact, it appears this former womyn's space is for sale and has an estimated market value of $58,500.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The historic ABSENCE of women's space in academia - Rosalind Franklin at King's College London

Recently, we have seen a renewed attack on the few surviving women's colleges in the U.S. as "exclusionary." The attackers include a motley coalition of "gender neutral" liberal feminists, transactivists, and men's rights advocates--not to mention the random anti-woman types from all ends of the political spectrum. Given that that number of women's colleges has dropped precipitously since the late 60s, it truly looks like a "mop up" operation to end women's colleges once and for all. And we're told that this is being done in "fairness."

What gets lost in all this is how precarious any women's space has been in academia (including the so-called coed universities), and how the men's spaces within these institutions have been carefully walled off and guarded from attack even as they (superficially) "admit" women students, staff, and faculty into "shared" areas.  Which, of course, are supervised and monitored by men.

I was reminded of this recently when re-reading the Brenda Maddox's biography of Rosalind Franklin, the woman scientist who was viciously treated by certain male scientists who also stole her work on DNA--work for which they later received the Nobel prize.

Rosalind was up against far more than a few "mean guys." She was struggling to work within institutions that quite literally preserved and defended male-only exclusive spaces--while generously creating "coed" ones to be "shared" by women and men. There were no women spaces. No place where women scientists could hang out, have lunch or tea together, and talk about their challenges without blokes interfering or calling them out.

The following section refers to Kings College, University of London, where Rosalind started working in 1951:

Rosalind was soon informed that women were not allowed in the King's senior common room where some of the staff ate lunch. With happy memories of Labo Central's disputatious dejeuners at Chez Solange, she felt angry and excluded. It seemed as if her work was not going to be taken seriously. But she ought not to have been surprised. It was hardly a unique arrangement in London at the time, certainly not in a bastion of the Established Church. Women were still not employed at Keyser's bank. Even free-thinking University College, the first to admit women with full status, had one common room for men only, and a separate, joint common room - for men and women; known familiarly as 'the joint', it survived well in the 1960s; UCL women, when polled, chose to retain the status quo.

Like UCL, King's had two dining rooms, one for men and women, the other for men only, both served from the same kitchen. Many of the men preferred to eat in the communal dining room, overlooking the Thames, and some of the scientists refused to go at all into the male preserve because of the preponderance of 'hooded crows' (clerics).

How nice that the male scientists were free to saunter into any common room or dining room they pleased, depending on their whims and inclinations. But then this is typical. Even if a space is labeled as being for women, men barge in and claim it as their own anyway and any woman who dare utter a word of protest is seriously sanctioned or punished. So historically, the theme has been clear: men's space is exactly that. Women's space is only temporarily or provisionally for women at best, and is basically available to men if and when they decide they want it.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Phase 1?

Phase 1

Location: 525 8th Street Southeast, Washington, District of Columbia, USA

Opened: 1970

Closed: 2015?

Maybe not officially "lost" yet, but there is sufficient cause for alarm. From Tagg Magazine, January 8, 2015:

Historic D.C. lesbian bar closes its doors without warning

Phase 1, located in Eastern Market, is closing its doors to patrons. Despite HRC’s 2nd Annual Lez Sing Karaoke Contest being scheduled this weekend, the owner has decided to close the venue starting Thursday, January 8. According to management, the venue—which has been home to the DC Drag Kings and the DC Gurly Show—is set to undergo renovations and re-open in the future, though no time has been set.

Since its opening in 1970, Phase 1 has been the only designated space solely dedicated to the lesbian community and remains the oldest lesbian bar in the country. While many are shocked at its sudden closing, no one is more shocked than the staff.

“I practically grew up in that bar,” says a former employee who wishes to remain anonymous. “I’ve dedicated so much of my life and time to that place, and to be tossed out like this…to be so undervalued and underappreciated…it’s heartbreaking.”

This is not the first time owner Allen Carroll has shut a space down without warning the staff. In October 2013, Phase 1 of Dupont employees were left in the dark after a similar mysterious closing. Concerned and dumbstruck employees have called and left messages with the owner, who has yet to return any of their voicemails.

Some patrons have questioned whether the women’s community truly appreciated a space that was designated solely for them. Attendance and sales have been on a slow decline, which could be a possible reason for the closing. However, sources close to Carroll say that Phase 1 will close for “upgrades like lighting, painting, and sound”, and re-open on a date yet to be determined.

In the meantime, Friday’s Lez Sing Karaoke contest has now been moved to Nellie’s Sports Bar located at 900 U St. NW, Washington, D.C.

