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Silver Lake bar recognized for gay rights activism

Council declares the Black Cat, scene of '67 protests, a historic site.

November 08, 2008|Joanna Lin | Lin is a Times staff writer

The Black Cat, a Silver Lake bar that was home to the gay rights movement in Los Angeles, on Friday was named a historic-cultural monument.

The bar was the site of a police raid and subsequent protests in 1967, predating the Stonewall riots in New York City by two years.

The Los Angeles City Council's vote for historic status came four days after voters passed Proposition 8, which amends the state Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

"With Prop. 8 we took five steps backward, but the Black Cat gives us the perspective that we've taken 50 steps forward since 1967," Wes Joe, a Silver Lake resident who nominated the bar for monument status, said at Friday's council meeting in Van Nuys.

Council President Eric Garcetti, whose district includes the Black Cat, called the police raid and protests at the Black Cat "a watershed event that has gone unnoticed in American history."

In the first minutes of 1967, as patrons exchanged New Year's embraces and kisses, plainclothes Los Angeles Police Department officers beat and arrested 14 patrons and bartenders, as well as two other people from a nearby bar. Two of the men arrested for kissing another man that night were convicted under state law and registered as sex offenders. The men appealed, asserting the right of equal protection under the law, but the U.S. Supreme Court did not accept their case.

Two months after the raid, hundreds protested in front of the bar, carrying signs that read "Peace in Silver Lake," "No More Abuse of Our Rights and Dignity" and "Abolish Arbitrary Arrests."

Today, the bar at Sunset Junction is known as Le Barcito, a small stucco building with a purple facade that still bears the original sign of a black and white smiling cat. On Saturday, the neighborhood will again hold gay rights protests -- this time to show opposition to Proposition 8. No one answered the telephone at Le Barcito on Friday afternoon, but its website says the bar "continues to proudly serve the gay community."

Under the new designation, any proposed alterations to the building must be reviewed by the Cultural Heritage Commission, which has designated more than 930 sites and structures as historic-cultural monuments.

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joanna.lin@latimes.com

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