WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Trust for Historic Preservation will testify tomorrow before the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission in an attempt to secure a local landmark designation for the San Francisco home of pioneering LGBTQ+ advocates Phyllis Lyon (1924-2020) and Del Martin (1921-2008). The home, located at 649-651 Duncan Street, was recently purchased by a private owner and is at risk of demolition to make way for new development. A historic landmark designation would protect the property from significant alterations that could erase the groundbreaking LGBTQ+ civil rights history it represents. The hearing will take place virtually beginning at 12:30 p.m. PST and will be open to the public.
"The Lyon-Martin house powerfully illustrates chapters of our nation's story that are far too often left out of the narrative," said chief preservation officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Katherine Malone-France. "Preserving this property is an act of equity, an opportunity to bring attention to the ongoing fight for LBGTQ+ equality and anti-discriminatory policies in which Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin and their home played such a significant role."
The Trust joins advocacy partners including the GLBT Historical Society, Friends of the Lyon-Martin House, California Preservation Foundation, San Francisco Heritage, and District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman in their efforts to ensure that the Lyon-Martin home is recognized for the pivotal convening and organizing role its owners played in helping to create a more authentic and inclusive context for American culture.
"This is a property with international significance, a civil rights monument," said San Francisco Heritage President and CEO, Woody LaBounty. "It should be recognized, preserved, and ideally used to continue the work to which Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon devoted most of their lives."
For decades Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin energized the city's LGBTQ+ community by offering their two-story cottage on Duncan Street as a place to strategize, inform and engage the struggle for anti-discrimination law that protected their way of life. Lyon and Martin built relationships with powerful allies and leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco).
Their home became the meeting space for the Daughters of Bilitis, the first social and political organization for lesbians in the country founded by the couple and friends in 1955. And it was the place that Lyon and Martin spent their married life together when they became the first same-sex couple to be married in San Francisco in 2004, and one of the first to marry again in 2008 when the California Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in the state once and for all.
"The Lyon-Martin House is an irreplaceable living monument to Phyllis and Del's five decades of pioneering, tireless advocacy for LGBTQ rights," said Terry Beswick, executive director of the GLBT Historical Society, whose archives hold the couple's papers. "It has both private and public significance, since it was the home of a loving couple who spent over 50 years together, but also a safe gathering place for the community during times when there were precious few such spaces. It is right up there with Stonewall as a sacred site for LGBTQ people. We cannot allow it to be erased."
Across the country, historic places that reflect the history of the LGBTQ+ community are woefully underrepresented on registries of historic properties. According to a 2016 study released by the National Park Service entitled "LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History," only ten of the approximately 95,000 places listed on the National Register of Historic Place represent LGBTQ+ history. San Francisco has granted city landmark status to only four sites with connections to LGBTQ+ history. If the Lyon-Martin house becomes the fifth LGBTQ+ historic site, it will be the first to focus primarily on lesbian history.
"Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin were pioneers of the LGBTQ rights movement," said Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who is the lone LGBTQ member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and represents the Noe Valley neighborhood where the home is located. "We must continue to do everything we can to recognize LGBTQ landmarks, and I look forward to working with community leaders and those who knew Phyllis, Del and their home firsthand to honor their legacy and this special piece of San Francisco."
In 2019, the National Trust launched a national campaign, Where Women Made History, to tackle these structural inequities by reshaping how women's history is interpreted and honored. The goal of the campaign is to create a preservation fund that would be used to support and sustain the architectural legacy of spaces like the Lyon-Martin House, where women of all backgrounds, ages, beliefs, and identities have made a difference in their communities and changed the world.
In addition to advocating for the formal recognition and designation of the Lyon-Martin house as a historic landmark, the National Trust hosted a webinar in January 2021 featuring the house as part of a special series highlighting some of California's most endangered diverse historic sites. The Trust is also inviting the public to advocate for the preservation of the Lyon-Martin house by submitting comments to the Commission to show their support. Together, we can ensure that a full and truthful American story is reflected in the historic places our nation chooses to protect and honor.
The Lyon-Martin House landmark designation was initiated by a resolution authored by Supervisor Mandelman that was approved by the Board of Supervisors on October 20, 2020. If the historic landmark designation is recommended by the Historic Preservation Commission today, the matter will return to the Board of Supervisors for their final approval.
About the National Trust for Historic Preservation
The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America's historic places. savingplaces.org