New effort focuses on documenting sites important to our community history.
Story and photos by Brandon Wolf
As LGBT history begins to take its rightful place in the larger context of historical scholarship, new initiatives are uncovering largely unknown elements of our story. The National Park Service began a program to identify LGBT historic sites in 2013, and Preservation Texas hopes to begin a similar project in the next few months.
As part of this effort, OutSmart went in search of sites that have special significance to Houston’s LGBT community. Here are five sites we discovered, along with commentary from people who remember them. Three of them are places you probably drive by often, but may not realize the historical connection. The other two sites are more remote, but equally interesting.
Brian Keever (above) shows us the first and only hospital in the United States that focused solely on AIDS treatment. Opened in September 1986 as a for-profit venture, it lost $8 million in its first year and closed in December 1987, mostly due to the large number of indigent patients. The state-of-the-art facility had a staff of 175, and provided care to 750 clients, the majority of whom were outpatients. The institute averaged 1,000 visits per month, with most clients taking a shuttle bus because of its distance from the city. After the closure, Thomas Street Clinic eventually absorbed its patient load. The structure still stands, and is located a block south of the intersection of West Little York and the I-45 feeder road.
Keever had originally received AIDS treatment at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center before their AIDS patients were transferred to the new institute. While being treated at M.D. Anderson, Keever was told he probably had six months to live. Defying the odds, 30 years later he introduces the former institute to Houstonians who are unfamiliar with it.
Kelly Harlan points out the first of Resurrection MCC’s four locations. The building is now known to local residents as the home of Rudyard’s Bar. Harlan was present at the first service held in the building in 1973. The church used a small space on the south end of the building, running to the back of the structure.
“There was no air conditioning, just big fans running,” says Harlan. He recalls that about 40 people showed up for the service. “We used folding chairs arranged in rows. Near the door was a folding table with lemonade and cookies.”
At the time, there were two doors that opened into the meeting space, one on each side of the building’s southeast corner shown in the photo. They have since been filled in.
The location is also the first home of Houston Lambda Center, which used the church facilities. That Lambda LGBT Alcoholics Anonymous group is now located nearby on West Clay.
The daughter-in-law of Pat Hall, a former partner of “Marion and Lynn’s” bar owner Marion Pantzer, says that Pantzer opened a bar in this building in the late ’70s or early ’80s, but the venture lasted only a short while. In the late ’80s, Rudyard’s Pub moved from a location on Kipling into the space that Panzter had developed. Her blue-tiled bar is still in Rudyard’s, and they later developed a music performance space on the second story, named Rudz.
The original church meeting space is now a smaller bar named Next Door, used mostly as a party space following the upstairs concerts at Rudz.
Resurrection MCC moved three times after using this location, and is now located at 2025 West 11th Street in the Heights.
Gabriel Clark points out where Houston’s first gay community center was located. Longtime activist Pokey Anderson was among those involved in making this “Gaze Community Center” a reality. It opened in October 1972 and lasted for approximately one year. Clark was 15 years old when he first dropped in.
“It was the only place I could meet other gay people, because I was too young to get into the bars,” Clark says. He remembers all the gay magazines and periodicals that were available for him to read. “They were not available anywhere else.”
The center opened at 4 p.m. Monday–Friday, 2 p.m. on Saturday, and 3 p.m. on Sunday. Originally there were vending machines, a jukebox, pinball machines, a pool table, dance floor, and meeting rooms. No alcohol was allowed on the premises.
Community support was inadequate to justify the vending machines, which were removed by the distributor along with the pool table and jukebox. Dennis Sisk, owner of the Bayou Landing bar, offered to pay the monthly rent of $150, and fundraisers were held to pay the utility bills. A piano, refrigerator, stove, strobe lights, and color television set were somehow acquired, and a small library was built.
During his time spent at the center, Clark organized an MCC church “study” group, which was the first step that the national MCC organization required before they would establish a new MCC congregation. Clark says that the group was actually more of a support group for LGBTs who needed to reconcile being gay with the beliefs of the churches they were raised in.
