Disappeared LGBT Sites: Oscar Wilde Bookshop and St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center
On June 23, 2015, The Stonewall Inn, the place where the modern lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights movement was born, was officially designated a city landmark, becoming the first landmark designated by New York City soleyor primarily based upon its significance to LGBT history (GVSHP proposed and led a year and a half long campaign for its designation). Yet, in light of this recent victory, there are still other LGBT sites in the village that are at risk, as well as sites that are no longer with us. Below we will focus on two sites that have disappeared from the Village: the Oscar Wilde Bookshop and St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center.
Oscar Wilde Bookshop was founded in 1967 as the first bookstore devoted to gay and lesbian literature and books. Originally located at 291 Mercer St., it moved in 1973 to Christopher and Gay St., a short distance from the Stonewall. Craig Rodwell, the original owner and founder of the bookstore, worked to stock his shelves with literature by gay and lesbian authors, refusing to stock any pornography despite having a limited selection of materials. The bookstore also became a meeting place for the LGBT community and served as the location for the organizing meetings of the first Pride Parade in the 1970s. Oscar Wilde Bookshop closed on March 29, 2009, a victim of declining sales caused by the financial crisis. Martin B. Duberman, an emeritus professor of history at Lehman College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, called the store “clearly pioneering,” and has remarked that “It demonstrated for the first time that it was possible to own a bookstore, however small, that catered to a gay public. At the same time, by its very existence, it helped to demonstrate that there was such a public, which in turn might well have had some influence on gay writers – suggesting that there was an outlet for that kind of work.”
St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center became an important fixture in NYC LGBT history following the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic. Founded in 1894 and named after St. Vincent de Paul, a seventeenth-century French priest, St. Vincent’s became NYC’s third oldest hospital. It was originally located on 11th St. between 7th Ave. and Greenwich. In the 1980’s, St. Vincent’s became one of the first institutions to respond to and treat HIV and AIDS, housing the first and largest AIDS ward on the east coast, and is often referred to as the “ground zero” of the epidemic. The hospital itself closed in 2010 due to financial pressures exacerbated by the global financial crisis. In 2011 the buildings were sold to Rudin Management Company and several completely demolished in 2013 to make way for a condo development, with others converted to residential use, though there are plans for a New York City AIDS Memorial to be erected at St. Vincent’s Hospital Park.