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A Passion to Preserve

Gay Men as Keepers of Culture

Will Fellows

Publication Year: 2005

From large cities to rural communities, gay men have long been impassioned pioneers as keepers of culture: rescuing and restoring decrepit buildings, revitalizing blighted neighborhoods, saving artifacts and documents of historical significance. A Passion to Preserve explores this authentic and complex dimension of gay men’s lives by profiling early and contemporary preservationists from throughout the United States, highlighting contributions to the larger culture that gays are exceptionally inclined to make.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

IT MAY SEEM UNLIKELY that a book about gay men as keepers of culture would be inspired by a book about gays growing up among cows and corn fields, but that’s what happened. In creating my first book, Farm Boys, I immersed myself in the life stories of gay men who grew up in farm families. ...

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Charlotte and Me: Preservation-Minded from Childhood

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pp. 3-12

EXPLORING GAY MEN’S SENSIBILITIES through the lens of their culture-keeping tendencies became increasingly compelling the more I got into it, the more I paid attention to things that I had never made much note of, the more I began to remember. ...

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In Search of Gay Preservationists

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pp. 13-24

GAY RIGHTS PIONEER HARRY HAY observed that history knows much about gay men that it doesn’t know it knows.1 There are many reasons for this. In some cases someone who was in fact gay is not known to have been gay. Or he is known or believed but not generally acknowledged to have been gay. ...

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What These Gay Men’s Lives Reveal

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pp. 25-36

AFTER SCRUTINIZING THE LIVES of scores of preservation-minded gay men, past and present, I’ve identified what impress me as the most prominent elements of a rather consistent pattern: gender atypicality, domophilia, romanticism, aestheticism, and connection- and continuity-mindedness. ...

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Saving Old New England

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pp. 37-43

BECAUSE OF THE REGION’S EARLY SETTLEMENT by Europeans and because it was the first in the United States to experience the cultural upheaval of industrialization, New England is a good place to look for likely gay men as pioneering keepers of culture. ...

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Mark Doty

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pp. 44-49

I HAVE AN OLD SILVERPLATE PITCHER, a sturdy and serviceable thing made for use in a hotel, or a boardinghouse, or on a train. Simple, shapely. It sits now in the center of a painted blue round table, beside a white tureen holding a small shell-pink begonia from the A&P, the flowers clenched, a little reluctant to open indoors, ...

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Don Leavitt

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pp. 50-52

In 1998 an Associated Press article titled “Showcase of the Shakers Reborn” announced the restoration of the Shakers’ Great Stone Dwelling in Enfield, New Hampshire. A photograph showed the six-story granite structure, which was completed in 1841, the centerpiece of a community ...

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Mark Sammons

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pp. 53-56

BY THE AGE OF NINE OR TEN, kids have seen enough birthdays and Christmases go by to begin to develop a sense of the passage of time, a sense of history. When I was that age, my parents moved us from Schenectady, New York, to the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. ...

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Design-Minded in the Mid-Atlantic States

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pp. 57-60

THE MID-ATLANTIC REGION IS HOME to the enterprise typically deemed the origin of the historic preservation movement in the United States: the rescue of George Washington’s estate by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union in the 1850s. ...

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Ken Lustbader

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pp. 61-64

AS A CHILD I HAD A GREAT INTEREST in buildings and architecture, sketching floor plans of three-bedroom suburban houses and building Lego and balsa models of houses on Saturday afternoons. I was fascinated by our relatives’ incredible old homes in Brooklyn and was unaware of any similar buildings in my neighborhood. ...

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James Nocito

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pp. 65-68

AN ECCENTRIC FRIEND THAT I MET at a summer arts program in high school gave me my first found photo. I really liked her, but she was a bit of an outsider and very neurotic: she read Camus, was obsessed with Sylvia Plath, and wore her grandmother’s sweaters. ...

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Dwight Young

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pp. 69-72

I’VE ALWAYS BEEN A HISTORY BUFF. My grandmother was a great saver of family photographs, and I enjoyed looking at them with her. I often asked my grandparents to tell me about their own lives, what they remembered and what they had experienced. ...

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Greg Kinsman

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pp. 73-78

I GREW UP ON SEVERAL FARMS in northeast Ohio in the 1950s and 1960s. My father would buy a farm and make improvements to it, then sell it and move on to another farm. In addition to the farmhouses in which we lived, my parents would buy, fix up, and sell other houses, some from the mid- to late-1800s. ...

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To the Rescue in the Atlantic South

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pp. 79-83

PROBABLY THE MOST FAMOUS GAY PRESERVATIONIST in America is Georgia native Jim Williams. A central figure in John Berendt’s best-selling book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Williams died in 1990. Born sixty years earlier in a small town near Macon, young Williams was smitten by old-fashioned things. ...

