San Francisco

San Francisco Honors Early Lesbian Activists by Preventing Redevelopment of Their Home

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to landmark the longtime home of gay rights activists Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin.

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The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is celebrating a pair of pioneering civil rights activists the only way it knows how: by constricting housing development.

On Tuesday, the Board voted unanimously to landmark the longtime home of Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin in the city's Noe Valley neighborhood, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Lyon and Martin, a lesbian couple, were early gay rights advocates who co-founded the first lesbian rights organization in the country, the Daughters of Bilitis. The two were also the first same-sex couple to be married in California, back in 2004.

Martin died in 2008, and Lyon in 2020. Their home passed to a daughter of Martin's that year before being sold, alongside a vacant lot next door, to a new owner. After its sale, a grassroots group called the Friends of Lyon-Martin House sprang up to prevent the home's demolition, reports the Chronicle. Its landmark status means they can rest easy.

Owners of locally designated landmarks in San Francisco have to jump through a number of extra hoops should they wish to alter their property. That includes applying for a special Certificate of Appropriateness when making any exterior alternations, which is then reviewed by a number of government bodies including the Historic Preservation Commission, the Planning Department, and potentially the Planning Commission (which oversees the Planning Department).

This 13-page bulletin published by the San Francisco Planning Department outlines the process to apply for one of these Certificates of Appropriateness.

"The Lyon-Martin House is eligible for local designation as it is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of San Francisco history and with persons significant to San Francisco history," reads the ordinance passed by the Board of Supervisors earlier this week.

That ordinance lists out a number of specific features about the house that will have to be preserved or replaced in kind. That includes the location of the house as setback from the street, the massing and roof form at the front of the building, the physical and visual connection between the front façade of the house and the street, the large living room window, and the internal configuration of the living room and dining room/office area.

The point of these additional rules for landmarked properties is to prevent any major changes to them. Indeed, that's the whole point of historic preservation laws.

One can argue about whether these regulations are appropriate or necessary for the goal of protecting particularly important historic buildings. Arguments in favor of those regulations wouldn't apply to the Lyon-Martin house.

Neither the landmarking ordinance itself—or the actual appearance of the house—suggest there's anything particularly interesting or important about its appearance. Rather, the preservation of the building is being justified on the grounds that interesting and important things took place inside it.

The history the Board of Supervisors is trying to preserve, in other words, is incidental to the physical form they're legally protecting. The more homes that receive this protection in the city, the less history will be created there going forward.

Walling off individual buildings or even whole businesses from alteration or redevelopment prevents new generations of activists, artists, creators, and whoever else from moving into an area and making historically important contributions of their own.

Surely there are better ways to honor activists who tried to change the world around them than by turning their home into an effective museum.

The ordinance landmarking the Lyon-Martin house still requires a second vote by the Board next week, according to the Chronicle.

NEXT: Louisiana Can’t Prove This 74-Year-Old Inmate Took Drugs. They Revoked His Parole Anyway.

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  1. That house looks kinda rundown, maybe a fire hazard if you know what I mean.

    1. If you make it look like an electrical thing….

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    2. I would like to declare San Francisco a monument to stupidity, and all molecular activity should cease forthwith.

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      2. If there is a monument to stupidity in the US, It’s Washington DC.

    3. A 1500 watt vibrator that was left plugged in is suspected to have caused the electrical fire.

    4. Bulldoze it.

  2. In entirely related news, California’s population declined in 2020 for the first time in 120 (one hundred and twenty) years.

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/california-population-declines-for-first-time-in-more-than-a-century-11620416887?

    1. I blame the ‘rona.

    2. Reason naturally completely ignored the census redistribution as if it didn’t even happen.

    3. New York and California didn’t figure in the census when they were packing covid patients into nursing homes.

      It’s a fairly predictable behaviour for progressive leftists to not consider the obvious and predictable implications of their policies. Also, the bitching about said obvious and predictable consequences later. “It’s all over but the crying”.

