In front of a hilltop cottage at the very southern rim of Noe Valley are the initials “P.L.” and “D.M.” scratched into the cement. Until Tuesday, the letters carved into the sidewalk were the only indication that the low-slung wooden house behind them once belonged to the late lesbian activists Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, who became the first same-sex couple to be legally married in San Francisco in 2004, and 2008 when they had to do it all over again after a court ruling.
But that changed after the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to make the 651 Duncan St. home of “DelandPhil” — the portmanteau the couple is known by — a city landmark. After a second, ceremonial vote next week, the home is expected to become the first lesbian landmark in the western United States. And those initials in cement would be upgraded to a bronze plaque.
“The home they shared for more than half a century was the site of many community gatherings and has clear historic value that needs to be preserved and memorialized,” said Noe Valley Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who introduced the resolution and saw it through the Historic Preservation Commission. “I’m proud of this historic action to create the first local landmark focused on the history of the lesbian community.”
The simple one-bedroom house, terraced up the hillside, was purchased in 1955 by Martin and Lyon as a couple, which was a bold act itself. That same year, they co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian rights organization in the country.
The early meetings of the Daughters and all of the social activities were held at 651 Duncan, where members would climb a set of rickety wooden stairs, often harrowing in the howling winds, to meet in the living room with northern views across the cityscape.
“They provided a place for lesbians who were really, really, really in the closet to hang out and dance, have holiday potlucks so they wouldn’t have to go home and hang out with their homophobic relatives,” said Shayne Watson, a Mill Valley architectural historian who specializes in LGBTQ heritage conservation and was active in the movement to get the home landmarked. The Daughters started as a social support organizations but quickly transformed into activism and politics.
“There were other homophile organizations at the time, but they were mostly by and for men,” said Terry Beswick, executive director of the GLBT Historical Society. “The Daughters of Bilitis didn’t have an office space, so 651 was really ground zero for the lesbian rights movement at the time. It was a place where people could be safe and reveal their sexuality.”
Martin died in 2008 and Lyon in 2020, and the house was left to Martin’s daughter, Kendra, from a prior marriage before she came out. The property at 651 Duncan St. was sold in September 2020, and includes a second lot, 649 Duncan, which is vacant.
After the sale, a loose organization called the “Friends of Lyon-Martin House” was formed, in order to guard against demolition, with the GLBT Historical Society acting as fiscal sponsor.
The new owner, Meredith Jones McKeown, supports landmarking and protecting the cottage. But she opposes landmarking the vacant lot, and is going forward with plans to build a home there, said her architect, Yakuh Askew of Y.A. Studio.
Within six months, the Friends will put forth a proposal. According to Beswick, a sidewalk plaque is “a bare minimum.” Beswick and Watson both want to preserve the interior as a student residency, and public research facility and center for LGBTQ+ activism and history.
“No one wants to see a tour bus in front of the house,” said Watson, “but Phyllis and Del affected so many lives including my own, and I feel strongly that the house where they did it should stay in the community.”
The above comes from a May 5 story in the San Francisco Chronicle.