Legendary LGBTQ Theatre Added to National Register of Historic Places

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Caffe Cino, pioneer of the Off-Off-Broadway New York City theatre movement, has been officially inducted to the National Register of Historic Places. Founded in 1958 by Joe Cino, an openly gay man passionate about fostering the development of gay playwrights and gay theatre, during a period of cultural intolerance. Representing gay characters, or even subject matter, in theatre was illegal in the 1950s, but Caffe Cino offered a home for the LGBTQ theatre community.

Caffe Cino opened as a local coffeehouse on Cornelia Street, with designated space for art exhibitions, but quickly transformed into a makeshift theatre venue with poetry readings and short performances. Lovingly referred to as “The Cino,” the venue was soon bursting with original, experimental theatre from unknown playrights (who later went on to be famous), including Doric Wilson, Robert Heide, Sam Shepard, and many more. Playwrights, actors and performers who launched their careers at The Cino went on to receive the industry’s top accolades, including Pulitzer Prizes and Tony Awards.

A glimpse of the Caffe Cino storefront during its height, May 1966. Photo by James D. Gossage. Courtesy of the New York Public Library, Billy Rose Theatre Division.

“We are delighted to see the Caffe Cino listed on the National Register of Historic Places, following our nomination,” said Amanda Davis, project manager and lead author of the nomination. “How fitting that this week we are celebrating what would have Joe Cino’s 86th birthday and we are able to honor his work and the legacy of the Caffe Cino this way. LGBT history is American history, and tragically it is too often lost due to a lack of focused efforts of documentation and education. The Project’s work to reverse that trend is immensely important, and the State and National Register listings are validation of LGBT history’s significance to all Americans.”

Visit https://www.nyclgbtsites.org for more information on NYC’s LGBT historic sites.

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