Saturday, January 26, 2013

La Villette

Parisian seamstresses at the
House of Worth (1907)
La Villette

Location: Paris, France

Opened: 1907

Closed: ?

It's kind of peculiar to find information about Parisian women's hotels in a Spencer, Iowa newspaper. But that's where this article showed up (though it originally ran in the New York Sun). From the Spencer Clay County News, March 21, 1907:


Another Home for Business Girls at
Low Prices Opened--Run at a Profit .

From the New York Sun

Another women's hotel of the cheaper sort has been opened in Paris. It is called La Villette and has been built and is to be managed by the Societe Philanthropique.

This is the society's third venture in the women's hotel line. The first was opened in 1902, with funds bequeathed by the Baroness Hirsch de Gereuth and Dr. Margolin. It was such a success that the society began a campaign for funds for the new enterprise.
Hotel at Rue Saint-Sauveur in Paris (1907)

These were provided in 1903, when Jaques Stern died, leaving 1,000,000 francs ($200,000) for the purpose, and in October, 1904, the second hotel was built in La Roquette quarter. It had seventeen large and ninety-seven small rooms. It cost 356,000 francs, or $76,200, and every room in it has been continuously occupied since it was opened, with a waiting list.

The new hotel is of about the same size and cost about the same amount. The two Hirsch endowment buildings, on the opening day of the second, sheltered 217 women and young girls working for their living, including saleswomen, clerks, governesses, and holders of small government situations. It is said that even society women without escort have found shelter there for brief periods.

A special point is made of having the hotels nicely decorated and prettily furnished so that they may be attractive to young women for other reasons besides their moderate prices. They all have ample bathing facilities--not a common thing in cheap French lodgings--and roof gardens, where boarders can enjoy themselves in fine weather.

One of the larger rooms cost at the rate of 20 cents a night; one of the smaller ones 12 cents. A bath costs 4 cents, a douche 2 cents. In the restaurant the price of portions varies from 3 to 6 cents; the fullest meal that can be made up, including soup, meat, vegetables, and sweet bread and wine, foots up just 17 cents.

Both of the older hotels are not only paying their expenses: they are making money. The society hopes in a year or so to build another one.

The Societe Philanthropique still exists, and still provides housing for a wide variety of "people in difficulty"--everyone from seniors and persons with disabilities to students and "young workers" and "mothers and children in situations of rupture." There are around 20 residences in all. 

But none of the housing today seems to be dedicated to young working women. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Bismarck Cafe Ladies Restaurant

The Bismarck Ladies Dining Room (Restaurant)
The Bismarck Cafe Ladies Restaurant

Location: Mercantile Library Building (414 Walnut Street), Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

Opened: 1904

Closed: After 1915

According to Cincinnativiews, the Bismarck Cafe (also known as The Bismarck or Bismarck's) was originally located at 612 Vine Street and then moved into the Mercantile Library Building at 414 Walnut Street in 1904. The president and manager of the Bismarck, at least from December 1904, was the legendary Cincinnati "master" of the restaurant business, Emil G. Schmitt. Here's what Cincinnati Views says about the Bismarck:

Mercantile Library Building (1910)
It was the largest establishment of its kind in Cincinnati and served the higher class trade. It was divided into three large departments -The Lady's Grill Room, Grill Room, and Gentlemen's Cafe. They were well known for their German food and there were around 150 chefs, cooks, and waiters serving it. 

As we can see, the drinking/dining spaces at the Bismarck were very much separated and distinguished by sex. However, it does not appear that these various spaces at Bismarck's were consistently named or identified. Either that, or they evolved over time. 

More specifically, the "Ladies Grill Room" was also referred to at various times as the "Ladies Restaurant" or the "Ladies Dining Room."

Ad for the Bismarck Cafe, Hamilton Sun,
February 10, 1906

The 1906 ad reproduced from the Hamilton Sun (left), for example, only mentions a "Grill Room" and the "Bar" (which were apparently reserved for the gents) and the "Ladies Restaurant." No "Ladies Grill Room" or "Gentlemen's Cafe" as such. 

