|“A bronze sidewalk plaque just doesn’t cut it,” said architectural historian Shayne Watson when we spoke to her last year about the Lyon-Martin House, the San Francisco home inhabited for over five decades by Phyllis Lyon (1924–2020) and Del Martin (1921–2028). In 1955, Lyon and Martin co-founded the first lesbian civil and political rights organization in the United States, the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), much of whose activities they oversaw from their house in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood.|
Watson continued, “Just as Americans claim Independence Hall as a birthplace of American democracy, queer people throughout the world can claim the Lyon-Martin House as a place instrumental in the development and advancement of our fundamental rights—it’s part of our collective experience.”
That collective experience is now a three-dimensional one that anyone with an internet connection can enjoy. On March 22, the GLBT Historical Society, digital historic preservation firm CyArk, and the nonprofit historic preservation group Friends of the Lyon-Martin House unveiled a pathbreaking, 3-D virtual tour of the Lyon-Martin House. The virtual tour is available to the public and can be experienced on the society’s website at www.glbthistory.org/lyon-martin-house.
A City Landmark
The Lyon-Martin House is not simply a residence. Lyon and Martin purchased the house the same year that they and others co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis, and house quickly became the beating heart of the organization. They held meetings in its living room, planned events, edited DOB’s journal The Ladder, and built their lives together within its walls. Recognizing this, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously bestowed the status of San Francisco Landmark on the house on May 4, 2021. Friends of the Lyon-Martin House, a fiscally sponsored project of the GLBT Historical Society, is now working with the property owner, the city and other stakeholders to document the historic structure and plan for its long-term future.
CyArk’s virtual tour of the Lyon-Martin House is a groundbreaking evolution in digital historic preservation efforts, enabling far more members of the public to experience and learn about the Lyon-Martin House than would otherwise be possible. The house’s small size, limited occupancy and situation on a steep hill in a residential neighborhood present significant public access and accessibility challenges. The virtual tour eliminates all potential safety, accessibility and occupancy challenges while providing a seamless, three-dimensional experience for virtual visitors enriched by historic photographs, interviews and commentary.
CyArk created the 3D model for the tour using thousands of photographs and laser scans to accurately document the home as it exists today. The rendering additionally incorporates digital versions of several of Lyon and Martin’s possessions currently housed in the GLBT Historical Society’s archives to provide a sense of the interior when they lived there. The tour is organized into a total of 17 stations, taking in areas including the front yard, living room, second-floor landing and kitchen. At each station, visitors can use four keys on their keyboard to move in three dimensions and the right mouse button to rotate the camera 360 degrees.
Voices of Phyllis & Del
Each station is accompanied by historic commentary, reflections and interviews provided by LGBTQ historians, friends and family members of Phyllis and Del, including Marcia Gallo, associate professor of history at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas; Don Romesburg, professor of gender and women’s studies at Sonoma State University; and Kendra Mon, the daughter of Phyllis and Del. Finally, the tour incorporates the voices and reflections of Phyllis and Del Martin themselves, drawn from the extensive oral histories and interviews conducted prior to the deaths and held in the GLBT Historical Society’s archives.
The GLBT Historical Society, CyArk and Friends of the Lyon-Martin House are very pleased to make this tour available to you. As San Francisco District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who sponsored the historic landmark designation for the site and represents the Noe Valley neighborhood, remarked on March 22, “It’s one thing for the city to grant landmark status to a building, but it takes community-led efforts like this to make that history accessible and fresh, something that’s especially needed when it comes to queer history.”