Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Brandon Wolf: Houston's Archive Scene and How it Got to Where it is and What Could be Done

There is more to the story, and having lived in Houston for 37 years, I know most of it.     

Charles Botts started collecting gay books back in the 1970’s.  By 1980, his house was full.  He was a member of RMCC, and asked them if they would let him create a gay/religious library.  At the time, they were quite willing.  I remember that it lined the walls of the board room, at one community meeting I attended, I kept looking at all the books. It was vast.   

People started asking if they could give archival materials to him, and he said yes. He was the closest thing to an archives at the time.  He inherited a Texas gay archives from someone who gave it to the owner of Wilde N Stein Books.  When he went out of business, he asked if the archives could go to RMCC, and Charles said yes.  

Even as early as 1992, Charles knew things were getting too big, and wanted to get an independent location.  RMCC was looking for a new facility, but took ten years to find one, so he was never ‘forced’ to find a new home.  In 1995, he died of AIDS.

He left all the books and archives and $50,000 from the sale of his townhouse to ‘the RMCC library’.   Probate court said there was no legal entity with that name.  So everyone agreed to change the will by court order to RMCC, with the understanding that it was just for the purpose of getting the money to the library/archives.    

Charles’ brother gave the money to the church, and said he wouldn’t put restrictions on it, but did ask they include protecting the archives in their mission statement, which they promptly did.  He indicated later that it had been his wish that RMCC would take the money, and hire a development person to build a donor base and find a permanent home.  Instead, the church shut the archive office door and it became a closet — no one kept up with things at all.  

Then in 2000, they wanted to move to a new facility.  The board wrote Ralph Lasher who had been pastor when Charles was there, about the whole thing.  Lasher wrote back and explained what I just did. All the board wanted was to know they ‘owned’ the archives, and they used the $50,000 for the downpayment for the new church.  They gutted the shower room (they bought a church campus) and stuck everything in there.  No a/c, no humidity control, no nothing.

Enter Larry Crisione and two volunteers.  Larry put up shelving and got things arranged — bought a portable a/c so the volunteers could work during the week — and started indexing everything.  He did have porn, but it was a minor part of the collection and under tight control.

Things hummed along until 2008, when I happened to visit there for the first time, researching the history of the Dianas.  I heard they had a Gay Monopoly game that had a Diana card. Sure enough, they did.  They dug out their Diana material, which I wasn’t impressed with at first — old programs I already had, etc.   Then my jaw dropped.  They had the working folder dating back to 1964 of Charles Hebert, the driving force behind the Dianas. It ended in 1987, when he was murdered.  I was stunned, reading the scripts from 1964 – on.    

Larry began to explain how badly the church treated him.  For example, a donor gave him money for a wireless Internet connection.  When the church found out he was going to install it, they said he had to put it in their main office and they would wifi it to him.  It didn’t pierce the wall, but they didn’t care.   So I asked the Dianas to give Botts a donation to put in the Internet, direct wiring.    

I did another history — of Legacy Health Services — and once again, Larry and crew provided me with files of papers back to the very beginning: 1978.  I felt they needed money to grow, so got a volunteer lawyer to help them with a 501(c)(3).   GCAM had become impossible — 10 storage rooms and nothing indexed — so Botts was a treasure trove to me.   

Then at the beginning of 2011, Larry said the board was hinting they might have to start charging him rent.  I kept thinking about that $50,000 they just appropriated for the downpayment.  In the summer of 2011, I got the news that the church was selling the archive. I couldn’t believe it. The letter of the law said the church owned it, but that was never the spirit of the law. So many people including me had donated to the archives believing it was a community archive. A group of five of us went to talk to the board.  They kept going on and on about how they wanted a ‘water ministry’ — showers for homeless.  When they had a priceless archive in their facility and never gave jack about it.    

One day, he came in and the archive was re-keyed.  After a couple months, they let the volunteers in, but Larry couldn’t be there without a staff member from the church present.  

They were shopping around to universities, but having no luck.  One night the board president came a meeting of ARCH (an umbrella group that all GLBT preservation efforts belong to). She was eaten alive, and never came back.  But Judy Reeves, of GCAM, was taking all this in.  

