The Stonewall Inn, the iconic gay dive bar that became a pivotal site for the LGBTQ+ rights movement following a 1969 police raid, has been reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community.

After undergoing significant changes over the past 55 years, despite its historic significance, 51 Christopher St., which housed the Stonewall’s largest bar and one of its dance floors, has seen numerous transformations, from a bagel shop to a clothing store, a nail salon, and even a vacant space. The notable STONEWALL INN sign was removed in 1989 before a new version of the bar reopened next door.

The community is now reclaiming this historic site, which will reopen as the Stonewall National Monument’s visitor centre on the anniversary of the 1969 rebellion that played a crucial role in reshaping LGBTQ+ life in the United States.


“Today, millions of people around the world celebrate Pride, and it all started in this building,” remarked Mark Segal, senior adviser for the visitor centre, while showing the site to guests. Segal, a gay activist and publisher, pointed out a bricked-up doorway discovered during construction, which once connected the two sections of the original Stonewall Inn. This was the very doorway, Segal, then an 18-year-old who had just moved to Greenwich Village, walked through on June 28, 1969.

The uprising that followed the police raid at the Stonewall Inn gave Segal and many others a newfound sense of purpose. “It told me we had to be out, loud and proud,” he recalled.

The visitor centre aims to delve deeper into the Stonewall story than the monument itself, which is currently centred around a small park with historical photographs. Managed by the National Park Service and the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Pride Live, the $3.2 million (NZD$5.2 million) centre was primarily funded by private donations, including $450,000 (NZD$735,000) from the park service’s charitable arm.

Diana Rodriguez, co-founder of the visitor centre, noted, “When people think of the National Park Service, they don’t usually think ‘queer and urban,’ so we’re a very different type of visitor centre.”

Unlike typical visitor centres with wildlife and geology plaques, this one features photographs of protests and a line marking where the original bar stood. A 1967 jukebox, loaded with era-appropriate songs, adds to the historic atmosphere.

Originally spanning two former horse stables at 51 and 53 Christopher St., the Stonewall Inn was a speakeasy-like venue with blacked-out windows, steel doors, and a doorman. It had no liquor license and was known for overpriced drinks. During the 1960s, LGBTQ+ social life in New York City was risky and repressed, with law enforcement often targeting expressions of LGBTQ+ identity.

Police frequently raided gay bars, with patrons typically leaving quietly to avoid arrest and potential exposure of their sexual orientation. However, patrons decided they had enough on the night of the Stonewall raid. “If the police can do this to us, anybody can do this to us,” Segal recalled thinking as he witnessed officers harshly handling customers.

Resistance against the police led to a full-scale riot, with patrons and a growing crowd outside throwing objects at the officers, who eventually retreated and barricaded themselves inside the bar. The crowd tried to break in, and riot police were called to disperse them, leading to continued protests over the following nights.

The Stonewall Rebellion began a more confrontational phase of LGBTQ+ rights activism, with new groups forming to push for anti-discrimination laws and public demonstrations. Annual Pride marches, which started on the first anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, became a tradition. The site, including both parts of the original Stonewall Inn, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2000 and the first U.S. national monument dedicated to LGBTQ+ history in 2016.

The current Stonewall Inn, reopened in the 1990s by co-owners Kurt Kelly and Stacy Lentz, serves as an unofficial welcome and education site for the monument. Despite challenges like pandemic shutdowns and rising costs, Lentz emphasises the importance of keeping the bar open. She also leads the Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative, a charity launched in 2017.

“The fight that started here on Christopher Street in 1969 is not done,” Lentz said.

For Segal, the events at Stonewall led to a lifetime of advocacy, including founding a gay youth group, disrupting TV shows for LGBTQ+ rights coverage, lobbying officials, and establishing the Philadelphia Gay News. He recently returned to 51 Christopher St. and danced to the Fifth Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” bringing back memories and tears.