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Allan Gurganus

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pp. 84-89

MY FIRST IDEA FOR WRITING Preservation News came from hearing about a tragedy in Washington, D.C. Many staff members at the National Trust for Historic Preservation were dying of AIDS. One after another, it seemed a whole chain of the coming young men in the field went down to the disease in its early years. ...

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Myrick Howard

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pp. 90-94

The Society for the Salvation of Historic North Carolina Architecture in Allan Gurganus’s novella Preservation News is a take-off on the reallife organization known as Preservation North Carolina (PNC). Myrick Howard has been director of the group since 1978, when he was twenty-five. ...

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John Anders

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pp. 95-98

I COME FROM AN AREA OF THE COUNTRY rich in history and the preserving instinct. New Bern, with its colonial governor’s palace, and Beaufort, a three-hundred-year-old sea captain’s town, surround me with antique buildings and their abiding mystery. Some time ago I got involved in trying to save an old house ...

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Robert Barker

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pp. 99-102

MOTHER SAID I BROUGHT HOME my first treasure when I was seven, a Christmas tree somebody had thrown out, and I never stopped after that. I started collecting antique furniture at a very early age, bringing home things people put out for trash pickup. And the people whose lawns I cut would have stuff in their attic or garage ...

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Cranford Sutton

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pp. 103-106

WILLACOOCHEE DATES FROM 1889. When I was growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, it was pretty well self-contained, the center of the universe. We had two train lines running through here, north-south, east-west, twenty-four hours a day. Our downtown storefronts were the old-fashioned brick fronts with plate-glass windows ...

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Domophiles Out West

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pp. 107-110

SEATTLE IS HOME to one of the largest concentrations of gay men in North America, so it’s no surprise that the city has achieved an outstanding record in architectural preservation and urban conservation in recent decades. Larry Kreisman has played a large role in this accomplishment. ...

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Jay Yost

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pp. 111-115

WHEN I WAS GROWING UP, our family’s idea of fun was getting in the car and driving somewhere. Most of our forays consisted of touring our hometown and the rest of Webster County, discussing who lived in a certain house when and what connections we had to those folks on one side of our family or the other. ...

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Ken Miller

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pp. 116-120

ONE DAY IN THE MID-1970s, traveling from downtown back to my mother’s place, where I was living at the time, I drove through a section of Denver that I had never experienced. When I was growing up, there were areas of the city you didn’t go to, streets you didn’t cross. I never understood why; that was just the way it was. ...

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Gilbert Millikan and David Richards

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pp. 121-124

DAVID AND I HAVE KNOWN EACH OTHER since we were kids. My aunt was married to David’s great-uncle, which makes us shirttail relatives. We were both born and raised in Missoula; I was born in 1936, David in 1926. My roots in this area go back to around 1899, 1900, when my mother’s parents came here ...

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Richard Jost and Charles Fuchs

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pp. 125-130

RICHARD JOST: CHARLIE AND I have always lived in older homes. Indeed, we both feel more comfortable in older homes and would not consider living in anything contemporary. Our current house, built in 1907, still retains most of its original layout and feel. Our furnishings are mainly pieces that were handed down ...

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California Conservative

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pp. 131-137

LIKE MANY GAYS WHO CAME OF AGE in the 1950s and 1960s, Roy Little and Jim Raidl left their hometowns and gravitated to San Francisco. They met in 1971 at a gay bar in a part of the city that was just beginning to go gay. Many rundown Victorian houses in that area were becoming available, cheap, as blue-collar residents ...

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Richard Reutlinger

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pp. 138-146

MY GREAT-GRANDPARENTS WERE PIONEERS in Nebraska, where they helped found the little town of Fullerton. When I was young, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, my mother’s parents, and was fascinated by the stories they would tell me about pioneer life. When I was about ten, my dad built a cabin at a lake ...

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Gerry Takano

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pp. 147-149

A LOT OF GAY MEN REALLY DO have a sense of good design, a good aesthetic sense. Whether or not it’s politically correct, I believe that stereotype is the truth. There are major differences between gay men and straight men, very different ways of living in and viewing the world. Seeing the potential of old buildings ...

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Jeffrey Samudio

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pp. 150-155

I GREW UP in the historic northeast L.A. railcar suburbs of Mount Washington, Eagle Rock, and Highland Park. These communities were settled mostly by midwesterners, especially Presbyterians from Indiana, Ohio, and Iowa. So there was a heavy influence of midwestern traditions, values, and building types in the area. ...

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Jim Wilke

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pp. 156-160

WHEN I WAS A TEENAGER I collected old phonographs. It was a very curatorial thing: I had one, then I wanted to get another kind, then I wanted to get a different type, and then I wanted to get the same kind but by a different manufacturer. My big collection of records started when I got my grandmother’s record collection. ...