It was a stalemate until the summer of 2012.  Suddenly, an announcement is made that the archive had been sold to an anonymous buyer for an undisclosed amount of money, and that Judy Reeves would be the official representative. She predicted a research library would be open in early 2013.  Instead, it just disappeared, and I know of at least six researchers who tried to access the collection and were told no.   

It was pretty obvious to me that Judy had done a backroom deal with the board.  Jimmy Carper was his bosom buddy, and her rich lover had died and left Jimmy a house and money. I finally discovered he was the mystery buyer.    

The church had stipulations to whoever bought it: 1) retain it as a separate collection, 2) retain the name Botts, and 3) open it to public for research.    

But the old crew didn’t just walk away.  They started over with new donations of materials constantly coming in, and rented space over Grace Church.   

Judy send the crew a cease and desist order about the name, and they sort of told her to go to hell.     So now we have three archives.     

I’ve always seen a big difference — GCAM is massive but not indexed — Botts is small, but highly indexed.   

That folder of old Diana stuff went with the sale, so the Dianas stopped any further contributions to GCAM.  Even though they claim the Botts Research Library has nothing to do with them.  Although they did allow it to be stored in a facility that Jimmy was working on when he died — two apartments made into a large area for GCAM and Botts Research.  

I was so furious when the sale happened, I posted four things to Facebook which basically called the church, the pastor, and Judy Reeves thieves.  Also the lawyer who handled the sale.  He ended up suing me for a million dollars for slander.  I found a good attorney, who had him so scared he came begging.  He dropped the suit.  My attorney was just pissed that he was using the justice system to punish me for speaking out.

There was an uproar for a few days on Facebook, and that was it.  Short shelf life.    

So we went from two archives, to three.  And the church, in my estimation, were total thieves. They didn’t ‘own’ that collection – but they had the legal papers that said they did, and leveraged them to drain the archive, first of $50,000 and second of the selling price of community property.  Charles would be horrified if he knew what happened to his collection.    

After the lawsuit, I stopped barking.  Every ‘friend’ in the community I had deserted me. So I got bitter and thought fuck it.     

On the more positive side, this ad appeared in the February issue of OutSmart.  I don’t know any details except that the money will go into a trust.  Pride Houston will raise money, but have no intention of heading up the development.      

Just for the hell of it, I put together this Powerpoint.  Based simply on my blue-sky dreams of what a museum should be.   And hope that someday someone with great passion and the ability to develop will come forward and take it on.   I decided it was better to go for the gold, instead of a dinky storefront.   It may end up there, but I figure big donors will give to something professional before they will to a converted ramshackle old storefront somewhere.   The recent ‘banner project’ excited people about our history, so I thought this was a good time to toss an idea out there.  It at least gives people something to chew on. 


The Powerpoint is just my own independent thoughts, backed by no individual or organization.     Personally, I think the only way we will get a museum is to build one, and hopefully the archives will want to put their stuff there.  Sort of ‘our place, your material’.  It will take a skilled, seasoned development person to raise the kind of money needed for a museum.  And not just a museum — a museum designed with today’s world in mind — and also Houston’s location as a hurricane venue.   

And that’s the story of the archives.  None of what I wrote is personal opinion or hearsay. I have copies of legal documents and letters to back up every claim I’ve made.    


I still think RMCC deserves some sort of award for scrapping the bottom of the gutter. History isn’t for sale.   

4 comments:

Russell Wilson said...

Enter Larry Crisione and two volunteers. Larry put up shelving and got things arranged – bought a portable a/c so the volunteers could work during the week – and started indexing everything. He did have porn, but it was a minor part of the collection and under tight control.

Larry spent a lot of his own money on the restoration effort. Acid free filing was the biggest expense. Larry also set up card table educational presentations.

But I will say that the collection I saw was 35% porn. Hard porn. And the current volunteer work was classifying the porn into categories.

It is tragic, the whole thing. Larry was providing a great service. But then it all comes down to the will. Had it be written better, the data might still be available. But would it have had Larry’s preservation efforts?

