INDIVIDUAL | Inducted 1999

Longtime owner of the city’s oldest lesbian bar, Lost & Found, she has maintained it as a home away from home for generations of lesbians and, through it, helped to raise thousands of dollars to fight cancer and meet women’s health needs.

Ava Allen and her Lost & Found bar have been vital parts of Chicago’s lesbian community since the club opened in 1965.

The business was founded by the late Shirley Christensen, herself a pioneer supporter of gay and lesbian activism in Chicago. Allen joined it in 1973 as Christensen’s lover and business partner.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Allen and her partner resisted police harassment as well as enforcement of an ordinance that prohibited women and men from dressing in clothes that supposedly belonged to the opposite sex. Allen’s bar has served as a starting point for generations of Chicago lesbians and is the oldest lesbian bar in the city.

In the years following Christensen’s 1986 death from cancer, Allen has helped to raise thousands of dollars for individuals and groups fighting the disease. Each year, her customers donate funds to the Lesbian Community Cancer Project through the Lost & Found’s Adopt-an-Angel program.

At the bar, Allen sponsors several women’s sports teams, and the Lost & Found serves as a “home” for many women of all ages.

Allen oversees a polite, congenial operation that fosters a relaxed social atmosphere for customers, some of whom drive in from distant suburbs to join their friends. It was once reported that Navy women posted to North Chicago’s Great Lakes base had heard about the bar while stationed in the Philippines. Conversations abound among diverse acquaintances new and old, ranging in age from their 20s to their senior years, all against a background of pool playing, not-too-loud jukebox music, and meticulous barkeeping.

Every December, Allen cuts angel figures from construction paper, the bar’s customers make donations, and each donor has her name inscribed on one of the angels. The hundreds of angel figures are then hung on display as holiday decorations. Beneficiaries of Lost & Found–generated funds have included not only the Lesbian Community Cancer Project but also individual women with health needs.

Allen is honored for more than 25 years of exemplifying community spirit and service.