Cruising for Sex

Soldiers and Sailors Monument

Soldiers and Sailors Monument at Riverside Drive and 89th Street in Manhattan. Courtesy of nyc-architecture.com

"I have received acknowledgement of the reservation at the Sloane House for the week of the fourth, so I hope to set off a lot of fire crackers."––Tommy Adler to Leo Adams, June 10, 1949.[1]

 

During Leo Adams's second summer in New York City, he wrote the following cryptic passage in a letter to his friend Merle Macbain back in Chicago:

 

Dear Boy,

The days have been hot, and I am chock full of ennui. Everything else must be too, for I called it a day and it refused to answer back. Yesterday there was a strike at one of the ball parks. Business has improved along Riverside Drive, and many girls are working again. This has resulted in an improved esprit de corpse.

Be patient and some day I will tell you of my loves. (Leo Adams to Merle Macbain, July 28, 1930.)

 

To the casual reader, Adams may appear to be remarking innocently on the weather and punning on labor unrest at the dawn of the Great Depression. The reference to Riverside park, his pun in "improved esprit de corpse," and the references to "girls" and his "loves," however, suggests another story.

George Chauncey reports that, by the 1920s, Riverside Park had become a popular cruising area for gay men. According to Chauncey, "Two landmarks in the park, Grant's Tomb at 122nd Street and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument at 89th Street, were especially renowned as meeting places in the gay world."[2]

The Everand Baths

The Everard Baths at 28 West 28th Street, New York, NY

In the excerpts that follow, Adams and his friends refer to a number of places––cruising areas, hotels, bath houses, and vacations spots––where gay men went to meet other gay men. Favorite places highlighted in the letters are the Sloane House Y.M.C.A., the Everard Baths, Riverside Drive, Third Avenue, and Provincetown, on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

 

Dear Dickie,

One of the basement executives went to the baths at 10 o'clock Wednesday night and left there at 7 in the morning, to shave and come in to work. He said the atmosphere was delightful––well filled with nice numbers––and incessant. They missed you however. I haven't used any more of my terrapin yet. The Italian fella who's coming tomorrow night is going to show me how to make a dish instead. So I'll wait. (Leo Adams to Dick DuPre, February 20, 1949.)

Do Not Disturb

Do Not Disturb

Dear Leo,

[Regarding a planned visit to New York City] Were would you suggest to stay? Is there any gay hotels [sic] that I might be able to show myself off. Let me know by return mail as I am really serious about it. I hope that I can get tickets for 'South Pacific'. They say it is a sell out but I imagine one can get a ticket from some where. (Tommy Adler to Leo Adams, May 7, 1949.)

 

Dear Tommy,

Dick DuPre was here last November and was repelled by what he saw in the Everard Baths, but why don't you look for yourself? I would say stay at Sloan House, 34th Street and 9th Avenue, instead of the Taft Hotel this time and you should have a variety of distractions like everybody else who stays there. Be sure to reserve a room in advance as they are in great demand. The shower rooms are just like the baths, apparently. [The Sloan House is] A Y.M.C.A. (Leo Adams to Tommy Adler, May 11, 1949.)

Sloane House YMCA

Sloane House YMCA, 366 West 34th Street, New York, NY. Courtesy of Mina Rees Library, The Graduate Center, City University of New York.

Dear Leo,

Thanks for the Cue [magazine] I really enjoyed it. I think it is a better magazine than the New Yorker for looking for places to go.

I have received acknowledgement of the reservation at the Sloane House for the week of the fourth, so I hope to set off a lot of fire crackers.

So until then I will be seeing you. Tell Miss DuPre to be sure to come in too. Will be so glad to see every one. (Tommy Adler to Leo Adams, June 10, 1949.)

 

Dear Wesley,

My vacation was thoroughly enjoyable and quite inexpensive. I ranged from Provincetown – which has become an extension of Third Avenue and is a lot more fun – around the shore line up to Marblehead and Cape Ann. (Leo Adams to Wesley Lea, August 31, 1950.)

 
Notes
  1. Leo Adams Papers, New York Public Library (hereafter cited by name and date only).
  2. George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 (New York: Basic Books, 1994), 182.