The Stonewall Inn

Why the Site of This Iconic Rebellion Should Be Part of the National Park System

The Stonewall Inn in 2006.

The Stonewall Inn in 2006. Photo by Dierdre/Wikimedia.

On a bus in Montgomery, a lone woman refused to be sent to the rear. In the dry desert east of Yosemite lie the foundations of an internment camp where thousands of Americans were imprisoned simply because of their ancestry. In a small, drab bar on Christopher Street in New York City, a handful of young men refused to be harassed by the police. These sites were all turning points in American history. They may not be as beautiful as the Tetons, or have the cachet of Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, but they are each, in their own way, as important in our nation’s unfolding history.

The Stonewall Inn after the rebellion in 1969

The Stonewall Inn, 1969. Photo © Diana Davies/The New York Public Library.

Originally built as stables in the 1840s, the small two-story building had multiple lives until it was opened as the Stonewall Inn in 1967. Soon it was the largest gay establishment in New York City, if not the nation. Frequently the target of harassing police raids, patrons erupted in rebellion on a hot June night in 1969. Dozens of gay youths refused to be picked on anymore. Rallying hundreds more, they turned the tables, trapping a handful of police officers inside the bar.

Sadly, not long after the riot, the bar closed, and over the next few decades the building languished in various guises, including a shoe store. But in the ensuing decades, a more enlightened society, growing gay pride, and an increasing appreciation of its iconic value led the bar’s stature as a symbol to grow. In 2000, the building was included with Christopher Street as part of the area’s National Historic Landmark designation. In 2007, the building was renovated again and re-opened with its old name, the Stonewall Inn.

This unlikely site is more than worthy of being a national park. Stonewall Inn is the iconic anchor of a great arc of history that passes on through Harvey Milk, the proliferation of gay rights marches and parades in 1970s, the Rainbow Coalition, the incredible losses of the AIDS epidemic, and the profound shift toward the acceptance of marriage equality today. Like the history behind many sites, from Custer’s Last Stand to Manzanar, you don’t have to agree or disagree to recognize it.

In this light, I urge you to email your Congressman and Senators (find them on our website) and ask that the Stonewall Inn be incorporated into our National Park System. For as then-Assistant Secretary of the Interior John Berry (now Director of the Office of Personnel Management) said in 2000, ”Let it forever be remembered that here—on this spot—men and women stood proud, they stood fast, so that we may be who we are, we may work where we will, live where we choose, and love whom our hearts desire.”

This story is reprinted from the most recent Northeast Regional Field Report. Read the rest of the issue on NPCA’s website.

About the Author

Alex Brash is former senior director for NPCA's Northeast Region

  • G.R.

    Why would you ask us to contact our congress reps. to add Stonewall when we can’t take care of the parks we already have? I just got a ph call asking me to donate , the shortfall is in the millions! You can’t save everything.

  • Jennifer Errick

    While it is true the National Park System cannot preserve everything, NPCA believes that America’s national parks and historical sites should embody the diversity of America. Sites like these are touchstones of our shared culture, and telling the story of the struggle for civil and human rights is a critically important part of America’s history. National parks are also economic engines supporting tourism around the country–we believe small investments in historic sites like these pay great dividends to their surrounding communities.