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Charles Leslie and his life partner, the late Fritz Lohman, held their first exhibition of gay art in their SoHo loft the same month as the Stonewall riots, which mark their 50th Anniversary this summer. The couple were part of the original homesteaders who had settled in SoHo and fought Robert Moses’s plan to build a raceway through the Cast-Iron District. “We wanted 12 square blocks,” said Leslie, “and we ended up with 48 square blocks.”

Charles Leslie, founder of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, at the museum on Wooster Street in SoHo. Photo: Tom Stoelker.
Charles Leslie, founder of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, at the museum on Wooster Street in SoHo. Photo: Tom Stoelker.

When he moved to the area, it was called the South Village, if it was called anything. He remembers when City Planning Commission officials casually began using the term “SoHo,” instead of referring to the disputed neighborhood as the South Houston Industrial District. Many credit urban theorist Chester Rapkin with coining the term, a notion Leslie would hardly dispute. He remembers Rapkin standing in his living room, warning the activists that, though they’d won the preservation battle, the area was bound to undergo drastic changes. “‘You think you have a tiger by the tail, and you think you’re going to keep this fly in amber?” Leslie recalled Rapkin asking rhetorically.

He credited Friends of Cast Iron Architecture with making the most persuasive argument for preservation, positing that the prefabricated cast-iron building method represented a distinctly American contribution to international architecture. In addition, he credited gays. “Wherever artists, creative people, or gays live, change is inevitable,’” he said, riffing on something he recalled Rapkin saying. “Gay people have an interesting take on what’s beautiful. They can hit a walk-up tenement and find beauty. It’s a noticeable attribute wherever you go.”

Keep reading:

1. East Village, Manhattan: Ryan Haddad, Playwright and Performer at the Public Theater
> SoHo, Manhattan: Charles Leslie, Founder of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, at the Museum
3. Arthur Avenue, the Bronx: Michael Rella and Peter Servedio, Butchers at Peter’s Meat Market, the Arthur Avenue Retail Market
4. Garment District, Manhattan: Nicola Caito and Camille Tetard, Patternmakers, at their Atelier
5. Grand Concourse, the Bronx: Basma Sheea, Bengali-American Singer, at the Andrew Freeman Home
4. Garment District, Manhattan: Nicola Caito and Camille Tetard, Patternmakers, at their Atelier
6. Grand Concourse, the Bronx: Elissa Carmona, Lead Singer and Founder of the Marrisania Band Project, at the Bronx Museum of the Arts
7. Washington Heights, Manhattan: John Paul Enfante, Writer and Teacher, at the Hispanic Society
8. Midtown, Manhattan: Ness McKelvey at Home
9. St. George, Staten Island: Bain Coffman and Gui Junta, Restaurant Owners at Chang Noi Thai
10. Astoria, Queens: Admir Ekmestic, Former Soccer Player, at Mrki’s Place  ONLINE EXCLUSIVE
11. Astoria, Queens: Dee Flattery, Pub Owner at The Quay  ONLINE EXCLUSIVE
12. Tomkinsville, Staten Island: Veronica Arze, Café Owner at Duzer’s Local  ONLINE EXCLUSIVE

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