The D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board is considering a proposal to designate a row house on Capitol Hill as an historic landmark because it served as the residence and headquarters of a lesbian feminist separatist group called the Furies Collective in the early 1970s.
LGBT history advocate Mark Meinke filed a 63-page nominating application calling for historic landmark status for the two-story brick house at 219 11th St., S.E. last fall, starting a process that Meinke hopes will lead to its eventual designation as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service.
Meinke filed the application on behalf of the Rainbow Heritage Network, a national organization he co-founded one year ago to help secure recognition and preservation of LGBT historic sites throughout the country.
“The house at 219 11th Street, S.E., Washington, D.C. became the operational center of the lesbian feminist separatist collective, The Furies, between late 1971 and the autumn of 1973 which created and led the debate over lesbians’ place in society,” Meinke wrote in his nomination application.
Meinke notes in the nomination document that the 12 women in the Furies Collective founded and published a tabloid size newspaper called The Furies “which over a period of two years raised and discussed major questions of women’s identity, women’s relationships with other women, with men, and with society at large.”
The document adds, “Over the course of the collective’s and the newspaper’s lives, the twelve women explored and sought to resolve a multitude of issues and examined their personal experiences in the lines of their newspaper.”
Through those activities, Meinke wrote, the Furies “set the issues and the agenda of lesbian and feminist discussion for many years to come.”
Meinke said he was relieved that the quest to secure the Furies house as a historic site cleared its first hurdle when the owners of the house since 2004, Robert Pohl and his wife Antonia Herzog, immediately gave their consent to D.C. historic landmark status for their home.
Pohl has said he was pleased to discover the house’s association with the Furies when he conducted his own research on the house shortly after purchasing it. He told WAMU Radio in an interview last year that he has already hung photos on his walls of Furies members working in the house back in the early ‘70s and he looks forward to placing a plaque on the house indicating it has historic landmark status.
Under the city’s rules for obtaining such a designation, the process can be delayed and additional obstacles could emerge if the property owner doesn’t give consent to the application.
Just last week the nomination received another boost when Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B, which has jurisdiction over the section of Capitol Hill where the house is located, voted unanimously to approve the nomination.
According to Meinke, the nomination cleared another hurdle earlier this month when the staff of D.C.’s Historic Preservation Office approved the nomination, enabling it to advance to city’s Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). The HPRB has scheduled a public hearing on the nomination for Jan. 28.
“It would be nice if anybody wants to come to the hearing to support the nomination,” Meinke said. “We’ve had letters of support from around the country. I think we’ve got 16 or maybe 17 now,” he said, including one from the National LGBTQ Task Force.
Among the Furies members that Meinke interviewed in preparation for his nominating application was Rita Mae Brown, the lesbian activist and author of the nationally acclaimed 1973 novel “Rubyfruit Jungle,” which touched on lesbian feminist issues.
Other members of the Furies collective were D.C.-area lesbian activists and feminists Charlotte Bunch, Joan Biren, Ginny Berson, Sharon Deevey and Coletta Reid. Nearly all of the Furies members became involved in other lesbian feminist activities in other parts of the country after the group disbanded in 1973, Meinke writes in the nomination document.
The document notes that the house at 219 11th St., S.E., took on additional historic significance after the Furies moved out in 1973. Later that same year lesbian feminists Judy Winsett and Leslie Reeves rented the house and used its large basement space – which the Furies used to produce their tabloid newspaper – as a jewelry-making studio for a small jewelry retail business the two operated, Meinke writes.
A short time later, according to Meinke’s research, Winsett and Reeves founded Lammas Women’s Shop, which soon evolved into a nationally known feminist and lesbian bookstore and a de facto lesbian community center at various locations in D.C. until it closed its doors in 2001. The two women registered Lammas’ corporate headquarters as 219 11th St., S.E.
If approved by the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board and later by the National Park Service, the Furies House would become the second LGBT-related house in the District to receive D.C. landmark status and inclusion on the National Registry of Historic Places.
The home of the late gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny at 5020 Cathedral Ave., N.W., received D.C. Historic Landmark status in 2009 and was added to the National Registry of Historic Places by the National Park Service in October 2011, less than a week before Kameny died.
However, Meinke said a local real estate broker who purchased Kameny’s house in 2012 from Kameny’s heir, Timothy Clark, has declined to give consent for an application Meinke filed to elevate the status of the house as a National Historic Landmark.
Such a status gives the National Park Service authority to take steps to prevent property owners from significantly altering or tearing down houses designated as a National Historic Landmark, and federal officials usually defer to the wishes of property owners who object to such a designation.
Andrew D. O’Neill of O’Neill Realty Advisors, LLC, who owns the Kameny house, disputed Meinke’s assessment in an email but said he didn’t have time to elaborate due to a busy work schedule. He offered to talk to the Blade at a later date to explain his position. He didn’t respond to a request by the Blade for comment in 2012 at the time he bought the Kameny house.
Although O’Neill can block future designation of his house as a National Historic Landmark he cannot reverse the designation of the house as a D.C. Landmark or its inclusion on the National Registry of Historic Places, which occurred before he bought the house.
“The Kameny house is an excellent candidate for National Historic Landmark status,” Meinke said. “He has every right to refuse,” Meinke said in discussing O’Neill’s position on the matter. “Our hope is he might change his mind or at some point sell the house to someone who will give consent.”
Although O’Neill faces potential restrictions from making significant changes to the house based on its D.C. historic designation, he also is eligible for certain benefits, such as government funds for maintaining and improving the structure of the house.
“There are 2,500 National Historic Landmarks and only two are LGBT,” said Meinke.
One is the Stonewall bar in New York’s Greenwich Village, which is famous for being the site of the 1969 Stonewall riots. The other is the Henry Gerber House in Chicago, which is named for the German born founder in the 1920s of the Chicago based Society for Human Rights, the first known American organization that advocated for gay rights.