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History Lives Here Text

Blue Tempo Bar
Early "Gay Bar"

In addition to beach-life, a number of gay-friendly bars and clubs served openly gay people, in contravention of State of Michigan liquor laws. The best-known of these was the Blue Tempo "House of Music in the 1960s", arguably one of West Michigan's first "gay bars".

Welcome to the Saugatuck & Douglas Area

G A Y   H I S T O R Y   P A G E S   &   T H E   S A U G A T U C K   G L B T   H I S T O R Y   P R O J E C T

GLBT History of the Saugatuck-Douglas Area

This site provides:

A.   Description of the project
B.   How to contribute your recollections/photos/participation
C.   A very brief outline of Saugatuck & Douglas Gay History

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A.  THE SAUGATUCK GLBT HISTORY PROJECT:

Collecting Stories, Memorabilia and Images

The Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Society preserves and protects local history, with two open and community-related museum exhibition/research sites. In collaboration with the Douglas Dunes Resort, the Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Society seeks to record the history of the gay presence in the Saugatuck-Douglas area. The Society's "Gay History Project", founded in 2006, seeks your help in documenting the area's GLBT history.

Among the project goals and activities are:

  • Gathering stories, photographs, and any other materials that document and bring to light and to life the experiences of tens of thousands of GLBT people who have lived in and visited Saugatuck over the years;

  • Gaining an understanding of how "gay" Saugatuck fit into the larger picture of gay history and gay consciousness in the 20th century;

  • Understanding the role and importance of GLBT participation in local and state politics and government, including public policy making;

  • Understanding the importance of gay contributions to the Saugatuck area economy, business community, and historic preservation/restoration efforts;

  • Developing new levels of awareness, enlightenment, and tolerance;

  • Continuing to pursue and understand ways of gay-straight community-social activities and the special Saugatuck area gay-straight cultural/social interaction model.

Possible outcomes/end products:

  • An ongoing GLBT  "life and times" study group that will continue to document and collect the area's gay history;

  • An interactive and video history of the life and times of the gay community from the early times to the present;

  • A print publication that explores the historic gay presence in the Saugatuck area.

  • Exploring ways to better understand and engage in GLBT history

B.  The success of this project depends on you

WE NEED YOU TO HELP US WRITE SAUGATUCK’S GLBT STORY

What do you know?

 Help Us Identify the usual issues of gay identity/discrimination as well as the remarkable history of gay/straight integration in Saugatuck culture and social interaction.

Help Us in Our Search for stories, documentation, photographs, etc. We are looking for information on:

  • Historic GLBT residents and their stories;

  • GLBT Saugatuck-area life and times - beach culture, bar life, "boy-meets-boy" and "girl-meets-girl" accounts, shop-keeping, local cottage and cultural life, boating, recreation/sports, volunteer organization work, and so on.;

  • the built environment  - GLBT cottages, homes, businesses, and restoration projects;

  • the creative world - the GLBT artists, actors, writers, designers, etc., who shaped our cultural landscape;

  • "mixed" social interactions - how local straight people came to mix with gay people over time;

  • your story - let us place you on our interview list - or you can suggest someone to be interviewed;

  • whatever else may pertain to creating the fullest picture of gay experience in the Saugatuck area.

Help Us in Organization/collection: we need all sorts of help in managing, collecting and presenting the data—and in organizing a discussion group.

To submit information or simply to join the GLBT History Group, please reply by email to

Jim Schmiechen at james.schmiechen@gmail.com

C. A Short Overview of Area Gay History

Introduction | The Saugatuck area is one of the Midwest's oldest and most popular gay/lesbian destinations. From its beginnings in the mid-19th century, the village of Saugatuck was a busy Lake Michigan port town, full of sailors and mill workers. By the 1890s, with cheap steamship transportation, the Saugatuck area was being transformed into a major weekend arts/recreation destination for Chicagoans. Records show that already by 1897 nude men and boys had popularized a section of what is now Oval Beach.

By the 1920s many gays and lesbians had taken up summer vacation living here. Some were well known - such as Florence ("Dannie") Hunn, a leading Chicago interior designer in the 1920s, and Burr Tillstrom, the Chicago television puppeteer in the 1960s - but most were just gay men and women looking for a place to be themselves, have fun, and meet others - with a degree of acceptance and anonymity. By the 1980s most GLBT people found they could be more "out" in the Saugatuck-Douglas area than elsewhere along the Lake Michigan shore.

Early "Gay Bars" | In addition to beach-life, a number of gay-friendly bars and clubs served openly gay people - in contravention of the State of Michigan liquor laws of the day. The best-known of these early bars was the "Blue Tempo House of Music", which operated on Culver Street in Saugatuck in the 1960s. The Blue Tempo, which actually was painted blue, was well known for its jazz and its black bouncer-host at the door. It was destroyed by fire in 1969, leaving the town without a gay bar. In 1982 the former "Amity Motel" on the Blue Star Highway in Saugatuck's twin city, Douglas, was renamed the "Douglas Dunes", the area once again had a bar that catered to the area's gay residents and tourists. At about the same time 'Camp It' was founded as a camping-resort destination south of the nearby village of Glenn. In the mid-1990s, the Douglas Dunes came under new ownership, and with extensive addition of buildings and services, became the current "Dunes Resort"  - the Midwest's largest GLBT resort.

Community Life | GLBT people have played an integral role in shaping the local culture, landscape, and economy, often taking a leadership role in area home and garden design and historic preservation/restoration- as well as business ownership, government service, and participation in and support of a multitude of community organizations. We seek to document this unusual small-town history.