Friday, February 28, 2014

Milwaukee Tavern (Portland)

West Burnside and 20th (1967)
Milwaukee Tavern

Location: 1535 West Burnside, Portland, Oregon, USA

Opened/Closed: 1960s

This account is from the 1999 Portland Gay History Walking Tour:

The Milwaukee Tavern, 1535 W. Burnside.  This storefront (address since renumbered), once a tavern, was fingered in the 1964 vice reports of Chief of Police McNamara as being a lesbian hangout.  The reports noted that it was frequented almost entirely by women who “dress like men, act like men, and are believed to be from areas outside Portland.”  Owner Edna Jordal was a widow at the time of the Portland City Council hearings in December 1964.  She had worked previously at the Transfusion Inn, a notorious lesbian dive located on Southwest Front almost at water level.  The only employees at the Milwaukee Tavern were women.  One, the manager, was identified in the records as “Miss Lewis” who had “served eight years in the service with an honorable discharge,” and the other a young woman of 22 who moonlighted in the evenings following her day job at Meier & Frank.

For those who are interested in these things, there was also a lesbian bar called the Milwaukee Tavern in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The Walking Tour site mentions a few other lesbian sites we'll get around to posting about eventually. Meanwhile, check out the site itself. Interesting stuff.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Ottumwa Heights College

Ottumwa Heights College
Ottumwa Heights College

Location: Ottumwa, Iowa, USA

Opened: 1864, as the Visitation Academy

Closed: Went coed in 1967, closed 1980

Once again, we see that going coed doesn't save a women's college from going out of business. From Wikipedia:

Ottumwa Heights College began as a liberal arts women's college based in Ottumwa, Iowa. It became coed in 1967. The school was affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church and was operated by the Sisters of Humility of Mary. Although the student body of the college was originally mostly Roman Catholic by the end of its existence a majority of its students were Protestant.
The institution was founded in 1864 as the Visitation Academy. In 1925, it was renamed the St. Joseph Academy. It received its first collegiate accreditation in 1928 and became known as the Saint Joseph Junior College, taking its final name Ottumwa Heights College in 1930. In 1936 St. Joseph School of Nursing became affiliated with Ottumwa Heights College. In 1957 the facility was destroyed in a fire and was rebuilt over the next 4 years. In 1967 male students were admitted to the college. Following this many more students lived off campus and in 1969 for the first time a majority of students were Protestants.
Ottumwa Heights merged with Indian Hills Community College in 1979 and was deemed officially inactive in 1980.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Chatham College for Women?

Chatham University
Chatham College for Women

Location: Woodland Road, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Opened: 1869

Closed: Could be co-ed in Fall 2015

Chatham College for Women isn't a lost womyn's space yet, but it is supremely endangered.

From yesterday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Chatham University considers enrolling men as undergraduate students

Chatham University, whose undergraduate college has been female-only since the school's founding in 1869, is considering admitting men for the first time in that college's history, officials confirmed Tuesday evening.

University president Esther Barazzone cited economic pressures and enrollment realities in telling a campuswide meeting of students and employees why Chatham has become the latest women's institution in Pennsylvania and beyond to consider going coed.

The university's trustees, meeting Friday behind closed doors, unanimously approved a resolution allowing for a period of study that could lead to a board vote by June, officials said. If the trustees approve the idea, the first men in Chatham's undergraduate programs could be enrolled by fall 2015.

Read the rest at the link for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette above.

Last year, Pennsylvania lost another educational institution for women, Wilson College. (We posted about that here.) Seton Hall University began accepting male students in 1986. So women's colleges within the Keystone State are rapidly dwindling in number, leaving women students with fewer and fewer choices.

If this prospect concerns you, especially if you are a current Chatham student or alumna, make sure you contact the school and express your opinion now. Here is the email and phone for
Chatham president, Esther Barazonne:

Phone : (412) 365-1160
Email :

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

St. Joseph's Female College

Patee Female College

St. Joseph's Female College

Location: St. Joseph, Missouri, USA

Opened: 1875

Closed: 1881

The Patee House, which was built in 1858 as a hotel, now operates as a  National Historic Landmark and museum. The location has had a variety of usages over the years, but what we're interested in here is that it once housed two private women's colleges: The Patee Female College (1865-1868) and the St. Joseph Female College (1875-1881).

