Los Angeles has long been known for its Tinseltown ties—Hollywood Boulevard, theme parks and celebrity hotspots. But did you know that it's also one of the most historically relevant cities for the gay and lesbian community? Whether you're visiting L.A. or a local looking for an interesting afternoon out, we offer you 10 gay landmarks well worth the visit.
Before it was paved, Pershing Square at 5th and Hill served as the homoerotic stomping ground for L.A. gay men throughout most of the 20th century. The nearby Millennium Biltmore Hotel's bar was one of the only places that gays were allowed to gather openly. Since opening its doors in 1923, the historic Biltmore has welcomed presidents, celebrities and dignitaries, as well as closeted male celebrities—allegedly.
Located on the University of Southern California's campus is the world's largest research library solely erected to honor and archive LGBTQ history. The two-story museum serves as a "time capsule" for the yesteryears of queer culture and also works as L.A.'s Downtown gay community center—hosting exhibitions, art shows and cinematic screenings for both the USC student population and Los Angeles at large.
An artistic extension of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, The Village at Ed Gould Plaza is more than a place where gays turn for legal, financial and educational assistance; it's a place where they go to be entertained. Home to the Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center, it includes two theatres and two linked gallery spaces. Exhibits at the gallery are always free to the public, and their award-winning theatre program boasts both superstar LGBTQ talents, as well as world-premiere plays.
The longest consistently producing gay and lesbian theatre in the United States, the Celebration Theatre was the birthplace of the landmark musical Naked Boys Singing and has been hosting stellar theatrical offerings for more than two and a half decades. In recent years, the Celebration has been decorated multiple times over with coveted theatre arts awards. The work here isn't only gay, it's five-star!
Today, it jumps and pumps as an energetic dance club and community center in the historic heart of the Pico district; however, Jewel's Catch One is more than just another L.A. gay bar. When it opened its doors in 1972, Jewel’s was the first exclusively gay and lesbian disco for African-Americans. Much of the money raised at the club goes to serve their alternative nonprofit medical clinic next door, the Village Health Foundation—dedicated to providing healthcare to all, regardless of ethnic background, sexual orientation or financial situation.
The sister location to the One Archives, its Gallery and Museum is located in the heart of West Hollywood. Open to the public, its rotating exhibits display the more than 2 million historical items owned by ONE. Through summer 2013, the Museum will be the home of artist Molly Larkey's A Mural for ONE, a large-scale, rainbow-inspired painting on the front of its building.
It's a simple section of the Cove Avenue stairway just off of Silver Lake Boulevard, but what it represents is not something to be overlooked. In the summer of 1948, gay activist Harry Hay clandestinely began a group called "Bachelors Anonymous" in a private residence of Silver Lake (at 2328 Cove Ave.). By 1950, the collective of men had become the Mattachine Society—America's first official gay organization. Mattachine inspired as a major force in the gay liberation movement, not only in Los Angeles, but throughout the country.
Erected in 1993, the Wall Las Memorias Project stands as an outdoor cultural landmark to honor all of those who have fallen victim to AIDS. The goal of the artistic project is to "engage the community in a conversation about [the] cultural silence, shame and stigma" about the disease. It was the first publicly funded AIDS monument in the country; the project also provides a broad range of prevention services to both gay and straight Los Angelenos. The monument is located at 3600 N. Mission Road, in Lincoln Park.
Founded in 1972, Beth Chayim Chadashim is a "reform" Jewish congregation and is the world’s first synagogue founded by, and with an outreach to, lesbians and gay men. Its name means the “House of New Life," which is also its mission—offering services, social gatherings and activism outlets for L.A.'s Jewish community, while encouraging its members to explore themselves, the world and their role in it.
It's the unofficial gay beach of Los Angeles, but one visit to Will Rogers State Beach will prove the sandy locale is officially fun in the sun. Also playfully known as "Ginger Rogers Beach," it's a place where hard bodies come to play volleyball, and mature men flock to get a tan; gays of all shapes and sizes have been welcome here since the 1950s. Summer weekdays offer the perfect place for some R&R, and weekends serve up a pumping beachside dance party.