People celebrate near Boystown's Halsted Street pylons during the Pride Parade. (Tribune file photo)
There’s another Boystown gayborhood bubbling up, but not in Chicago. This one’s in West Hollywood, Calif., and earlier this month two city councilmen in that small city next to Los Angeles announced their support of officially recognizing a stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard as “Boystown,” a brand that has long been associated with Chicago’s Lakeview.
Behind the push is West Hollywood resident and businessman Larry Block, who announced his proposal during a city council public comment session in March. He wants the stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard between La Cienega Boulevard and La Peer Drive to be known as “Historic Boystown,” a name that is thought to be more inclusive of the lesbians and other minority groups who live there now, according to city councilman John Duran.
Some residents of this Boystown are less than enthused with the idea.
“Really? I think that’s pretty weak and quite cheesy on their part,” says Paul D. Cannella, 40, owner of Scarlet Bar and Taverna 750. “I’m very happy for them, and certainly encourage the intentions of designating this area to honor LGBT people, but naming it ‘Boystown’ or ‘Historic Boystown’ just seems so copycat. I read the article that it’s been called that for years, but rise up and get creative, don’t just rip off of Boystown Chicago.”
In 1998, Chicago designated its Boystown neighborhood with 22 rainbow-colored Art Deco pylons along a half mile of the North Halsted Street corridor. Later this year, The Legacy Project will install four bronze plaques onto each pylon memorializing the lives and work of notable LGBT individuals.
On Block’s website, in a section titled “Boystown for Everybody,” the entrepreneur offers a respectful nod to Chicago by stating, “There is one place in America where there is an official ‘Boystown’ — in Chicago, Illinois. The popular district of Lakeview ‘Boystown’ is the first officially recognized gay village in the U.S. The City of West Hollywood is 26 years old and we are asking our City Council to finally recognize our ‘Historic Boystown.’”
Tracy Baim, 48, the publisher and co-founder of the Windy City Times, doesn’t see the L.A. Boystown as a threat.
“I don’t think any one city can really claim [the Boystown] designation exclusively, so I don’t see it as an affront to Chicago,” Baim said. “Chicago will always have the first claim to having an official city-designated neighborhood recognizing the contributions of the LGBT community. But no one area of the city or suburbs is home to all LGBTs or all current LGBT businesses, just as Greek Town is not home to all Greeks and Greek businesses.”
She also said she’s interested to see if Boys Town, the home for disadvantaged children in Omaha, Neb., will fight West Hollywood’s designation “as they did for our column of the same name in the early 1990s.”
Even as gayborhoods across the country struggle to maintain cultural relevance in the face of gentrification, several gay enclaves continue to thrive, including the Castro (San Francisco), the South End (Boston) and Chelsea (New York City), to name a few. Chicago’s Boystown — home to the Center on Halsted, the Gay Pride Parade and Northalsted Market Days — is clearly a LGBT mecca, and yet gay and lesbian Chicagoans shop, walk their dogs, eat sushi and party in virtually every neighborhood in the city.
In an interview with the West Hollywood Patch, Block acknowledged gentrification and an “increasing straight presence” in West Hollywood as a determining factor for proposing the ‘Historic Boystown’ designation.
“I think it’s great that a city is actually recognizing the LGBT community in this way,” says Jeff Rieck, 40, a resident of Chicago for 10 years. “Imitation is the best form of flattery.”