Here's the standard write-up on St. Joseph derived from that "free encyclopedia":
Affiliated with the Baptist Church, St. Joseph Female College was opened in 1875 by the English-born Rev. Elijah S. Dulin. The college was located for most of its operating years in the Patee House, a hotel and office building. It had previously housed the Patee Female College from 1865 to 1868.
Patee House today
Patee House has historically been most commonly associated with the founding of the Pony Express in 1860, and the death of outlaw Jesse James nearby in 1882.

The college moved out of Patee House in 1880 and constructed its own building at a cost of $100,000 on a hill near the city's center. According to The Baptist Encyclopedia, the board of trustees was composed of the state's leading men, with Rev. Dulin serving as president throughout the college's life.

It's a pattern we've seen before with 19th-century women's colleges: no signs of any actual women! The president is a dude. The Board of Trustees were dudes. And it was short-lived. Big surprise. We often see this too, as the dudes really don't have much motivation for keeping a women's college afloat through all the challenges.

Mary Alicia Owen
And yet women students often transcended the oppressive educational and religious limitations put upon these schools, and creatively reworked the educational opportunities to their own advantage. 

One of these students was Mary Alicia Owen (1850-1935), who attended Patee Female College for three years. Most unusual for a Missouri frontier girl of the time (even a white girl from a fairly prosperous family), Mary then proceeded on to Vassar College, which was one of the few women's colleges of the time that offered women a liberal arts education that was comparable to the ones offered by the men's schools. (Alas, Vassar is no longer a women's college as it began admitting men in 1969.)  

Mary was intent on remaining independent and never married. She later became a writer and renowned folklorist, with a particular interest in local Native American and African-American folklore and "voodoo" (as it was called at the time). She has been described as "the most famous American Woman Folklorist of her time."

While growing up, her family owned slaves. According to the State Historical Society of Missouri,  

Mary would recall how she loved to listen to the myths and stories told by the slaves.  As an adult, she wrote about one slave in the household, Mymee Whitehead, who was a conjurer.  Conjure, or Hoodoo as it is sometimes called, is the African American folk practice of using spells or creating potions to ask the spirit world for help.  Mary loved to watch “Aunt” Mymee prepare special potions.  She sometimes helped by getting needed ingredients from her grandmother’s kitchen.

Mary says more about Mymee here:

Mary Alicia Owen around 20
Aunt Mymee gave me the first glimpse of her secret business by importuning me to get from my grandmother some amaranth seeds. When I insisted on knowing what she wanted with them, she acknowledged she wished to make them into a little cake which would make any who ate it love the one who handed it to him. That sounded reasonable enough to anyone as fond of all sorts of sweeties as I was, so I procured the seeds, and had the cake made up.

Not long after I heard other servants of the family say that Mymee had surely conjured me, for I followed at her heels like a dog that had eaten shoebread.

What she learned from Mymee Whitehead and later from another area conjurer named King Alexander, who was part African American and part Cherokee, was recorded in her first book: Old Rabbit, the Voodoo, and Other Sorcerers (1893).

Mary's life has been written up in a recent book by Greg Olson, Voodoo Priests, Noble Savages, and Ozark Gypsies: The Life of Folklorist Mary Alicia Owen (2012), so I'm not going to summarize it all here. Nor do I want to minimize the legitimate criticism that her work has received in recent years for its racist assumptions and connotations--though the same could be argued about all the other white anthropologists and archaeologists of the time, since these "disciplines" were essentially constructed around the exotic "other".

But as a woman who is little known today outside American folklore circles, it is still important to recognize her contributions and the role that women's schools played in sustaining her life.

Still, I wish we could hear Mymee Whitehead in her own voice, and that she could have had a school of her own....

Monday, February 17, 2014



Location: 4612 SE Hawthorne Boulevard, Portland, Oregon, USA

Opened: 2000

Closed: July 2013

Here is how Kathy Beige described Dingo's at The review is undated, but as the piece also mentions the Egyptian Room, a Portland lesbian bar that closed in October 2010, it must predate that time.