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Generations of Gentlemen Keep Cooksville, Wisconsin

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pp. 161-173

JUST AS MANY U.S. CITIES are subject to gay men’s restorative ministrations, so too are many much smaller settlements throughout the country. One such place is the unincorporated village of Cooksville, Wisconsin, a quiet rural crossroads community of fewer than one hundred people near Madison, the state capital. ...

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William Wartmann

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pp. 174-181

I WAS RAISED in an immigrant neighborhood in Chicago, a slum. At the age of eleven I slept with a revolver under my pillow. People were violently attacked on the streets, mugged and raped occasionally, and there was always a sense of fear. I remember at eleven years of age listening to the Metropolitan Opera ...

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Al Garland

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pp. 182-185

AT AN EARLY AGE I had an appreciation for old things. We were poor, but my mother had a china cabinet with pieces of ruby red etched glass, hallowed treasure. I remember the great tragedy when one of my sisters broke a hurricane lamp. You’d have thought the world had come to an end. ...

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Larry Reed

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pp. 186-190

TWO PASSIONS OF MINE, theater and history, have been intertwined in my life for a long time. In 1971 I was completing graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, writing a dissertation on how American playwrights have made dramatic use of American history. Meeting Michael Saternus at the Pirate Ship, a gay bar in Madison, ...

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Singular Preservationists in the Midwest

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pp. 191-203

IT’S NOT UNCOMMON for those with a fervent drive to collect, restore, and preserve old things to see their passion as something of a disorder. Commenting on the serial house restorations in which he continues to immerse himself, a gay interior designer in Indiana asks, “Is this a hobby or a disease?” ...

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Dana Duppler

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pp. 204-210

A SENSE OF INTERCONNECTEDNESS AND COMMUNITY is strong with me, and I’ve always had an interest in history: how my community developed, where the settlers came from. I’m three-quarters German, one-quarter French, and I traced my family back to the settlement period. ...

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Joe Johnson and Ron Markwell

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pp. 211-213

In 1885 a twenty-three-room cream-colored brick mansion was built on the main street of Delavan, Wisconsin, for a wealthy farmer. Milwaukee’s leading architect of that era designed the showplace in the Queen Anne style with Eastlake details. With its opulent exterior painted in greens, reds, and creams, ...

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Robert Seger

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pp. 214-216

MY MOTHER SAYS the very first word I could read was “Sears,” because I just loved looking at the pictures in the Sears catalog before I learned to read. I was helping my mother do the laundry by the time I was four. We had a 1962 bottom-of-the-line Kenmore washer that my dad bought my mom when I was born. ...

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Cherishing Old New Orleans and Louisiana

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pp. 217-229

IT’S NO MERE COINCIDENCE that the city with the oldest gay bar in the country is exceptionally rich in well-preserved historic architecture. The bar, Café Lafitte in Exile, once occupied the Bourbon Street building that was the blacksmith shop of the pirate Jean Lafitte. New Orleans, especially its French Quarter, ...

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Curt Greska

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pp. 230-234

I HAD KIND OF A CRAZY CHILDHOOD, all tied up in old buildings and ghosts and a sense of place. One night my dad sent me to the place where the cows danced when the full moon came out. We went to this big field and saw the cows looking up at the moon and kind of swaying. All throughout my childhood ...

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Lloyd Sensat

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pp. 235-238

I’VE ALWAYS HAD this fascination and obsession with old buildings. New Orleans to me was the epitome of the place to live in Louisiana, particularly the French Quarter. I was born in 1944 and grew up in Crowley, which is in south Louisiana, Cajun country. Of course, I loved New Orleans because of the freedom ...

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Randy Plaisance

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pp. 239-242

MY FATHER’S FAMILY is from Nova Scotia, originally from France. During the English occupation of Canada in the 1700s, they went down the Mississippi to the other French territory, Louisiana, and settled on Bayou Lafourche down toward the Gulf. My mother’s family settled on Bayou Lafourche as well, ...

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Toward a Larger View of Gay Men

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pp. 243-258

THE PRESERVATION-ORIENTED gay men profiled in the preceding chapters exemplify a cluster of interrelated traits: gender-atypicality, domophilia, romanticism, aestheticism, and connection- and continuity-mindedness. This chapter examines these traits in a larger context, historically and culturally, ...

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pp. 259-264

"IT IS WOMEN who have preserved and urged on civilization,” declared Alice Van Leer Carrick in one of her chatty little books for those enchanted with old-fashioned things.1 “I’m curious,” a straight woman friend inquired when I was beginning my research for this book. ...

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pp. 265-266

I AM GRATEFUL to every gay man who collaborated by telling me about his own culture-keeping proclivities. Though I’ve been unable to include them all in this book, each has contributed to the depth and richness of the composite portrait and thus to a larger understanding of the phenomenon. ...


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pp. 267-282


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pp. 283-288

E-ISBN-13: 9780299196837
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299196806

Publication Year: 2005