The Cherry Grove Community House and Theater, the town hall for the gay and lesbian colony on Fire Island that became known as the first LGBT community in the country, became an official historic landmark just in time for Pride Month.
The community house was officially registered on the National Register of Historic Places of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation earlier this month, decades after it helped pave the way for gay civil rights movement advancements.
“This house and theater have been the heart and soul of Cherry Grove for more than six decades and hold a unique and iconic place in the lives of gay men and women everywhere,” said Diane Romano, president of the Cherry Grove Community Association. The Cherry Grove Community House and Theater was a place LGBT members could go to feel safe starting in the 1940s when acceptance was uncommon.
Nearly three decades later, the Stonewall riots against police crackdowns on gay bars in New York City proved to be the breaking point for the gay liberation movement, which is partly the reason June is designated as LGBT pride month. New York State coincidentally approved the Marriage Equality Act legalizing same-sex marriage in June two years ago.
“Today, the men and women of Cherry Grove celebrate their ‘gayness’ in many ways, most of which take place in the Community House and Theater,” said Romano.
The theater encouraged self-acceptance and incorporated gay and lesbian residents into the town’s governing affairs. The Cherry Grove Community House and Theatre is the oldest continuously operating gay and lesbian theater in the nation, the second of its kind in New York State and the third in the country.
Originally built in Sayville in 1945, the house was floated over the Great South Bay to FI, where it has served as a firehouse, church, meeting house, center of local art and theater and the heart of Cherry Grove. The theater was added in 1948 and holds a variety of summer events open to gay and straight people alike.
“The nomination of the Cherry Grove Community House and Theatre is especially significant because it offers the rare opportunity to document an entire GLBT community in the pre-Stonewall era,” according to the National Park Service, which oversees the Fire Island National Seashore.
The house is now eligible for certain tax provisions and qualification for federal grants for historic preservation as a result of the designation. The Cherry Grove association, which owns and operates the community house, is planning to raise $700,000 to repair, restore and renovate it. The people of Cherry Grove have already contributed over $350,000 to the effort.