Ad for Bismarck Cafe (Pre-1904)

The (gorgeous!) ad reproduced at the Cincinnati Views site (right) also mentions at the very top that there was a "Ladies Restaurant" and that it was located (where else?) on the second floor. This was from the days when the Bismarck was still located on Vine Street. (Also note the surprising variety of foreign and domestic beer.)

Just to add to the confusion, a 1915 ad in the Lancet (not reproduced here) states that there was a "Grill Room", a "Gentlemen's Cafe" and a "Ladies Dining Room." The photo at the very top also refers to the "Ladies Dining Room."

So at any rate, Bismarck's Cafe was a place where the ladies were sequestered into their own space, separate from the men. Whatever it was called. Though, predictably, the gentlemen had more spaces. And spaces that varied from the quite formal to the relatively casual (for the upper crust of the early 20th century). 

Photos of the men's spaces are reproduced below. 

Gentlemen's Dining Room, Bismarck Cafe
Gentlemen's Bar, Bismarck Cafe

Bismarck Cafe - apparently the Gentlemen's Bar (1915)

(Men's?) Grill Room, The Bismarck

Friday, January 18, 2013

Port in the Storm

Port in a Storm
Port in the Storm

Port in the Storm (Also called Port in a Storm)

Location: 4330 East Lombard Street, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Opened: Routinely referred to as one of the city's oldest lesbian bars, but I have found no date as to when it was founded

Closed: Late 2010?

Here's what Baltimore Gay Life (GL) had to say about Port in the Storm:

One of the few lesbian-centric bars in Baltimore, Port in a Storm is known for its very affordable drinks and ever-popular pool tables. In 2007, Baltimore City Paper named it the Best Lesbian Bar.

And here's what City Paper said about it when it won that award:

Port in the StormHighlandtown's corner bar Port in a Storm--uninviting on the outside, comforting inside--is where all the Gallagher's ladies have migrated since the Baltimore institution shut its doors, and it's easy to see why. The brick and wood front room features a pool table and a long bar that curves around in a horseshoe to the joining room where all the action is. Blue lights hang above the mirror-paneled far wall in front of the disco floor where ladies groove and everybody sings along with the loud dance music. As decked in Baltimore-festive d├ęcor as the physical space is--it's not exactly the Planet from The L-Word--there's a solid energy at Port in a Storm, even on the chill side, where a lovely lady may light your cigarette and ask your name, and a diverse crowd made up of all ages, colors, and styles chats at the tables.

A random review from GayCities:

Elijah's Fundraiser
Elijah's Fundraiser (2008)
Take cover with the wild nights at this lesbian bar
Port in the Storm is one of Baltimore's oldest lesbian bars, but they keep thing current for the ladies. Flippin' Fridays promises a night of the popular college game of Flip Cup.

And Guidemag:

Port in a Storm (4330 E Lombard St) the city's most established lesbian bar with Tuesday pool tournaments, weekend games and summer cookouts.

We know that Port in the Storm was open at least as late as June 2010, as a (male) reporter from the Baltimore Sun visited the place and filed a report. Apart from some odd obsession with a piece of string tied to the front door handle, this was his description of the place:

We enjoyed our ice cold $2.25 Buds (mine still had chunks of ice stuck to the outside of the bottle), and soaked in the scene. The bar is bigger than it looks at first glance, and square, which I love.
The Softball Team in My Photos by Port in Port in
Port in the Storm softball team (no date)

Last night, there were only a scattering of people inside, enough to fill one side of the place. The walls are wrapped in wood paneling, and, last night, pop songs from Justin Timberlake and Rihanna played overhead.

Port in a Storm is one of the city's few lesbian bars, and it's been there a while. I'm not exactly sure where "there" is. It's kinda in the no man's land between Highlandtown and Greektown, way out at 4330 E. Lombard St. Maybe that's part of the reason why it's lasted so long. Or maybe it's the vibe. I rolled in there with two other dudes, and we didn't feel left out.