  3. Censorship is now the default, presumed position by the journalist class.

    Want proof that our norms are shifting? Look no further than our headlines: “Amazon won’t stop selling book questioning transgender youth” noted a surprised New York Daily News on Tuesday. “Amazon overrules employees’ calls to stop selling book questioning mainstream treatment for transgender youth,” declared The Seattle Times. “Amazon Refuses to Stop Selling Anti-Trans Book,” reported an apparently disappointed Edge Media. And yesterday’s NBCNews.com: “Amazon will not remove book advocates say endangers transgender youth.”

    For every one of these publications, the baseline assumption is censorship. It is Amazon that “won’t stop selling,” or “overrules employees” or “refuses to stop selling” or “will not remove”—Amazon whose actions strike today’s journalists as significant and surprising. Amazon the intransigent bookseller, stubbornly insisting on continuing to sell books. Standing up to the calls for censorship is now what surprises us. The numberless calls for book banning no longer do.

    1. When will the book burnings start?

      1. What temp does paper burn at? 45something degrees… If only there was a book about book burning

        1. Shocked that it hasn’t beed forced into the metric system.

          1. Ferinheit 451
            Celcius 233
            Kelvin 506
            Rankine 910
            Reaumur 186

            Rankine 910 sounds pretty good

            1. Passable band name too

        2. You already have a first edition of the book you describe. You are the epitome of intolerance for anyone who doesn’t submit to your individual beliefs and opinions.

    2. As gender-affirmative psychologist, Diane Ehrensaft told the Seattle Times, “I’m not into book banning. But […]

    3. Not to be outdone, the Seattle Times reporter was apparently so eager to see my book banned, she had sent queries to Amazon asking why it was still selling my book. “Looks like Amazon stopped selling the book after I asked the company for comment on the story,” she wrote to me, before correcting herself: “I may have spoken too soon; the book still comes up with a search in an incognito window, so it may just be an issue with my account.”

      Oh, the disappointment of an unburned book. Better luck next time?

      1. Wait. They shadow banned a book when someone complained about it? But only for the complainer?

        That’s. Awesome.

    4. The book, written by Wall Street Journal opinion columnist Abigail Shrier and released in June, 2020, suggests that transgender youth “are not truly transgender, but rather just confused,” according to Dr. Jack Turban, an adolescent psychiatry fellow at Stanford University School of Medicine.

      So to find out what the book says, they asked… not the author.

    5. There’s something even odder about this than the specifics. More and more, mainstream journalism is simply becoming activism. They want to present these articles after they are straight reporting, but nothing could be further from the truth. There’s been a sea change in the people staffing newsrooms in the last decade.

  4. This is a very confused article. Are you opposed to this particular house being given special landmark status? Are you opposed to historic preservation in general? Or are you just bitching about San Francisco?

    1. It’s being opposed to the govement taking of land via the declaration of landmark status.

    2. All of the above.

    3. Seems pretty clear, but here is the crux of it:

      “One can argue about whether these regulations are appropriate or necessary for the goal of protecting particularly important historic buildings. Arguments in favor of those regulations wouldn’t apply to the Lyon-Martin house.

      Neither the landmarking ordinance itself—or the actual appearance of the house—suggest there’s anything particularly interesting or important about its appearance. Rather, the preservation of the building is being justified on the grounds that interesting and important things took place inside it.

      The history the Board of Supervisors is trying to preserve, in other words, is incidental to the physical form they’re legally protecting. The more homes that receive this protection in the city, the less history will be created there going forward.”

      1. The reason I sometimes like reason is to get away from dufus ideologues who are pretty much equally awful in their minor differences of being of the right or left mutations. Thanks for clearly stating the issue, which is a real tension between private and public that can never actually be resolved, but in this case is, IMHO a clear overstep.

        A more difficult case would be, say, Hewlett and Packard’s original garage. It’s both “just a garage” but also marks a sort of world-changing inflection towards high tech and is an iconic paradigm of the meme of garage startup. I would argue that the garage should be preserved. For items of such importance, the city/state should either buy it or give favorable tax treatment. But, such things must be done frugally by considered judgement. On the other hand, there is no way to make a simple algorithmic rule about it. If you buy some land and happen to find, say, important ancient archeological remains on that land. Yeah, ownership is an important principle but IMHO, not absolute.

