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. 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.