Last year, several volunteers formed an archives committee. Their project became more urgent in May, when the center sold its building for $235,000 and began looking for a new home.

The center has a five-year strategic plan to expand programming through grants, donations and funds raised at events like the GLCCB-sponsored Baltimore Pride, but it can't do so in its current building, said Matthew Thorn, the center's executive director.

Facing up to $900,000 in renovation costs to bring its headquarters into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and renovate aging offices and community spaces, the center chose instead to sell the building, its home since 1980, Thorn said. The center will move to a new, temporary space this fall as it launches a capital campaign to buy a permanent headquarters, he said.

At the end of the organization's 2011 fiscal year, prior to the sale of its building and the most recent year for which tax forms are available, the center was about $134,000 in debt. Thorn said the organization is now in the black with an operating budget for this year of about $400,000.

The hope is that the new building would display the organization's long history, offering members, visitors and local scholars digitized records and a pictorial look back at Baltimore's gay past. Those at the center also plan to continue efforts to capture interviews with older LGBT residents of the city.

"This is a really important time in our history," said Daniel McEvily, the center's new communications director and Gay Life's editor. "Our elderly LGBT folks are getting older, and just being able to capture their history while still having access to them is crucial."

VandeBrake, who works at the Hippodrome Theatre, said the GLCCB's archival committee is in talks with local institutions about partnering to preserve and digitize the center's archives, which have languished and yellowed in the center's muggy attic and are in need of a climate-controlled space.

Kurtz said such a partnership would be key to the center's long-term success, adding that the collection is unusual enough that it may draw interest in a more permanent partnership or hosting agreement.

After hundreds of hours of work, the center's archival volunteers have sorted all the Gay Life papers they could find and are now working through photographs and other documents. The work is "tedious" but rewarding, said volunteer Aaron Antonio, 32, a designer for Under Armour who recently moved to Mount Vernon from Chicago.

From the 1970s' emphasis on finding a voice for the gay community, to the 1980s' and 1990s' focus on the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the more recent attention to same-sex marriage, the collection tracks through history from the perspective of the gay community, something that is not always found in history books, said Patrick Alexander, 33, another volunteer, Mount Vernon resident and local music teacher.

"There's so much to learn about a lot of things people my age obviously didn't live through," he said.

Baltimore Sun librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun