An early twentieth-century song entitled ‘The Greenwich Village Epic’ declares: ‘Fairyland’s not far from Washington Square.’ By this time, park police had arrested men for having sex with male partners multiple times in Washington Square Park, as they had in Central Park, Battery Park, Tomkins Square Park, and seemingly just about every other park in the city in the early twentieth century. Meanwhile, the Bowery was dotted with bars, beer gardens, and resorts that catered to men interested in men by the late nineteenth century, and Bleecker Street and was already a hotspot for ‘homosexual’ activities.
Mills House No. 1 today.
Mills House No. 1 was built at 156 Bleecker Street in 1896, by the philanthropist Darius O. Mills. It was the first of two massive houses meant to provide a ‘moral’ alternative to rooming houses, hotels, etc., where freedom from supervision allowed unmarried men to take both women, and other men, back to their rooms, among other things. The same idea was taken up by the YMCA in building their dormitories, beginning in the same year. The idea, however, did not necessarily work in practice. By the First World War, New York’s YMCAs had established a reputation as centers of gay social and sexual life. The Mills Houses acquired a similar reputation: in March of 1920, at least three men quartered there were arrested on homosexual charges.
Either in an ironic coincidence, or in an attempt to reestablish morality in the area, Mills House No. 1 had been built directly across from ‘one of the most vile, vulgar resorts in the city’: the Slide.
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