No record of the center’s closing could be found, but the last information available indicates it was still in operation in November 1973. The original lease had been for one year.
The building is now a private residence with a fence, and appears to be in good condition, complete with a rare “witch’s hat” architectural element.
Marion Coleman shows us the first home field of the Kindred Spirits softball team from the early 1980s. The field is part of Ervan Chew Park, which is located at Dunlavy near the Highway 59 bridge.
Coleman owned Kindred Spirits bar at the time, and sponsored a women’s softball team in the Montrose Softball League. She remembers that two of her regular teammates in the league were Phyllis Frye and Annise Parker.
Coleman used to rise early on Monday mornings to go downtown to the city’s park department and get a permit for using the ball diamond during the coming week. Coleman would arrive at that office around 5 a.m. and read a book until the city office opened.
Two nights a week, Coleman coached the team practice. On Saturdays, Kindred Spirits played another team in the league. Tournaments, which lasted for two full days on a weekend, were usually played at Memorial Park.
Ervan Chew Park was known as Dunlavy Park in the 1980s before being renamed in honor of a local Boy Scout leader who died in 1999 in his 40s. The park has undergone significant improvements, including water jets for children and dogs to play under during the hot summer months.
Although Kindred Spirits closed in 1989, the club is so beloved that an annual Kindred Spirits Dance is held every year in August. A special room at The Montrose Center honors Coleman, and houses much of the softball team’s memorabilia.
Harla Kaplan shows us where her friend Ann Mayes, a Houston transgender pioneer, was arrested on September 21, 1972, on the steps of what was then the Houston Police Department. A month earlier, on August 24, Mayes had been arrested and charged with cross-dressing inside the police station—while she was there to post bond for a friend who had been arrested on the same charge.
The September arrest was particularly humiliating because Mayes had just had the August arrest charge cleared in a municipal court after the Houston City Council changed the cross-dressing ordinance. The revised ordinance stated that one could not cross-dress in a “public thoroughfare,” so as soon as she walked down the front steps of the station, she was re-arrested.
Mayes underwent sexual reassignment surgery in 1974 at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Before the surgery could be undertaken, Mayes had to dress in the manner of the gender to which she was transitioning for two years. She was constantly harassed by Houston police for “disguising as a woman.” When she asked for an I.D. card, police chief Herman Short told the press: “We don’t issue I.D. cards to queers. If ‘it’ breaks the law, ‘it’ will be arrested.” Mayes finally filed a harassment suit to get the police to back off until she had completed her surgery.
Kaplan met Mayes in 1972 at the Houston Women’s Center on Milam Street. Mayes was looking for a job, and Kaplan tried to help place her. At the time, the only job available was for a Santa Claus. Mayes asked to apply, saying she could still talk in a male voice if needed.
Kaplan remembers that Mayes also paid her a visit when she worked at the Texas Employment Commission in 1974. Mayes introduced Kaplan to her 14-year-old transgender child. A sympathetic judge placed the child in Mayes’ custody to help her sort things out. “For that day and time, it was amazing,” Kaplan says.
After her surgery, Mayes became a guest lecturer on transgender life at the University of Houston. She also secured a position with a sales company, and was honored as a top performer. Before her death in 2007, she had also become a skilled photographer.
The Houston Municipal Court eventually moved out of 61 Reisner to the Hebert Gee Municipal Courthouse at 1400 Lubbock, just a block west of its former home. HPD moved downtown to 1200 Travis, while the 61 Reisner site still houses the city jail.
Special thanks to Michael Bedwell, Charlene Hall, Sara Fernandez, J.D. Doyle, www.houstonlgbthistory.org and the University of Houston LGBT History Collection, for their important contributions to this article.[smugmug url=”feed://outsmartmagazine.smugmug.com/hack/feed.mg?Type=gallery&Data=64196190_K3K2p4&format=rss200″ imagecount=”19″ start=”1″ num=”20 thumbsize=”Th” link=”lightbox” captions=”false” sort=”false” window=”true” smugmug=”false” size=”L”]
Brandon Wolf is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.