Once upon a time, a gay and glamorous city was struck by a terrible plague; this is how we never forget.
As AIDS cases rose in the early 1980s, regions like New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles rapidly became epicenters of the epidemic across the United States. West Hollywood — which was even then brimming with celebrity and vibrant gay nightlife — soon became a visible marker of the disease.
“The city had been incorporated in 1984, just as the AIDS epidemic was marking this town,” says Mark Lehman, a business and real estate attorney and a principal of the Café Gratitude and Gracias Madre restaurant group. “This became an important part of West Hollywood’s history.”
West Hollywood will soon have a physical place which channels the pain of that period into a poignant and powerful homage. “STORIES: The AIDS Monument” is designed to memorialize the devastation of AIDS and honor the activists, caregivers, and community leaders who joined the struggle.
“A lot of the doctors at the forefront of HIV and AIDS were from here,” says Lehman. “The city and community here has always wanted to do something to acknowledge that period in our history.”
About five years ago, community, business, philanthropic, and civic leaders seeded the idea for the Monument and established the Foundation for The AIDS Monument. For its part, the city of West Hollywood donated land in West Hollywood Park — along San Vicente Boulevard, and Australian artist Daniel Tobin of Urban Arts Project was selected to design the Monument.
His vision features vertical, shimmering beams, allowing visitors to walk throughout and reflect on lives that have been lost, a respite grove, and programmable LED lighting that will illuminate at night. It will also feature an interactive component, illustrating the Foundation’s three-part goal: to remember, to celebrate and to educate.
“The young LGBT community has very little information about what we went through,” said Lehman, who chairs the Foundation’s Board of Directors. “We do want to educate, we do want to remember, and we do want to celebrate what the medical community has accomplished.”
Thus far, the campaign to fund the Monument has raised more than $3.1 million — that’s in addition to West Hollywood’s $500,000 grant. Elsewhere the project has drawn support from such celebrities as Sharon Stone and some high-profile donors, including Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Visit West Hollywood, the Guess Foundation, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, MAC AIDS Fund and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Although the project has faced delays related to the park’s renovation, Lehman and company still expect the monument to be up and running no later than 2020.
“I lived through it all,” Lehman says, his voice heavy with history. “I am one of the people who can say I lost 50 percent of my friends; people I loved and cherished and admired in the community. This means a lot to me personally, so we don’t forget that this is an important part of the history of this town and this whole city and country.”
You can learn more about this project by visiting the Foundation for the AIDS Monument.
Last modified: May 22, 2018