Churches are notorious cheats, like most non for profit groups. For instance, forty years ago someone left all the land from 45 to grogans mill, along the north side of sawdust to the local methodist church. It took the national church thirty years to strip the local church of all of its income from these properties. Then they forced them to sell the church and move.

Beware of leaving things to organizations.
For instance, Boy Scout camps work the same way.

Thank you Brandon for that valuable history lesson.

Brandon Wolf said...

Thank you Russell, for your comments and your interest.

I think that perhaps when you saw the collection, it may have been when Larry made a personal purchase of a ‘motherlode’ of porn from some source. And for some reason, had it delivered to the archive. But I’m pretty sure he took all that home.

Starting in 2008, I brought several people to the archive, who I hoped could and would be influential in helping it. The archive I saw couldn’t possibly have been 35% porn. At best, maybe 5%. There were all the bookshelves of books, an activist archive room with 100+ ‘file storage boxes’ of papers, boxes of gay publications like TWT and the Voice, etc. Larry told me at one point the porn that was there, was way back behind the TWT’s etc. I think he could store boxes three deep, and they were well hidden.

I definitely agree with you about leaving things to organizations. I’m very skeptical now.

This past week, I looked for and found the different documents that were collected when the fight with the church started after they announced the sale.

If you and/or Billy have a few minutes to review them and offer your more objective opinions, they would be welcomed. You’re far enough removed from it all, to be more objective. I will send them in separate emails later today. There will probably be five or six – they are the pivotal documents, in my mind.

Thanks,
Brandon

Russell Wilson said...

Hello Brandon,

No when I visited the archive, several times, the porn was in the back room of the archive. I was told it was there because the door could be locked. The church was very concerned that a minor might see the porn, so they insisted that it be kept in the back room. Also, Larry was very excited about categorizing the porn.

At the time, I was talking to Larry about making a donation. He said the donation would be used for acid free filing systems, many of which he purchased with his own money.

I also inquired about getting a friend of mine to help out with the archive. He was gay and in town caring after his ailing parents. I figured that he could meet some new friends and help out at the same time. (Since I am straight, I didn’t know many gays in the Houston area.)

Larry stated that the archive needed help sorting and categorizing the porn. I still tried to get them together for lunch, but my buddy Tom changed his mind after talking with Larry.

So let me confirm this for you. During the last year to two years of the archives existence;

1) The archive was 35% porn.

2) Volunteer work was being used to sort porn into categories

3) The church was concerned about minors seeing the porn.

None of this bothered me. Also, I was shocked to hear from Larry about the demise of the archive. However, when it occurred my first thought was the porn factored into the church decision.

That does not mean that the porn had anything to do with it. My statement about the amount of porn stands.

Billy Glover said...

The only porn ONE/HIC had was a small effort to show how it changed over the years. From ou view, the archives and libraries of the movement wanted to document for history how it began and who was in it and a timeline. That is helped by at least sample copies of organizations' newsletters, more than the public books, most of which were worthless-such as Sixth Man, etc. and which were in most major public libraries anyway.

For instance, what porn? We had no need for hetero porn. And nudity magazines, for instance, were not "gay." So we had no worry, and as far as I know neither do professional librarians-which means it is in libraries so no children would be able to see it anyway.

I did not consider early "porn" such as Grecian Guild or Physique Pictorial to be "porn." The first "movement" effort was, I assume, Drum. The personal/meeting ads in Advocate would not be a problem, but were to ONE readers, who would have canceled their subscriptions if we had them. (But then it might have helped boost newsstand sales. BUT we did not want to hear later that someone had been harmed by someone they met through ads in the magazine.)

The one discussion I ever had with the issue for our collection was-and I do not remember who else was there-when John O'Brien was explaining the plans for 909 and that if porn-remember, Dorr got major support from Hal Call, whose money came from porn and I assume had material he could donate-became a worry (for USC) the plan was to buy the lot next door and build a separate building to house it. At the time I think he wa a paid Executive Director or something, but I am not sure other members knew he said this. I never heard any more. I think Stuart Timmons was alslo an ED at ONE Archives for a time. And I wonder if the Lesbian Collection directors and other people knew of the issue?