The home of the first same-sex couple to legally marry in California will become a historic landmark, San Francisco regulators ruled this week.
On Tuesday, city regulators unanimously voted in favor of honoring the home of Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, both lesbian activists and co-founders of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian rights organization in the United States.
The Board will re-examine the measure on May 11th before referring it to the City Mayor, London Breed, for approval. She plans to sign it, a mayor’s office spokeswoman said on Friday.
“Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin were true advocates of LGBTQ rights, and San Francisco was incredibly fortunate to have their leadership and activism,” Ms. Breed said in a statement.
Ms. Lyon and Ms. Martin bought the house along with the vacant land next to it in 1955 and moved together to the one-bedroom house on a hill in the Noe Valley neighborhood.
According to Donna J. Graves and Shayne E. Watson, two historians who authored a city planning document in 2015, the 800-square-foot house was an essential gathering place for Bilitis’ daughters and social events within the San Francisco lesbian community through its LGBTQ- History.
“Especially in the early years of lesbian organizing, people would meet in homes, get to know each other, and organize,” said Ms. Graves, a public historian.
Ms. Lyon and Ms. Martin also worked in their community, pushing for medical care for LGBTQ people and working with the Glide Memorial Church to help homeless LGBTQ youth.
Ms. Lyon and Ms. Martin edited the Daughters of Bilitis publication The Ladder and used their home as a workspace. In 1972 her book “Lesbian / Woman” was published, which has since been considered a fundamental text on lesbian feminism.
A house or building that receives the local landmark designation tends to have more weight than a house or building with national differences, Ms. Graves said.
“Local landmark status is the designation that offers the greatest protection, the teeth of all levels of the conservation designation, so to speak,” Ms. Graves said, noting that status affects potential changes and reviews. “The national register is in a way more honorable.”
After Ms. Lyon’s death last year, the house was left to Ms. Martin’s daughter Kendra, The San Francisco Chronicle reported, and it was eventually sold to a new owner. The current owner of the home has not returned a request for comment.
Ms. Watson, an architectural historian, said when she learned the house had been sold in September she wanted to do something to make sure it was historically preserved. (She met Ms. Lyon at an event in 2012 and later suggested that her house be nominated for the National Register of Historic Places. Ms. Lyon turned down the offer at the time, she said.)
Terry Beswick, the executive director of the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco, said Ms. Lyon and Ms. Martin were viewed as “cult figures” by activists like him and others who emerged in the 1980s and 1990s.
“I’m just really glad we’re getting this kind of permanent recognition from them,” he said.
Ms. Lyon and Ms. Martin met in a construction magazine in Seattle after Ms. Lyon moved to Washington State in 1949. They started dating and moved to an apartment in San Francisco together in 1953.
They first had a wedding in 2004 when then-mayor Gavin Newsom began issuing marriage permits to same-sex couples. However, their marriage was later voided based on a California Supreme Court ruling that annulled Mr. Newsom’s decision.
It was not until May 2008, when the State Court declared same-sex marriage legal, that Ms. Lyon and Ms. Martin were able to officially marry together for more than half a century. They were married in San Francisco City Hall in June of that year, and Mr. Newsom served again. Ms. Martin died in August 2008 at the age of 87 and Ms. Lyon in April 2020 at the age of 95.
Pending official Landmark status, Mr Beswick said he would like the couple’s home to become some sort of place to stay for graduate students.
“You really can’t overstate the impact they have had on so many causes,” Beswick said of Ms. Lyon and Ms. Martin.
He and some community members, including Ms. Watson, want the home to become a hub for lesbian history, women’s rights and social justice activism in the spirit of Ms. Lyon and Ms. Martin.
“I want this house to continue the work it did there from 1955 to 2020,” said Ms. Watson.