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Goodbye to 13A:
A Statement by Joan Nestle
with photos by Laura Collins

Joan ready to dance with Di

Joan Waving with Shorthaired Brunette

Joan Bringing Bowl through Doorway

Joan Cutting Cake with frosting that says 'Thank You & Love #13A'
Deb Edel with Archivette (very young infant)

SmilingWomanwithWineBottleCollins048xsm.jpg - 9.49 K

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Aussie Friend

Recorded on May 11, 2002, in the birthplace of the Lesbian Herstory Archives, 215 West 92nd Street, apartment 13A, New York, N.Y. Over 70 people stopped their talking and eating to listen...

Potlatch - Friend holding shoes and slippers from Joan's gift/apartment clearance tables

Three Women Smiling Georgia and Two Others Talking Women Sitting and Talking Three Women Sitting with Legs Crossed Woman Sitting Alone, Joan in Background
Karen and Two Others Zora Neale Hurston looks on as Deb talks with a friend ThreeWomenWearingEyeglassesCollins062xsm.jpg - 12.25 K Jo Bob and Joan
Joans Talk Four Women by Archway

Joan Cutting More Cake

Joan, Lisa, Flowers, Cake
Joan Pauses in Talk

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During Joan's talk - friends on the other side of the livingroom

During Joan's talk- Lisa Davis, Donna Allegra and others


I just want to say that this is turning out to be one of the most precious days of my life. Rather then tell each one of you what is happening, I thought I would bring you all together in this home one more time. For those of you who never attended an archives “At Home” when the archives was here, this is what it was like, just filled with wonderful energies, faces, histories and the sense that this was a vibrant communal space. 13A was never private property.

And I think that’s the point – I’m going to cry but it’s alright. I have been living in this apartment since 1974. When I first saw this magnificent space, I thought, this is too large just for me. So first it was my mother and my lover, Valerie, and then my lover Deborah Edel – not at the same time [laughter] – Deborah who had helped me get the apartment in the first place when I desperately needed a home large enough for all of us. This is back in 1974. And then I thought, “This space is big enough to house communal memory.” And it became the home of the Lesbian Herstory Archives. So from 1974 until 1992, thousands of people passed through this apartment, asking, “Excuse me, where’s the ladies’ room?” or “Do you know where the women who live here keep the seltzer?” [laughter] That’s how I knew the communal project was a success. Because nobody knew that the apartment belonged to anyone – it belonged to everyone.

I am saying this now because at this time, when money and ownership are so supreme, I want you to know different ways are possible. But now I have fallen to the real-estate greed that marks our times. Within the past two weeks, I have received an eviction notice from the Melohn family, property millionaires who seek more. My life, our life, at 13A is coming to an end.

I wanted this gathering so we could all say thank you to this urban home that sheltered so many, that was the home of lesbian culture and cultural workers for so many years. Some you may remember the “At Homes” we had here where we made sure no beginning filmmaker showed her films to an empty house – we always had ten friends on call to be her audience. Or the times Tee Corinne came in the ’70s and showed her slide show to hundreds of women – so many we had to have two showings, like a neighborhood movie theater – and all the other events where some of you met Audre Lorde or Dorothy Allison or JEB or whatever lesbian artist was in town. Some of you met your lovers here or launched your books here or watched new lesbian plays here or discussed burning issues here – here in this 1926-built building, “the ladies in 13A,” as we were known, started something new in the world: a place for public lesbian memory.

Because this apartment will sell for over a million dollars and I am a rent-stabilized tenant, the landlord was looking for ways to end this home. I had tried to do a legal sublet because my partner, who came to be with me through a year of breast cancer treatments – which my landlord knew about, or his agent I should say – had to go back to work in Australia and I so wanted to go with her. Everything should have been fine. I had a legal right to sublet for two years, but on a day when I had a radiation treatment – and those of you who have had this treatment know it can make you very tired – the agent called and I told him I had some questions about the 14-page form he had sent me to fill out. Before I could think, Mr. Hammer said, “I will be there on Tuesday morning.” “What a nice man,” I thought; “he knows I am ill and he is trying to make life easier for me.” Of course, my working-class mother was laughing in my ear – “Never let the landlord into the apartment,” she always said.

He walked in at the appointed time, I had the papers he had sent me spread out on the table, ready to get down to work, and the dapper, elderly man in a raincoat took one look and said, “I am not here to do your paperwork.” Then he asked for a cup of coffee and when I brought it out of the kitchen, he had a small camera in his hand and was taking snapshots of “violations,” as he called them, violations like kitchen cupboards and the archives air conditioner. I knew from that moment on, the property owners would not stop until they forced me out.

A dear friend, Naomi Replansky, gave me the name of a lawyer, a progressive man, and he told me that if I had thousands of dollars to fight, and at least a year to give to the battle, I would win but they would eventually hound me until I gave up. I did not have thousands for this struggle and as some of you know, I have had two major cancers in the last five years – I did not want to be separated from Di, my partner, my lover, for that length of time. So I chose my lesbian love over property rights.

When I had my last meeting with the lawyer who told me they would gut the apartment, I felt as if the body of 13A had been wounded – she was more than real-estate booty, she had been a warm, expansive home to so many and to so much – I made him listen to the history of the archives when all he wanted was for me to sign papers. As the apartment emptied, the wonder of her came back, the echoes of her once-again vacant rooms, the way I had seen her almost 30 years ago, and in these heart-wounding times when patriarchal, nationalistic and capitalistic might are smashing at the hopes of a just and equitable world, I want you to know that beneath the ugliness of Bush and his cohorts, the gifts of 13A will live.

Joan Holding Archivette (very young infant)

Text © 2002 Joan Nestle. Heartfelt thanks to Laura Collins for making her work available. Photos and recording of this event are now in the collection of the Lesbian Herstory Archives.

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