The Craftsman-style bungalow in Echo Park where artist Touko Laaksonen, better known as Tom of Finland, once lived might look conventional from the outside, but inside you’ll find a monument to an unconventional life, a treasure trove of relics of L.A.’s gay history—and lots and lots of leather. Recently, as part of a campaign to recognize and preserve LGBT history across Los Angeles, the house has been granted official historical-cultural landmark status by the city.
Laaksonen began his career as a gay-erotica illustrator in the 1950s, while living in Helsinki, Finland. At the time, U.S. law forbade the sale of anything depicting “overt homosexual acts,” so he created images of muscle-bound, leather-clad cops and bikers who left just enough to the imagination for the American fitness magazines that published his works. After a 1962 Supreme Court ruling struck down those censorship laws, Laaksonen found himself free to be as explicit as he wished.
In the 1970s, Laaksonen moved to Los Angeles and took up residence in an Eastside bungalow, where he lived and worked for what would be his most productive years, and up until his death in 1991. While he lived there, the home became an important clubhouse of sorts for the local gay community, often welcoming guests such as Robert Mapplethorpe and John Waters.
Durk Dehner, Laaksonen’s business partner and friend, still owns the house, which is now the base of operations for the Tom of Finland Foundation. The foundation hosts occasional events, art classes and the annual Tom of Finland Art and Culture Festival; it also serves as an archive of the artist’s work and holds what is believed to be the world’s largest collection of gay erotic art.
The foundation led the effort to recognize the house as a landmark to honor the significance of Laaksonen’s work, as well as the role the house played as a hotbed of gay activism, organizing and social life. Landmark designation gives the home the legitimacy of official status and ensures the building will be preserved, even if the foundation ceases to be based there.
“We look at the Tom of Finland House as an example of a stepping-stone to how we got to wehere we are today, says Adrian Scott Fine, director of advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy, which supported the landmark application. “These places help us chart the course of LGBTQ history, and, right now, that project seems more timely and relevant than ever.”
Tom of Finland House is located at 1421 Laveta Terrace in Echo Park. Check the Tom of Finland Foundation website for a schedule of public events.
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