Louis Armstrong House

The earliest known photo of the house, from about 1940.

Last Sunday was raining something awful so I tried to stay close to home for my house-hopping adventure.  What better destination for a dreary-day daytrip than Queens?   And who better to visit than the King of Queens, Reverend Satchmouth himself, Mister Louis (pronounce the “s”) Armstrong.

The house itself is a pretty modest affair — yeah, it’s three times bigger than my apartment, but 100x smaller than Coe Hall, for example — but really very charming.  Since Armstrong spent about 300 days a year on the road, the house itself is more a reflection of his wife’s taste, but you still get a pretty good sense of the man and the time in which he lived.

Just the fact that he lived on this quiet street in Queens when he could have lived in a gleaming Park Avenue full-service apartment suggests something about his lack of pretention (though I suppose it could have something to do with racist co-op boards or his wife’s crippling fear of white people).

Still, it’s a pretty fun time.  My friends and I were the only visitors, so the three of us got a personalized tour:  the front room,  where Armstrong’s wife displayed curios from their international travels; the kitchen, replete with turquoise lacquered cabinets and custom-made appliances (a six-burner stove and a blender built into the countertop!); the guest bathroom, outfitted in 24k-gold-plated fixtures, marble and so. many. mirrors; the bedroom, with a king-sized bed Armstrong described as “wall-to-wall” and a reading nook where the observant Catholic Lucille set up her shrines; the dressing room, decorated entirely in reflective silver vinyl; and finally the wood-panelled den, the only masculine room in the house, outfitted with a desk and reel-to-reel tapes that Armstrong used to create almost 650 recordings of his conversations, interviews, and favorite compositions over a period of some two decades.

Whew, that was a long sentence.

Finally,  some fun facts about Armstrong and the museum to pique your interest:

  1. Armstrong was a long-time user and advocate of herbal laxative Swiss Kriss.  He passed out samples to everyone he met — even Queen Elizabeth II — and  even posed for an ad while sitting on the toilet.
  2. Armstrong made pretty incredible collages on almost all of the 650 reel-to-reel tape boxes that he created that themselves are worth the price of admission.  I bought this book of them in the giftshop — totally overpaid, but the money’s going to the museum and archives so I’m cool with that.
  3. In case that’s not enough, there’s an amazing carwash a couple blocks down at 42 Northern Boulevard where you can get a full body (car) rubdown for $12.

The museum is open Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.  and weekends 12-5 p.m.  For more information, click here.


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