Dingo’s, a lesbian-owned restaurant and bar is THE place to be on Thursday nights. The margaritas and lime chicken enchiladas are not to be missed.

Then there is this review from Barfly, which is decisively less enthusiastic:

Not hard to imagine a Dingo's outside every twenty-second century left-coast megamall brightly-lit, colorfully-decorated, family-friendly franchises serving up a vaguely-Mexican-themed cuisine and vaguely-dyke-themed nightlife.

It's possible, of course, for the average clientele, enjoying a microbrew on the benches dotting Hawthorne's still singular enterprise, to remain blissfully unaware of either, of course (presuming it's not Thursday's Lesbian Speed Dating night), until your kid inquires about the 'Priscilla Queen Of The ’Ritas!' cocktail. 

Long enough established to be a Hawthorne fixture, but service and food have run decidely downhill in the last couple of years.

The consensus at Yelp (and a few other sites) was that the Mexican food at Dingo's was pretty awful. While there are some 99 reviews in total, there are comparatively few references to this also being a lesbian place. So it definitely appears most folks remained "blissfully unaware" of the dykes hanging about.

The first reference is in the very first posted Yelp review of Dingo's from Chrissy S. in October 2007:
A March 2013 event at Dingo's

I may be a southern belle, but I am still super left in terms of thinking. My friend Laura (not a Yelper) is gay and she was suuuuper excited to go to Dingo's which is supposedly a lesbian run taco bar, for Gay Margarita Night. I was totally down with this plan, (even though if there were a Ryan Gosling Look-a-Like Margartia Night, I probably would've  high-tailed it thata way instead!)

Nevertheless, while Chrissy enjoyed the drinks, she hated the food and overall service.

In summation, if you are looking for a gay friendly hangout and you don't want to eat anything but chips and guac, come here. Down some yummy Margaritas in as many flavors as you can stand. But expect to invest in the property...'cause you ain't goin' nowhere, baby.

Sorry, Dingo's. You suck!

Then there's Chris S. in July 2008, who played the role of condescending @$$hole dude most admirably:

a bar/restaurant with lots of lesbians called a Taco Bar makes me giggle.

Here's Katie P. in November 2008, who is just judgmental. If you're all bent by the sight of women kissing, then why are you here?
Dingo patrons hamming it up

I seriously can't remember the last time I had food that bad.

If you want to watch girls play tonsil hockey, however, this would be the place to go.  The lesbian scene here is impressive but depresses me, c'mmon ladies, isn't there a place you can hang out at that has good food and descent service? Don't you think you're worth it?  I didn't have a drink there but apparently that's where it's at.  They should close down the food, just do chips and that crap salsa and make it a larger bar.

The ever condescending Chris L. returned for encore performance in January 2009, and regurgitated his earlier comments. Boy, is this guy clever or what? And folks can't figure out why a lot of lesbians don't like dudes hanging around their scarce space.

The Leggy One mentioned off hand that Dingo's was a lesbian taco bar; this in of itself really has no bearing on the review...but those familiar with my debaucherous mind can imagine the images this phrase conjured in my immature brain.  Plus, I just like saying "lesbian taco bar".  It kind of rolls off the tongue and it makes me giggle. The same giggle when I think of the Pink Taco in Vegas.  

Robin K. in April 2009 said similar things:

we came here for "Girl's night out".  What we saw, was not even close. We were expecting a happening cantina type feel.  Semi-loud music, margarita's flowing, big bar, talkative atmosphere, etc. What we got instead was a taco bar with a lesbian staff.

A lesbian taco bar? you'd think that was start to a bad joke.  A nun, priest, and rabbi walk into a lesbian taco bar......

Then there were the oh-so-liberal dudes like Darrell L. This is from March 2010:

I'm not uncomfortable with Lesbians. But this place kind of had the vibe that the people who worked there, and the patrons didn't want you there. So they can have their wish. We will never go back. Burp. That hamburger is coming up now, gotta run.

