Stonewall’s Long-Awaited Visitor Center Debuts During Pride Month

Eight years after former President Barack Obama declared the Stonewall Inn a National Monument, the legendary West Village bar receives a visitor center that strives to capture the nuances and history of queer liberation.

Photography by Stephen Kent Johnson

Few sites carry more weight in the LGBTQ+ community than the Stonewall Inn, the New York City bar where a group of patrons took the unusual action of fighting back during a routine police raid in 1969, when being queer was against the law. A watershed moment in queer history, the rebellion catapulted the LGBTQ+ liberation movement to the global stage and permanently enshrined Stonewall as a queer landmark. Former President Barack Obama made things official when he designated Stonewall as a National Monument in 2016. In late June, as New York City was celebrating Pride, the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center opened after six years.

The center, conceived by LGBTQ+ advocacy organization Pride Live, sits in an adjacent storefront to Stonewall and will feature short- and long-term programming about the site’s significance. Encapsulating the nuances of queer history isn’t easily accomplished in a tight 2,100 square feet, so designers EDG Architecture and Engineering dutifully opted for a clean, white-box interior that allows visual displays to stand out. Among them is a wall mural of texts and images depicting milestones in LGBTQ+ history and a rotating collection of queer ephemera produced with students from the nearby Parsons School of Design. Honey Dijon curated a playlist that shuffles on a 1967 Rowe AMI jukebox, the same model playing on the night of the uprising. A silver floor outline marks where the actual bar stood; luminaires inset into the ceiling are 3D-printed with the same pattern as Stonewall’s original tin ceiling.

Photography by Stephen Kent Johnson

Several LGBTQ+ collaborators—interior designers Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent, lighting designer Nathan Orsman—lent their support. As did a medley of corporate and celebrity donors advertised on two full walls and a projection screen, which New York Times art critic Holland Cotter laid into as overpowering an otherwise bland gallery space with an impression of rainbow-washing. That’s perhaps not the best look at a time when “rightward politics is dragging us back, bill by legislative bill, to the pre-Stonewall 1950s,” he writes.

The $3.2 million center will evolve over time, though, and Pride Live chief executive Diana Rodriguez is taking that task seriously. One of the most powerful displays there honors her uncle, a Puerto Rican immigrant who served in Vietnam and died in 1989. When his army unit and co-workers learned he died of HIV/AIDS, none of them attended his funeral—a gripping reminder of how far the movement toward queer acceptance has come and, in today’s political climate, the work that remains. “[The visitor center] is both civically important and nationally important, but also globally important,” Richard Unterthiner, the project’s design director at EDG, told the Architect’s Newspaper. “That’s not lost on us. It’s really a beacon of hope.”

Rendering courtesy of EDG Architecture + Engineering

The Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center is located at 51 Christopher Street, New York.

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