Go Magazine also stopped by for a visit in June 2010:

The outskirts of Canton are also home to Baltimore’s oldest lesbian bar, Port in a Storm (4330 E Lombard St, 410-534-0014), a friendly dive where the butches kick butt at billiards, then treat you to a beer.

Yelp reports that this place is now closed, but no date is provided. However, their last review is dated August 2010. The closing is also confirmed at Citysearch, also with no date.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Other Side

1345 Half Street (2004). Building demolished in 2006
for Nationals Fields.
The Other Side

Location: 1345 Half Street, Washington, DC, USA

Opened: Mid 1970s (1978)

Closed: Late 1980s

In a September 2011 article on the plans for a new lesbian bar in Washington DC (Phase I of Dupont), we are treated to a brief history of lesbian bars in that city. Unfortunately, this is all we're told about The Other Side, which was owned by Allen Carroll--a gay man who also owns, or has owned, many other lesbian bars in Washington, including the long-running Phase I, which opened in 1970:

For over a decade, from the mid-1970s to the late-1980s, Carroll owned The Other Side, a lesbian club in the original Ziegfeld's space in Southeast D.C. where Nationals Park now sits. ''I've dedicated my career to the women,'' he says. ''They've been very good [to me].''

The address for Nationals Park is 1500 South Capitol Street. According to this source, the former The Other Side (later the gay male bar Ziegfeld's) was located somewhere in what is now left-center field.

The Other Side also gets a short mention in this February 2012 article on the grand opening of Phase I of Dupont:

''Chris [Jansen], my late partner, and I had always wanted to open up another women's bar,'' Carroll said earlier this week during an exclusive tour of the new space, which is still under construction. About a decade after opening Phase 1 in 1970, Jansen and Carroll launched The Other Side in the Southeast D.C. space that subsequently housed the original Ziegfeld's/Secrets complex. ''The Other Side was the main bar for lesbians in its day,'' says Carroll.

We get just a bit more information on The Other Side in this February 2010 article on the 40th anniversary of Phase I: 

So why and how did two gay men happen to open a lesbian bar in 1970? Carroll and Jansen, veterans of the Marines and Air Force respectively, had been dating a few years and worked at adjacent bars on Eighth Street, S.E., a D.C. gayborhood before Dupont Circle was gentrified. Carroll was at Joanna’s, a lesbian bar. Its brother bar was Johnny’s, where Jansen worked. They were owned by the same person but Joanna’s was closing so Carroll and Jansen sensed a need. Carroll says the Phase is the oldest continually operating lesbian bar in the country.

Carroll and Jansen had always had lots of lesbian friends — many from Joanna’s — so it didn’t feel a stretch to open a women’s bar. They eventually opened the Other Side, a larger lesbian venue that was more a club than a bar, which eventually morphed into the male-focused drag/strip club Ziegfeld’s/Secrets in the mid-’80s. It eventually closed when the Nationals stadium was built but reopened a year ago on Half Street.

Phase 1, though, has been the constant. It’s still at its original location. Carroll says there have been ups and downs over the years but he and Jansen never thought of closing it.

It made sense, for instance, to transform the Other Side into Ziegfeld’s because several D.C. bars by that time had started lesbian nights and had stolen some of Side’s thunder. The Phase, though, “always felt like home base,” Carroll says.

One of the best summaries of Washington, DC women's spaces is the Rainbow History Project Women's Tour. Make sure you check it out, as it's absolutely fascinating and quite comprehensive. This is what the Women's Tour had to say about The Other Side: 
The Other Side — 1345 Half St SE Owners Carroll and Jansen opened a popular women's’bar in 1978 on the site of early gay male dance clubs.  This was their second lesbian club (after the Phase One).  The Other Side was a popular women's dance bar and restaurant for a decade, adding weekend drag shows in the 1980s.

