So what, exactly, is a national monument?
There’s big news out of New York City this week, as multiple sources report that the Stonewall Inn bar on Christopher Street in the West Village will likely become the country’s next national monument.
President Obama is expected to approve the designation as early as next month—a move that would coincide with Pride Month as well as New York City’s Gay Pride Parade and the 47th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, during which patrons of the bar fought back after a controversial police raid.
The Stonewall riots are widely considered the most important event that kicked off the gay rights movement, and the site would be the first national monument dedicated to the LGBT community. The bar was granted historical landmark status by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission last year.
News of the nod got us thinking about what a national monument is—and how a place or parcel of land receives the designation. According to The Wilderness Society, national monuments can be established by Congress, through legislation, or by the president, through the use of the Antiquities Act. Theodore Roosevelt created the act in 1906, and since then nearly every president has used it to protect historical, cultural, and natural icons.
Among the most famous national monuments are the Grand Canyon (which started as a national monument but in 1919 became a national park) and the Statue of Liberty. And this year President Obama has already added three new national monuments: the Mojave Trails National Monument, the Sand to Snow National Monument, and the Castle Mountains National Monument.
National monuments and national parks are among the most protected land in the country, and the designation means the site cannot be sold (unless it is disbanded, which almost never happens). In most cases, national monuments are managed by the National Parks Service. But because Stonewall is still a functioning bar, we’re guessing the government will work out some sort of management partnership with the current owners.
Interestingly, just because something (or somewhere) is designated a national monument doesn’t mean commerce and day-to-day goings-on have to stop. The Wilderness Society notes that “existing rights” include previously existing oil and gas leases, access to private property, valid mining claims, and rights of way for roads and utility infrastructure.
Of course, in the case of the Stonewall, this means that even after the new designation, the iconic site will be able to continue to operate as a bar, providing patrons with the opportunity to relive a little bit of history while ordering a mai tai or attending one of the weekly drag shows. Word on the street is that President Obama may also include nearby Christopher Park in the designation, effectively granting the entire area protected status.