So, where will things go from here? The dedicated employees of Phase 1 are wondering the very same thing.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Big House

The Big House
Hollywood Boulevard (1927)

Location: Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, California

Opened/Closed: Early 1930s

I first saw mention of The Big House in Martin Turnbull's list of historic Hollywood Places:

The Big House – Lesbian meeting place, Hollywood Boulevard. (59/96)

So that was an intriguing start. I found out more in an essay by Jim Kepner called "Gay Los Angeles: The Early Days":

The Big House, a lesbian club serving only fruit juice, opened briefly in Hollywood in the final years of Prohibition, but police ripped it apart, allegedly looking for liquor, because its lesbian owners refused to pay off. All bar owners were expected to pay protection to every policeman in sight. Some of its owners then ran the elegant Lake View on West 7th for a decade, (primarily lesbian, but with a fair percent of gay men and film people) getting competition later from the rougher If Club and Open Door at 7th and Vermont—beer bars where the clientele dressed down and bloody fights occurred at the drop of a hat.

The Big House is also mentioned in passing in Axel Madsen's The Sewing Circle: Sappho's Leading Ladies, but no new information was provided.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Ladies Reading Room

Ladies Reading Room
159 Water Street today

Location: 159 Water Street, St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

Opened: 1910

Closed: ?

Once again, we see an example of the critical link between women's space and feminist organizing, strategizing, and educating. From the St. John's Women's Walk:

The Ladies' Reading Room, opened in 1910, was crucial to the development of the women's suffrage movement in Newfoundland. Within its walls a generation of influential St. John's women were politicized.

Founded in 1909 by a group of women - in response to being banned from attending lectures at a male club - the Ladies' Reading Room was located in "a large and airy room" in the Lyon's Building, 158 Water Street. Situated on an upper floor it had a panoramic view of the Narrows, and its location on a busy shopping thoroughfare was inviting. It was open all day from ten until six, and the terms of membership, namely three dollars and the introduction of one member, made it accessible to at least the middle class.

Within a few weeks of its opening, 125 women had joined. The Ladies' Reading Room provided social space, a selection of "the best English and American papers and magazines", and lectures and debates sponsored by the Current Events Club which met on Saturdays. The women developed confidence as public speakers by giving papers, and debating and analyzing issues, all within a socially respectable atmosphere defined by cups of tea and genteel female company.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Wing Cafe

Golden Hill neighborhood, San Diego
Wing Café

Location: B Street, San Diego, California, USA

Opened: 1979

Closed: December 18, 1992

I first learned of the Wing Café on the Hillcrest History Timeline under 1979:

The Wing Cafe, a feminist restaurant-gallery-performance space on B Street in Golden Hill, opens. In 1982 Kathy Najimy and Sue Palmer take over the entertainment.

It's also listed on the Lambda Archives timeline for San Diego.

You can find more about Kathy Najimy--with a brief reference to the Wing Café--here.
Kathy Najimy in Sister Act (1992)

Karla Kirkwood also mentions doing stand-up comedy and a solo show at the Wing Café from 1980 to 1982.

This richer description of the Wing Café is taken from a memorial tribute to San Diego lesbian feminist Sara Louise Thompson (1953-2007).

A popular hangout for lesbians and feminists in San Diego at the time was the Wing Café, located on B Street in Golden Hills. It was a women-only, feminist café, offering theater performances, and giving women the opportunity to display their art, paintings, and quilts, among other things. Karen Konecky was one of five partners in the café and managed it full-time from 1979 to 1982. The café was a popular nexus for many women and women performers, a place where women could be comfortable and could discuss politics and listen to the music of piano player Sue Palmer. As Joan Capra recalls the café became a place where she and Sarah spent their free time. Karen remembers Whoopi Goldberg, a resident of San Diego around 1980 , who performed with a male companion. The women of the Wing Café told Whoopi that they welcomed only women, which inspired Whoopi to create a one-woman show for the café. This one-woman show eventually went to off-Broadway, and it later earned Whoopi a role in The Color Purple.  As Karen Kockecky remembers, "[T]his is a proud memory for the partners of the Wing Café" (Telephone Interview 2).

The Lambda Archives reports that the Wing Café closed in 1982:

The Wing Café closes December 18. The café opened 2 ½ years ago. Its Friday evening women’s open showcase provided opportunity for many women to test their talents. The Wing was the only local coffeehouse to bring a consistently high level of out-of-town women’s entertainment.

Obviously the 2 1/2 years ago is an editing error.