I'm sure Chris Jansen and Allen Carroll are very nice men and all that. At least all their women employees vouch for them, for what it's worth. However, it is indicative of the perpetual ongoing economic struggles of women in general--and lesbians in particular--that nearly all the lesbian bars in Washington, DC have not been owned by women but by men. Says a lot about our ongoing problems with lack of access to capital, political connections, and all the other resources necessary to get a business going in the nation's capitol. Or elsewhere for that matter.

Go here for an earlier post on Jo-Anna's and other former lesbian bars in DC. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Wilson College

Alumnae were asked to leave the building before
the Wilson College trustees voted for coeducation (2013)
Wilson College

Location: 1015 Philadelphia Avenue, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, USA

Opened: 1869

Closed: Trustees voted to go coed in January 2013

A disturbing pattern is evident whenever women's colleges are killed off and men are admitted. It is always in strong opposition to the wishes of women students and alums. And it's always accomplished in a heavy-handed, undemocratic, and non-transparent way. Interesting, that....

We're continually lectured on how women's colleges aren't wanted anymore and are unsustainable. It's all just progress, you know. Women's colleges are soooo 19th century. Blah, blah.

If this is true, then why the anger and frustration for those on whom coeducation is inflicted? Why the deep and intractable sense that they, the students and alums, have been violated? Why is it nearly always the case that the "transition" to coeducation is pushed through by paternalistic bullying and coercion on the part of the trustees and administration?

In reality, there are many parallels with the ways that all women's space is consistently and continuously "tested" and violated in a male-dominated culture, whether it's in a locker room, a gym, a bar, or a school.

Or even the boundaries of a woman's own physical body....

UPDATE: Wilson College trustees vote to admit men 


Date: 01/13/2013 06:42:16 PM EST

CHAMBERSBURG - The vote of 28 trustees on Sunday changed the future of Wilson College as several initiatives were passed, including the admission of men.

"They took the easy way out," Wilson senior Ariel Huffman said to friends while crying as the decision was read out loud on the lawns of Wilson to nearly 50 students and alumnae who had gathered to support their beloved school.

Announced via a press release on the college website and Twitter account shortly after 5 p.m., the women who had gathered expressed feelings of anger, sadness and frustration.

"I'm extremely disappointed in the decision announced today and I'm extremely disappointed in the way the decision was communicated to us," said Melissa Behm, a 1976 alum. "They have deprived future generations of the education and leadership Wilson has given 143 other classes."

Banners in opposition to coeducation (2013)
Meeting in a special session Sunday, the board approved a set of recommendations from Wilson President Barbara K. Mistick. The measures were passed in an effort to rejuvenate the private all-women's college as well as potentially double enrollment over the next 10 years. "I'm very confident that the course the board approved today is the right framework for the future and will send us on a successful path," Mistick said. "Over time there is a need for the college to change to ensure the long-term viability of the college. That's what I believe our trustees have done today."

The board's vote was a very "emotional issue," said John Gibb, chairman of the board of trustees, but one that was made with a lot of deliberation and a lot of data. The board was originally slated to vote on Dec. 1 but instead postponed the decision.

"We're looking at where we were and where we wanted to go," he said. "Enrollment in the College for Women has never gone over 400 in the last 40 years. We're a very small college and I think that to be sustainable, I think, you need to have a larger (enrollment)."

This new blueprint was based on strategic initiatives from the Commission on Shaping the Future of Wilson College, a 23-member panel, and includes three main points: admitting men, reducing tuition and expanding degree programs.

Beginning in fall 2013, traditional age men will be allowed to attend Wilson College as commuters. The college will then admit male residential students in fall 2014. Currently, men age 22 and older are allowed to enroll as commuter students and make up about 11 percent of the student body.

"Now that the board has made these decisions today we'll certainly get the word out as soon as possible. I'm already confident that we'll be able to make this transition in co-education," Mistick said. "Long-term, we hope that our enrollment will mirror what you see in higher education now, which is 60 percent female and 40 percent male."

