CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago’s Boystown was the first official gay village in the country, but soon, it might not be the only gay and lesbian neighborhood using the name.
Headlines appeared last week reporting that the city of West Hollywood outside of Los Angeles now wants to rename a stretch of its busy Santa Monica Boulevard between La Cienega and Robertson boulevards “Historic Boystown.”
In an essay called “Boystown for Everybody,” backers of the an official designation in West Hollywood acknowledge the Chicago Boystown, as the only official community using the name. But they say West Hollywood deserves a Boystown too.
“The popular district of Lakeview ‘Boystown’ is the first officially recognized gay village in the United States,” the Web site says. “The City of West Hollywood is 26 years old and we are asking our City Council to finally recognize our ‘Historic Boystown.’”
On the Web site, proponents point out that it was along Santa Monica Boulevard where activists marched in a candlelight vigil for hate-crime murder victim Matthew Shepard, protested when voters approved Proposition 8 and overturned same-sex marriage rights in California, and celebrate an annual West Hollywood Carnival that has become the biggest event in that city.
“Boystown is a moniker for diversity. Boystown is for Everybody!” the essay says.
But how does Chicago’s Boystown feel about all this?
On the Facebook page for Boystown – the one on Chicago’s Halsted Street, that is – a post said: “We’re flattered. But we’ll always remain the classic historic Boystown, a Chicago all-American original.”
The Chicago Tribune RedEye reported on the tale of two Boystowns last week. The publication said some neighbors were pleased that West Hollywood was recognizing its gay community, but quoted Scarlet Bar owner Paul D. Cannella as calling the West Hollywood use of the Boystown name “pretty weak and quite cheesy.”
In response, a column in LA Weekly was quick to point out that Los Angeles has a larger gay community than Chicago, and West Hollywood was called “the country’s closest approximation of a gay city” by the New York Times.
“Flattering, yes – but they really need to come up with their own name,” one reader wrote.
But another wrote, “Much like there are multiple Little Saigons, why can there not be more than one Boystown?”
The “Boystown” name has been in common usage in Chicago since about the mid-1990s, for the area bounded by the triangle created by Belmont Avenue, Halsted Street and Broadway.
But the history of the area as Chicago’s principal gay community goes back long before that. The Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade has been held in the area since its second year in 1971, and the first GLBT bar on the strip, Little Jim’s at 3501 N. Halsted St., has been in business since 1975.
In the 1970s and ’80s, the area was known as New Town, a moniker that reportedly came from the migration of gays and lesbians, young hipsters and counterculture groups from the Old Town neighborhood a couple of miles to the south.
In addition to encompassing the modern Boystown, New Town also extended south to include the area around Diversey Parkway, Clark Street and Broadway, which was itself once the epicenter of Chicago’s gay community and remains on the route of the Gay Pride Parade.
Boystown became the nation’s first official gay community in 1997. In a $3.2 million upgrade, rainbow-ringed art-deco pylons went up along Halsted Street the following year, along with two retro-futuristic towers at each end of the Halsted Street strip and planters adorned with iron trellises at the mouth of each east-west cross-street.
But the name “Boystown” does not appear on any of the streetscaping. The planters say “Lakeview,” while the towers and rainbow pylons read “Northalsted.” The City of Chicago does, however, have a page for Boystown on its official Web site.