Project Documents Key Spots for Baltimore LGBTQ Community in ’70s and ’80s
Graduate students in the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation’s Historic Preservation Program chose to document the Hippo nightclub, which was considered a community center for LGBTQ life from the 1970s until its closing in 2015.
On Baltimore’s Eager Street, a building entrance once boasted big silver letters and an illustration of a hippopotamus that lit up when the sun went down. Inside, people mingled, danced and felt free to express their identities.
The Hippo nightclub was considered a community center for LGBTQ life from the 1970s until its closing in 2015. A group of graduate students in the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation’s Historic Preservation Program are making sure the club’s history isn’t forgotten, even if the old signs are gone and the interior is unrecognizable as a CVS Pharmacy.
Led by Assistant Professor Jeremy Wells, the students in his studio course are teaming up with Preservation Maryland, an organization that saves places that matter to communities in the state, to document the life of the Hippo. Students will use methods including drawings, photographs and 3D scans, which together will form a “toolkit” for future preservationists to use.
“Everybody’s history is important, and LGBTQ history has really been neglected for a long time,” said Wells. “It’s a big problem that the studio is attempting to address.”
Several places in Baltimore were a big part of LGBTQ life in decades past but the internet has since provided new ways to connect to a broader world, and many of the locations have been shuttered or transformed. This semester, students have been gathering information about these places, including the Baltimore Eagle, a now-closed gay bar, and the 31st Street Bookstore, a hangout for lesbians and feminists now known as Normals Book Store.
The students chose to document the Hippo after discovering that it was a site that community elders and LGBTQ advocates in Baltimore cared most about (although even the Hippo received criticism over the years as not entirely welcoming to people of color or women).
“It had been such a stalwart in the community for such a long time,” said said Ty Ginter, a graduate student in the Historic Preservation Program. “When it closed it was very upsetting for the community because they felt that they had lost a space that was the cultural identity of the community in Baltimore.”
The Trump administration’s rhetoric surrounding LGBTQ rights has left many Americans feeling marginalized, said Ginter. Preserving this community’s historical sites is a way to resist the political climate.
“[Preservation] can have a very large impact of being able to save this history for, hopefully, after this administration or after this current political climate has seen its course, and we're able to bring all this information back out,” said Ginter.
LGBTQ narratives are underrepresented on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places, said Meagan Baco, Preservation Maryland’s director of communications. Preservation Maryland hopes that the UMD research will build upon the organization’s broader goal to increase LGTBQ recognition nationwide.
“We know there are so many places that either have overlapping history or have history we simply don’t know unless we bring it to life,” said Baco, who studied under Wells at Clemson University.
The other graduate students working on the project are Kelly Schindler, Katie Boyle, Emma Schrantz, Kelly Haley and Daniela Tai.
Ginter said preserving the cultural heritage of the LGBTQ community and telling those stories helps people form a sense of identity and pride in who they are.
“I grew up in a time when it was very hard to get that information,” they said. “Kids who are as young as I was when I was coming out, they have the entire Internet at their fingertips.”
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