Tuition at Wilson College will drop by $5,000 to just more than $23,000 a year, an effort that not only counters trends in private colleges but is also something they hope will attract more students.

"Tuition in private colleges has gone sky high," Gibb said. "The question now for many Americans is how affordable is college and we need to adjust to that."

Not just holding the line on tuition but actually reducing it sends a message to prospective students that a Wilson education is affordable for anyone, Mistick said.

Additionally, expanding degree programs, such as offering "hot vocational item" health science programs will draw a different set of students to Wilson, Gibb said.

"It is important to us, too, as we add more students we want to make sure we have the right mix of programming for those students," Mistick said.

Although many of the initiatives passed were encouraging steps forward to keep Wilson a viable institution, alumnae did not agree with all the decisions made by the board of trustees.

A 1980 alum of the school, Nan Laudenslager remembers the 1979 trustee vote to close the school, which was also based on continued declines in enrollment and financial giving.

"I think they mismanaged it again," she said. "I mean, how do you get like this?"

Others, such as Jean Weller, a 1971 alum, were frustrated that the trustees did not speak to those in attendance directly. Earlier in the afternoon, alumni had gathered inside Warfield Hall to hear the decision but were told by security only students, trustees and administration were allowed inside.

"They stated it would be announced and 45 people came to Wilson to wait for this decision to be announced and the board chose not to speak directly to us," Weller said.

Prior to the vote announcement, alumnae had been hoping that men would not be admitted just yet but instead the school would be allowed to work on other alternatives.

"The commission had some really good ideas, but we'd like a chance to do some of these things," said Kendal Hopkins, a 1980 alum.

During an emergency meeting of the Wilson College Alumnae Association on Jan. 5, four task forces were created in conjunction with the school to look at admission, retention, fundraising and marketing while holding off on admitting men.

"That's a huge vote of confidence in the college by its alumnae," said Gretchen Van Ness, a 1980 alum.

At the end of the day, Mistick said the college wants and hopes that all of the alums will embrace the changes and continue support the college's success. "I know this is an emotional decision today, but I hope in the weeks that come our alums will continue to stand with us," she said. "I feel confident they're going to want the college to survive long-term."

While some may not agree, the vote to include men is a step forward for the college as it strives to continue throughout the 21st century, said Dr. Larry Shillock, associate professor of English. "The college does quite a few things well," he said.

"The problem is colleges today are tuition driven and tuition driven colleges need to cast a wider net. Women's colleges by their nature cast a narrow net. A single-sex residential college is a 19th century idea. Imagine trying to sell a 19th century idea to a 21st century student."

Marketing the college has become "somewhat difficult" over the years and it has had problems attracting students, Gibb said. Only 316 students enrolled this past school year.

"We've actively marketed the college," he said. "Could we have increased enrollment by a stronger marketing campaign? Yeah, maybe. But could we have done it in the numbers we needed to be sustainable, probably not."

Friday, January 11, 2013

Backstreet Room 701

Backstreet interior (2009)
Backstreet Room 701

Location: "A private club operating at the end of a commercial building between a hilly residential neighborhood and the Arkansas River," Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Opened: 1978

Closed: "Lesbian bar" open as of 1995. Though club as a whole was open at least as late as 2009, the "lesbian bar" was gone by then. Club now closed.

Back in the summer of 1995, the Associated Press picked up a story on the "gay entertainment scene" in the state of Arkansas. I found the story in the Blytheville Courier News, where it was published on July 24 of that year. 

Backstreet, along with its "companion club" called Discovery, operated out of the same "warehouse-like structure" in the City of Little Rock. No real address was given--even in the mid 1990s. We're only told (in a rather conspiratorial aside) that it was a  "private club operating at the end of a commercial building between a hilly residential neighborhood and the Arkansas River."

Despite their "companion" status, the clubs functioned as "separate entities" that were open at different times and with very divergent personalities and clientele.