Then there is Wayne C. in August 2010:

Food yucky, service questionable. I loved the company. Por que no! across the street, I was jealous of those people, even the lesbians.

The last Yelp review is dated December 2013. However, the Facebook page reports that the last day was July 31, 2013. Here's the farewell notice:

After 13 unforgettable years,(well...maybe we forgot a little) it is with many mixed emotions we announce Dingos will be closing its doors on July 31st.

Being a part of this community has been a great gift to all of us. We need to thank our daughter Saci, for running Dingos better than we ever could. Our bad ass staff, past and all have made our world a better place. We will never forget our amazing and loyal customers who have supported us for so long. have until the 31st to get your Dingos on!!!!

Big loves..Tiff and Diane

According to this article, Fado Portuguese Kitchen & Bar now occupies the site.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Star Room

Corner of Main and El Segundo today
Star Room

Location: Corner of Main and El Segundo, Los Angeles, California, USA

Opened: Mid 1950s

Closed: Open at least as late as 1968

From Remembering LA’s Earliest Lesbian Bars:

Star Room – Located between Watts and Gardena in an unincorporated portion of Los Angeles County, this was a “cruising bar” that attracted a more pink-collar clientele (teachers, secretaries, nurses, etc). Opened in the mid 1950s, owner Jo Heston had to marry a man in order to buy the bar because laws at that time didn’t allow women to own bars. The laws also prevented Heston from pouring liquor, so the bar had male bartenders.

The Star Room is also mention in Lillian Faderman's Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth Century America (1991):

At the Star Room, a lesbian bar on the outskirts of Los Angeles, women could dance but not too close. The manager would scrutinize the dance floor periodically with flashlight in hand. There had to be enough distance between a couple so that a beam from the flashlight could pass between them. In that way the owner hoped to avoid charges of disorderly conduct should there be any undercover agents among the patrons.

In Daniel Winunwe Rivers' Radical Relations: Lesbian Mothers, Gay Fathers, and Their Children in the United States (2013), we hear of a more supportive role that the Star Room played.

Barbara and Pearl were both married mothers--and PTA presidents--when they met in 1958. They fell in love, and embarked on a long-term secret affair. It was not until 1968, when their children were old enough to dodge a custody battle, that they decided to leave their husbands. It was then that Barbara

...moved into a room in the back of the Star Room, a lesbian bar in Los Angeles on the corner of Main and El Segundo. It was there, in a tough neighborhood, living in the back of a lesbian bar, that Barbara had her "life turned around."

Friday, February 7, 2014

Tony Pastor's Downtown

Tony Pastor's Downtown
Tony Pastor's Downtown

Location: 130 West 3rd Street, New York, New York, USA

Opened: 1939

Closed: 1967

From the South District Historic District Report (2013):

Tony Pastor’s Downtown, 130 West 3rd Street
Another postcard of Tony Pastor's Downtown
(1939-67), had a mixed clientele of lesbians and tourists, some gay men, and female impersonators. Raided on morals charges in 1944 for permitting lesbians to "loiter" on the premises, Pastor’s survived apparently with mob backing. The State Liquor Authority, however, revoked its liquor license in 1967 because, in the homophobic language of the agency, it had "become disorderly in that it permitted homosexuals, degenerates and undesirables to be on the license premises and conduct themselves in an offensive and indecent manner."

I am now deeply mourning the death of Google news archives, as I cannot easily look up the 1944 raid. And as often is the case, the New York Times query function is acting a bit cranky too. So if--or when--I can dig up anything more on Tony Pastor's Downtown, you, my gentle Lost readers, will be the first to know.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Cherry Creek Tavern

Painting in the
Cherry Creek Tavern
Cherry Creek Tavern

Location: 1301 Lawrence Street, Denver, Colorado, USA

Opened/Closed: 1980s?

Oddly enough, the only place that I have found that has information on the Cherry Creek Tavern is...the Denver Public Library.

This is what they say about the photo above:

Interior view of a painting in the Cherry Creek Tavern, a lesbian bar, at 1301 Lawrence Street in the Union Station neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. The painting depicts a nude woman reclining. Graffiti is on the ceiling above the painting.