        1. So, what if it is you and your person or property we’re talking about here?

        2. The HP one is also easy – if you consider it important enought to preserve, buy it and preserve it.

    4. This isn’t fucking confusing. You’re just an idiot.

      The house was sold by the heirs to other people. So, clearly, they didn’t value it all that much for ‘historic’ purposes.

      The new owners are now faced with the situation that other people, who have no ownership interest in the property, have decided that they should be hamstrung on doing any sort of improvements to it.

      San Francisco in particular is notorious for the use of these historical preservation initiatives by groups of NIMBY-ish assholes to prevent individuals from exercising their property rights. You could look up any number of articles on Reason to confirm this.

      You claim to be an individualist. Why do you think that a collective should be able to usurp the individual rights of the property owner?

    5. There are some things that should be a landmark. Let’s say, the Alamo. However, the sheer number of landmarks being created for the most petty of reasons both dilutes the value of history and stops people from living.

      My thoughts: if it’s not worth turning into a museum, it’s not important enough to protect as it is into perpetuity.

      1. And very little of the Alamo was preserved. There’s a walled garden – presumably some of the Texans used the walls as cover and a firing position, but it wasn’t particularly significant in accounts of the battle – and a row of shops that claim their back wall is from the Alamo. Everything else was torn down and built over before Texans began to think about preserving their history.

  5. What was the name of that book, Life After People, or Earth Abides, or something. That house looks like what the rest of our stuff will be someday.

    Eh it will be at the bottom of the ocean in a few million years, or up near Alaska, one of those.

    1. I do know there was a TV program called Life After People that graphically detailed what decay would insue over time if humans weren’t there to preserve their artifacts.

      I don’t know if they ever showed Washington, D.C. or State Capitols after people. That might prove a relaxing form of meditation. 🙂

      1. Re-watch Logan’s Run.

      2. I don’t know which of the show variants it was, but there was one on DC that was actually interesting. The short form is that many of the government’s stone structures would last for millennia. Since DC is naturally a swamp, much would be sucked under and preserved. They concluded that the aluminum peak of the Washington Monument, if it sinks and is preserved in the swamp, might become the longest lasting artifact of human civilization, possibly lasting tens of millions of years.

  6. Guessing every room had deep shag carpets.

    1. I thought the carpets were kept neatly trimmed.

      1. Neither of them looked at the carpets very much after the first few months of cohabitation.

  7. This is why we can’t have nice things.

  8. It’s also preventing REPAIRS to that home. It can be done but it takes an act of city hall to get the permission. Good luck on that one.

    1. And it’s the worst looking home on the block. It needs some repairs. but NOOOOOOOO.

  9. “After its sale, a grassroots group called the Friends of Lyon-Martin House sprang up to prevent the home’s demolition, reports the Chronicle.”

    But apparently didn’t feel enough like friends to try buying and preserving this landmark.

    1. They never do, they just want to tell others what to do.

      A reform that’s been suggested multiple times is that when someone other than the owner seeks to preserve a property they should have to put the fair market value of the property in an escrow, and if the petition if approved the property protected offer to purchase the property from the owner for the market value (prior to the landmark designation) If the owner accepts the preservation group becomes the owner and manage the property however they see fit. If the owner declines they escrow is refunded to the group that put it up

      1. But who gets to determine the fair market value and at what point in the process? Once these preservationist crackpots say you can’t do so much as bring properties up to code, there is almost no value to anyone except them.

        Adding the escrow is just another set of laws and regulations that these socialist busybodies love because they’re great at filing paperwork and finding minutiae to get their own way. Just buy the building and you can literally do whatever you want with it.

    2. What, and spend their own money? Why do that when you have government the bully to do it for you.

  10. In honor of gays, we decree: No renovation or redecorating!

  11. Surely there are better ways to honor activists who tried to change the world around them than by turning their home into an effective museum.

    “Oh, very well. We’ll preserve their automobile as well.”

  12. Rather, the preservation of the building is being justified on the grounds that interesting and important things took place inside it.

