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Kathy San Antonio: The hidden lesbian history of a fallen landmark

Demolition is underway at 62-68 Green Street in Northampton, former home of the Green Street Cafe, on Tuesday, May 29, 2013.

Demolition is underway at 62-68 Green Street in Northampton, former home of the Green Street Cafe, on Tuesday, May 29, 2013. KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

NORTHAMPTON — Starting the last week in May, the Victorian with the “pink” stucco storefront at 66 Green St. was demolished, the area it occupies having “been identified for long-term expansion” by Smith College (full disclosure: my employer).

With its loss goes a piece of Northampton lesbian history. Originally a rooming house, this was home to a revolving cast of characters, mostly lesbians, for a few decades. When the artist Kaymarion Raymond started living there in the late 60s, she was responsible for keeping the rooms rented. As people left, she filled the vacancies with other lesbians, usually her friends. She gradually ceded some of that control so that women other than her friends could live there.

Unfortunately, by the time I arrived in 1977, few women there knew or cared about her role in making it a lesbian space, and it began to feel less like her home. She left the year after, using what remained of her clout to “bequeath” her room to me, in the tower that looked out towards the Smith playing fields. It was perfect for me.

Residents shared a small communal kitchen and two bathrooms. The house was essentially a collective in that we all shared housekeeping chores and participated in decisions, such as who would live there. Decisions were made by consensus and were often debated heatedly. The rent was reasonable. Many dykes came there because they weren’t able — for financial or other reasons — to live elsewhere. It was an institution in the Northampton lesbian community; living there was practically a rite of passage.

It’s worth noting that although there has been a strong lesbian presence in Northampton for decades, there wasn’t always the acceptance and ho-hum attitude there is today. Lesbians were often targeted, harassed and attacked; our property was vandalized. So 66 Green St. was a safe place for us.

On the other hand, it wasn’t exactly utopian. Living in our separate rooms made it difficult — and it wasn’t always a priority for everyone — to cultivate a sense of community among people who had little in common other than their sexual identities (although, at the time, that mattered a great deal to some of us).

Nevertheless, those of us who lived there will always share a history and a bond.

I was sad to see it go.

Kathy San Antonio lives in Holyoke.

Legacy Comments8

Sorry for the typos. That's what happens when emotions get the best of you.

chezdan9, it is not about the school system, it is about the BUDGET, the SPENDING, and the city's ADMINISTRATION. Shame on who?

And with it goes an entire City neighborhood by means of a deal crafted by two women, former mayor Mary Clare Higgins and outgoing president Carol Christ, sanctioned by city council -- housing and small, unique, successful mom-and-pop businesses never again to rise -- a beautiful and affordable downtown neighborhood erased by a municipality and its resident women's college. Having fed the college a commercial AND residential tax base, and while other businesses struggle and close and average families struggle every day to make ends meet, now the City wants yet another permanent tax override. Until the City can prove its fiscal responsibility and commitment to all its residents, please vote no on the proposed Proposition 2 ½ tax override.

This is the absolute WORST possible reason to vote No on June 25. This has NOTHING to do with our school system and our children other than the fact that they happen to be in the same city. PLEASE don't punish our teachers and our students because you are angry about a municipal issue. This is guilt by association and the hard-working teachers and their pupils don't deserve it. Rethink what you are advocating and realize the impact it will have on our schools. No school committee member, no teacher, and no student had a hand in this situation, but you are ready to make them pay full penance for it. Shame on you.

chezdan9, it is not about the school system, it is about the BUDGET, the SPENDING, and the city's ADMINISTRATION. Shame on who?

http://www.gazettenet.com/home/6945254-95/bus-contract-bids-mean-northampton-schools-must-make-more-cuts-to-balance-next-years For starters, scrap the police department SUVs, get rid or parking department vehicles, stop buying land, when you can't afford it and cry poverty, scrap the $40K rail trail ornament, use Comm-PASS for City procurement . . . www.comm-pass.com

I'm going to say it once again more clearly: you and your ilk are hellbent on making our school children pay the price for the city's budgetary issues. Shame on YOU. A "NO" vote directly impacts the quality of education in a system that has already lost 39 teachers over the past few years and has cut back to the bone. I too am concerned about a host of other spending issues in our town, but I'm not going to put that yoke on our youngest residents.

This building also housed the Green Street Cafe. The finest restaurant in Northampton in its heyday, the Cafe was owned for decades by a gay male couple. The demolition, now complete, cannot erase the storied lesbian and gay history the structure held. Too bad that Smith College took the building down. And for what? Empty space.

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