And then there is this photo. With the following commentary:

Back bar, Cherry Creek

View of the back bar of the Cherry Creek Tavern, a lesbian bar at 1301 Lawrence Street in the Union Station neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. The bar has a red flocked wall-paper behind rows of liquor bottles. A red, white, and green paper garland is draped above the bar.

1301 Lawrence Street today
If anybody else remembers anything of this place, please let us know.

Based on a contemporary photograph of the site, the Tavern building is long gone and now replaced with ugly office buildings.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sweetheart Bar

3928 Third Street today -- with no
sign of the former Sweetheart Bar
Sweetheart Bar

Location: 3928 Third Street, Detroit, Michigan, USA

Opened: 1939

Closed: ???

The only source I know of that discusses the Sweetheart Bar is a fantastic article I've cited before, "The Changing Face of Lesbian Bars in Detroit" by Roey Thorpe. This is what Roey says:

The earliest of Detroit's lesbian bars was the Sweetheart Bar, which opened in 1939. Several women remember it as the first lesbian bar that they went to, and have fond memories of both the bar and its owners, Anne and Irving "Izzy" Ginsberg. The Sweetheart was located at 3928 Third Street, in the heart of what was Detroit's manufacturing center. On the outside, the Sweetheart looked like any neighborhood bar, but on the inside, it was divided into four sections, each with its particular clientele and activities. The front of the bar, the area closest to the entrance, seemed like other nearby bars, where heterosexual men and women from the surrounding neighborhood came to have a drink and socialize. At the back of this section stood a pair of double doors, behind which stretched a large space where the floor show, usually a drag performance, alternated with time for dancing. By convention, this space was divided according to sexuality. Billie Hill describes the back room as follows:

[T]wo women could dance or two men could dance there. So the straights would come in and sit on the one side just so that they could see all this, you know, what was going on....Then the middle section was more or less for the bisexuals and they'd go men or women, you know. Then over in this side it was the gays, mostly girls but boys too, but mostly girls.

The physical layout of this bar served several purposes. It provided a space for heterosexual people in the neighborhood to use, which no doubt undercut the animosity they would have felt toward a bar where they were not welcome. Their patronage also helped keep the bar in business. The double doors provided a barrier that need not be crossed by clientele uninterested in observing homosexuals and bisexuals, and thus also provided a bit of privacy for those who frequented the space behind the doors. The privacy meant that same-sex couples could dance together, an unusual privilege even in gay bars of the time. The social organization of that rear space also served practical functions; it allowed for specific forms of socializing while avoiding embarrassing and possibly dangerous situations. People could display their intentions and their interests by positioning themselves in a selected third of the backroom.

Separate sections also meant that while heterosexuals could watch lesbians and gay men from a distance, they were courting danger by crossing over into homosexual territory. The existence of the bisexual space in the center of the room meant that there was a buffer between heterosexual observers and women who were exclusively lesbian. It protected lesbians from some of the staring and pointing of heterosexuals who had come to the bar as their form of entertainment for the evening.

These sections were not always enough to keep heterosexual men away from lesbians, however. Billie Hill recalls that although "the guys knew if they went over and ask a girl to dance [and] she said no, that was it--leave her alone," as early as 1945 or 1946, men were ousted from the Sweetheart for harassing lesbians. She explains:

[I]f a straight guy came up and kept insisting on dancing then they just got put out....And then they'd wait outside, try to beat you up. That's where all the fights started....They'd, you know, bounce a couple of guys outta there for bothering the girls and they'd wait outside until the bar was closed and jump the girls and beat 'em up. And we got so that when we'd leave the bar we'd leave, you know, four or five of us together, then if a guy jumps, we can handle 'em.

The need to address harassment became a powerful force in shaping lesbian bar culture. It was a considerable challenge to keep lesbian social space separate from heterosexual men. But doing so was crucial for creating a space that was safe for white, working-class lesbians, since their refusal to dance with heterosexual men left them vulnerable to physical attack. Lesbians also had to learn to fight in order to protect themselves when physical separation in bars failed.