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Gay Community Helps In Preservation

Thursday, October 10, 2002 at 2:45 PM

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This week Cleveland is showing off its historic sites. About 2,000 people are in town for the National Preservation Conference. The week-long event features dozens of tours to historic buildings, mansions and neighborhoods. Leaders of the National Trust For Historic Preservation are also publicly recognizing a group of people they say have helped save and rehabilitate historic places in Cleveland and elsewhere. ideastream's Mike West has more.

Mike West: At the Silver Grill in Cleveland, preservationists and their guests are having a reception. The 1930’s style art-deco style restaurant is a natural setting for those interested in saving and restoring historic sites. The guests of honor are gays and lesbians and their friends. Dan Marriott is a director for the National Historic Trust, the organization behind the conference. He says for six years, similar receptions have been part of their annual meetings in various cities as a way to acknowledge what Marriott says are the vital contributions gays have made for preservation.

Dan Marriott: Basically every city in the country has been actively supported and encouraged by the gay and lesbian community.

MW: Marriott if it weren’t for gays and lesbians, most historic districts probably wouldn’t have been restored.

DM: It’s still not easy being gay or lesbian in the United States. Many of the communities that are revitalized are communities that have been abandon(ed) or neglected over the years. It provides a very safe haven to go into a community that’s been neglected. It’s like you don’t have to deal with issue like whether you’ll be accepted or not by the existing the community. Often if it’s abandon(ed) housing, we’re the first in and that gives us an opportunity to claim a space and it gives us our own space.

MW: Jeff Samudio is a historic preservation consultant. He says a UCLA study he helped conduct documents the work of gays in creating neighborhoods that are the crown jewels of many cities.

Jeff Samudio: It wasn’t merely anecdotal, it was actually very clearly defined that you could follow the neighborhoods where gays and lesbians actually occupied as those neighborhoods that were passed over by other groups and they were turning the neighborhoods, rehabilitating buildings, bringing a sense of community and safety back to those areas.

MW: Cleveland neighborhoods have also benefited from restoration work of gays and lesbians. Keith Brown is the president of Progressive Urban Real Estate. He’s been selling property in Cleveland for over two decades. Brown credits gays with being the visionaries who got restoration going in the now the very hip and desirable Ohio City neighborhood.

Keith Brown: I would say a very large percentage of the initial buyers that were doing restoration were gay. I think that certain streets were adopted by certain communities and buyers would not only do their house. But maybe they would move across the street, do another house, you know move their way up the street and it became an important part of a lot of people’s lives and it was a really interesting and fun time, and it still is.

MW: Brown feels it’s also important to note that over the years residents who are friendly to gays have also been willing to put up their time and money and take a chance on investing their time and money in the future of places like Ohio City and Tremont.

KB: I think that within the gay community, there, historically in Cleveland been a lot of people willing to take risks. It’s not just the gay community, it’s also the gay affirming community and the people that were all in here 20 years ago and 25 years ago, you know sanding floors and scraping wall paper and doing all of those things.

MW: There are a variety of reasons why gay people gravitate toward older neighborhoods. Jeff Ramsey says in some cases they have different priories. Ramsey is the assistant director for the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization.

Jeff Ramsey: Probably the majority of gay and lesbian households do not have children. I guess there’s a higher percentage in heterosexual families have children so schools aren’t as important for gay households and there’s anecdotal data that gay households have a higher annual income.

MW: Ramsey says gays now make up an important fabric in many neighborhoods which include Detroit/Shoreway and Tremont.

JR: And I think that many gays and lesbians are attracted to historic buildings, historic housing and they’re attracted to inner-city neighborhoods. I think another reason is that cities historically are centers for tolerance and places that embrace diversity. I think that’s one of the big reasons why gays and lesbians choose to live in the cities.

MW: The future of Cleveland’s inner cities could depend on making sure that gays and other diverse groups are welcome and continue to invest and live in urban neighborhoods. One theory says they nurture the so called “creative class” of artists and young professionals who will help attract and retain the bright young minds that are need to allow Cleveland to grow economically. In Cleveland, Mike West, 90.3.

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