Onscreen, The Golden Girls star Bea Arthur played Dorothy Zbornak, a strong and sarcastic divorcee who looks after her elderly mother. But offscreen, Arthur was a known civil and animal rights activist.
After her death from cancer in 2009, the actress left $300,000 in her will to New York City’s Ali Forney Center, one of the nation’s largest community centers helping LGBT homeless youth. To honor Arthur’s memory, the Forney Center announced they’d build a brand-new, 18-bed shelter called the Bea Arthur Residence. Now, Logo reports, the building is almost ready to open its doors.
In 2015, The Villager reports, the Forney Center purchased a then-dilapidated, empty brownstone from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development for $1. They teamed up with building preservation nonprofit The Cooper Square Committee, and received a $3.3 million grant from New York’s City Council to help renovate the building. When it's finished, Broadway World reports, the shelter will be equipped with beds, on-site counseling, and case management for LGBT youth.
The Forney Center launched in 2002, and Arthur became involved with the organization in 2005. Back then, as the organization’s executive director Carl Siciliano wrote in a blog post for the Huffington Post, the Forney Center only had 12 shelter beds—and more than 100 homeless youths waiting to fill them. “We were a small organization, tiny in comparison to so many of the huge, well-established charities in NYC,” Siciliano wrote. “But we were addressing a terrible problem, that of LGBT teens being thrown to the streets in enormous numbers by unaccepting parents.”
The Forney Center needed money, and one volunteer, a set designer named Ray Klausen, reached out to the actress. She was a friend of his, and Klausen convinced the former Golden Girl to revive her one-woman Broadway show, "Bea Arthur on Broadway: Just Between Friends," for one night, CNN reports. The performance ended up raising more than $40,000 for the Forney Center.
Arthur continued to support the center until her death. Her posthumous $300,000 donation arrived during a pivotal moment in 2009, Siciliano wrote in the HuffPost article. The recession was in full force, the organization struggled to pay rent, and faced eviction. Arthur's contribution, he says, allowed the Forney Center to stay open.
“At [Arthur’s] memorial service I pledged in my gratitude that the first building the Ali Forney Center owned would be named in memory of Bea’s great goodness to our kids,” Siciliano wrote.
Construction workers broke ground on the Bea Arthur Residence in July 2015. It was originally slated to open this summer, but timing was delayed due to building code violations, DNAinfo reports. The brownstone on Manhattan’s Lower East Side is now scheduled for completion by February 2017, and is expected to open shortly after.
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