Judson Memorial Church

55 Washington Square S New York

NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project
Written By NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project

The first initiative to document historic and cultural sites associated with the LGBT community in New York City, illustrating the richness of the city's history and the community's influence on America.

Overview

Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square in the 1960s and ’70s was home to avant-garde arts groups, and a site for lesbian and gay political gatherings. With the emergence of AIDS in the 1980s, Judson became one of New York’s first compassionate churches.

History

Between 1957 and 1992 under the leadership of the Reverend Howard Moody, Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square had a particularly progressive activist congregation that welcomed all people. Moody’s Associate Minister Al Carmines (here from 1962 to 1981) led Judson in becoming a home to avant-garde arts groups, including the Judson Poets Theater, one of the earliest of the Off-Off-Broadway theater movement, and the Judson Dance Theater. One of the playwrights associated with Judson Poets Theater was María Irene Fornés.

“Al would get on that piano, and it would be magic. That church was sacred. What happened there was magic.” María Irene Fornés, playwright

Judson was also a site in the 1960s and ’70s for lesbian and gay political gatherings. In 1966, a Greenwich Village protest arose against the Lindsay administration’s “Operation New Broom,” which attempted to “clean up” the Washington Square area by raiding gay bars, restaurants, and bookstores, and by entrapping gay men. Chief Inspector of Police Sanford Garelick attended a community meeting at Judson on March 31, 1966, which was attended by a number of members of the Mattachine Society. Randy Wicker and Craig Rodwell confronted Garelick, who denied that the police had a policy of entrapment. However, an incident that same night at Julius’, and additional negative publicity, later forced the mayor to issue an order ending entrapment.

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With the emergence of AIDS in the 1980s, Judson became one of New York’s first compassionate churches, hosting an AIDS support group and conducting many memorial services. It was also one of the first churches to participate under its own banner in the annual Gay Pride March in the early 1970s, and has had several clergy who were openly gay.

Building Information

Architect or Builder: McKim, Mead & White Year Built: 1892

Sources

Chuck Stewart, Proud Heritage: People, Issues and Documents of the LGBT Experience (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2015). Daniel Hurewitz, Stepping Out: Nine Walks Through New York City’s Gay and Lesbian Past (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1997). David Carter, Stonewall: the Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004). “Howard Moody Obituary,” Judson Memorial Church, bit.ly/2gKEFeS. “Moment to Moment: with Maria Irene Fornes” by Michelle Memran, brooklynrail.org (Autumn 2002). [source of pull quote] Robert Simonson, “Al Carmines, Head of Judson Poets Theatre and Totem of Off-Off-Broadway Movement, Dies at 69,” Playbill, August 15, 2005, bit.ly/2fzyGoa.

Cover Photo

Christopher D. Brazee/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2016.

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