    Now is there any *Ahem!* video that could back up this claim? I’ll volunteer to do the research…:)

    Seriously, I salute these women for their efforts to fight for equal rights, but using a law restricting private property rights to stifle changes on a shambling mound zombie ghetto dwelling like this is no way to salute them!

    If this were any other building, at least some neighbors would be demanding it be condemned and bulldozed, especially if it harbored and attracted fire hazards, vermin, biohazards, crime, etc.!

    Do people still preserve history in books or other media? Now that would be a good idea!

    1. That’s a stock picture. It’s actually a 3-story townhome in a relatively nice looking section of the city. Google street view can help.

      1. I looked it up. That’s the house.

      2. https://www.google.com/maps/@37.7456208,-122.4345395,3a,60.5y,173.27h,97.51t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1svkOwLzSAYjggovyKn-dLPg!2e0!7i16384!8i8192?hl=en

        It’s mostly hidden by the overgrowth and the glare from the sun isn’t helping, but that’s the house from the photo above. 651 Duncan.

  13. What could be greater honor than a deteriorating slum that cannot be repaired?

    To quote the great philosopher Bob Dylan:
    “Well, strike another match
    Yeah, go start new, go start new
    ‘Cause it’s all over now, baby blue”

    1. “What could be greater honor than a deteriorating slum that cannot be repaired?”

      Easy: city fines for failing to maintain a historic landmark

  14. I wish I could be honoured for licking poon.
    “This is the hovel where ML bravely ate some pussy. What a trailblazer”.

  15. Perhaps a statue of them in their car. Future generations of unappreciative radicals can then burn the car and defaced said statue.

  16. Would have been nice if they’d done this bullshit before that poor sap had bought the property.

  17. I want my grandchildren to be able to walk by that house someday and be able to imagine the exact setting, down to the very carpet tacks, that cushioned a thousand finger blastings.

  18. Is the city promoting some righteous lesbian symbolism? Based on the photo, the house looks a bit shabby and unkempt, and at least in need of a trim to satisfy traditional users.

  19. One of the Painted Ladies it ain’t, and I’m being charitable here!

  20. It needs more Little Dutch Boy.

    1. Like the one that stuck his finger in the dyke?

      1. U got it.

  21. Is it common for lesbians in San Francisco to live in a bank shed?

    1. No. It’s a stock image. Use Google street view 651 Duncan Street, San Francisco

      1. Did you follow your own advice? Because its definitely the same house

        1. Everyone makes mistakes. Ben’s wrong this time, but he’s good people.

        2. Full disclosure: I’ve been mistaken before. In fact, I thought I was wrong once, and it turned out that I was mistaken . . .

  22. Editor,
    When you make articles about real homes, you need to stop using stock images of unrelated properties.

    The picture makes this look like a run-down shack in a rural area.

    Google Street View makes it clear that this lot (651 Duncan Street, San Francisco) is a 3-story townhome in a rather ritzy neighborhood. (I can’t see too much more since the house itself is behind a rather large amount of bushes and trees).

    It doesn’t change the conclusion of your article. However, it’s clear from the comments that multiple people think the stock photo is the real house. You have deceived people by accident. This isn’t the first time.

    1. I looked it up. That’s the house.

      https://www.google.com/maps/@37.7456208,-122.4345395,3a,60.5y,173.27h,97.51t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1svkOwLzSAYjggovyKn-dLPg!2e0!7i16384!8i8192?hl=en

      It’s mostly hidden by the overgrowth and the glare from the sun isn’t helping, but that’s the house from the photo above. 651 Duncan.

    2. https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/651-Duncan-St-San-Francisco-CA-94131/15182793_zpid/

      756 square feet and 1 bathroom. It’s a shack, and it sold for 2.25 million dollars in September.

      1. Now that it can’t be redeveloped into one of those 3 story houses like its neighbors, how much of that 2.25 million dollar value do you think it retains?

        1. Well, it’s San Fran, so, 1.5 million maybe? It’s smaller than the apartment I rent in St. Louis.

  23. They should preserve their dirty linens and unflushed toilets too for historical purposes.

  24. Finally! A story from Reason that’s not ‘too local’.

  25. A tribute to gash gobblers?

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