Discovery was a "deafening" dance bar featuring "earthquake speakers" and a "light show." It featured female impersonators or male strippers on a weekly basis, but was open only on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.  According to Bob Gale who managed both clubs, the clientele at Discovery broke into about a 60/40 gay/straight split. Mostly dudes, I assume. 

Backstreet, on the other hand, was open seven days a week and had a "mostly gay" clientele. As far as bar designs go, Backstreet was rather unusual:

Backstreet is broken up inside into three distinct rooms around a lobby--decorated to look like a street in a Western frontier town. A room bearing the street number 501 is a "dance hall" where a disc jockey spins CDs; Miss Kitty's Country-Western Saloon has country music playing at background levels "so people can go and sit and talk," Gale said; and the door under street number 701 leads to a lesbian bar.

We're not told much more about this mysterious lesbian bar "under street number 701" other than that it was apparently relatively "quiet."

1021 Jessie Road today
Skip forward more than a decade, and lo and behold, we find a 2009 article on the Backstreet Dance ClubIt still exists! As does Discovery! We're also provided an address for Backstreet--1021 Jessie Road. And yup, it's still a gay place.

We still have the same three-bars-in-one thing going at Backstreet too. But the spaces are reconfigured differently. Room 501 was still a dance space for the 18-and-over crowd. But the former Miss Kitty's had apparently been converted into "Le Bistro"--a "place to play pool" and "hang out with friends."

As for Room 701 (now called Club 701), well, it no longer existed as a lesbian bar. It had been handed over to the drag queens for their shows:

701 backstreet is also an 18 and up venue.  Located in the rear of the facility, 701 offers guests one of Little Rocks hottest Drag Shows.  Each week the audience can expect a trip into a world of glamour, beauty, and entertainment. Aside from the dazzling impersonators, the shows also feature a top-notch production crew. The production crew performs opening numbers that range from the best of Broadway show tunes all the way through to current top 40 hits.  The shows start at 1 a.m. and are always followed by some of Little Rocks best Hip-Hop and R&B dj's who will carry you through till 5 a.m.

Unfortunately, this pretty much captures in a nutshell what happened to many former lesbian public spaces over the past twenty years or so. 

And get this: According to clubfly, the former room 501 had been renamed "The Manhole"!!! My gawd, you can't make this sh** up.... 

It seems that with the disappearance of every lesbian space, "masculinity" is redoubled either within the space itself or in the immediate vicinity. In general, it's absolutely breathtaking how many former lesbian bars are replaced with strictly gay male bars or strip clubs for heterosexual men. It's as if men must reassert (reinsert?) their occupation/domination of the space in particularly vivid or dramatic way. 

Today, Backstreet is closed according to clubfly. All three clubs within a club are gone. The location is now occupied by a martial arts studio. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Hotel Seneca Ladies Dining Room

Ladies Dining Room, Hotel Seneca

Hotel Seneca Ladies Dining Room

Location: Clinton Avenue, Rochester, New York, USA

Opened: 1908

Closed: Hotel became Manger Hotel in 1957, building razed in 1969

Hotel Seneca

The Rochester Subway blog tells us a little about the Seneca Hotel itself, and specifically quotes a New York Times story on the hotel's opening on September 14, 1908.

Although the hotel's lobby was described in some detail, little was said about the hotel's many dining rooms:

The decoration of the spacious lobby follows the Renaissance style, with wainscoting of French marble, wall panels of greenish brown, ivory columns with Oriental caps in dull old gold, and ceilings suggestive of old illuminated Spanish leather book covers. Cornices and brackets are in old gold. Throughout the entire ground floor, in the various dining rooms and buffets, elaborate and rich decorative schemes are carried out.

Main Office and Lobby, Hotel Seneca

And to think this beautiful place was demolished....Ah well, at least we can imagine having tea with our lady friends in the exquisite ladies dining room. More crumpets, darling?