Darcelle Project earns state heritage honor
Portland's glitz-and-glamour drag queen Darcelle has earned another honor.
The Darcelle Project, a multimedia production showcasing the life of drag queen and Old Town club owner Walter Cole, earned an Oregon Heritage Excellence award. Oregon's Heritage Commission announced the awards Tuesday, April 13.
"It's a true honor to ensure that his history is preserved and that it doesn't get lost," said Don Horn of Portland's Triangle Productions, the show's producer/creator/writer. "I'm honored to have been allowed to have access to all his stuff, to have many people assist in this project and get the house and club on the National Register of Historic Places. I'm so happy to be Walter/Darcelle's friend and partner with this project."
The Heritage Commission honored six groups and people with excellence awards. The awards recognize those who have made outstanding contributions to preserving Oregon heritage. A seventh honor, the state's Sally Donovan Award for Historic Cemetery Preservation, went to Yamhill County's Johnny Edwards for his restoration work in the Lafayette and McMinnville Masonic cemeteries.
Awards will be presented April 29 during the online Oregon Heritage Summit. Videos of the award-winning projects will be shown during the summit. Award winners will give live acceptance speeches.
In addition to The Darcelle Project, state Heritage Excellence awards were given to:
• Bobbie Dolp of Salem for her work on the Lord & Schryver Conservancy and preserving the legacy of Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver, who established the first women-owned landscape architecture firm in the Northwest.
• Caples House Museum Restoration Project of Columbia City, for raising money to restore the Caples House Museum and its collection.
• University of Oregon's Eugene Lesbian Oral History Project, for preserving the contributions of Eugene's lesbian community to Oregon's cultural, political and social innovations.
• Steven Greif of Coos Bay, for his volunteer service to the Coos History Museum.
• University of Oregon's Institute for Policy Research and Engagement, for supporting community heritage preservation efforts through research, the AmeriCorps program and disaster resilience planning.
"The award recipients represent individuals, organizations and projects that serve as inspiration and models for preserving Oregon's stories," said Katie Henry, coordinator for the Oregon Heritage Commission. "This year has been especially tough for everyone, including Oregon's heritage organizations, and being able to celebrate these heritage wins is critical as we hopefully move toward recovery."
Not staying in a 'box'
The Darcelle Project was part of a three-year effort honoring the 90-year-old Cole and his work as an entertainer, an entrepreneur, a philanthropist and a father. It involved a musical production Triangle Productions with local musicians like Storm Large, Marv and Rindy Ross and jazz pianist Tom Grant. It ran for three weeks through October 2019 at Portland State University's Lincoln Hall (where Cole went to high school in the 1940s).
It also included an Oregon Historical Society exhibit, 'The Many Shades of Being Darcelle,' featuring about 1,500 costumes designed by Cole.
Another element was naming Cole's Old Town nightclub, Darcelle XV Showcase, to the National Register of Historic Places. That was completed in November 2020, when the club became the first business in Oregon to be part of the history list because of its connection to the state's gay and lesbian community.
Cole's Northeast Portland home was also named to the National Register in November 2019.
Other parts included a YouTube channel of Darcelle's stage performances from the early 1970s, establishing an archive of Cole's life starting in 1961, publishing five books about Darcelle/Cole, producing a calendar with photos from Cole's 1972-73 reign as Empress XV of the Imperial Court of the Sovereign Rose, producing a coloring book featuring Darcelle and placing street sign toppers in Chinatown/Old Town near Darcelle XV.
According to the award nomination, the project was supposed to honor Cole and his achievements, but it also was about "educating the community, and ultimately the country, about the power of commitment and involvement."
"Walter didn't stay in the 'box' (as a gay man who dressed in drag), he went out and became part of the community, as a businessman and spokesman for the LGBTQ community," according to the nomination.
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