Archive for the ‘National Register of Historic Places’ Category

Louis Armstrong House

December 16, 2009
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.


    Coe Hall at Plantation Fields

    December 14, 2009

    To anyone who ever said that Long Island is just one big trash pit with terrible traffic and hideous looking people and not one redeeming feature at all,  I say first off, get back on your meds.  Second, have you not seen Coe Hall at Plantation Fields?

    It’s a flipping awesome Tudor revival style mansion on the North Shore of Long Island, about 25 miles east and north of NYC.  (They call it the Gold Coast).  It was built around 1918 by the married daughter of one of three big cheeses at Standard Oil (Henry Rogers, with William and John D. Rockefeller.  Rogers was nicknamed “Hell Hound Rogers” and “The Brains of Standard Oil” and is among the top 25 wealthiest Americans of all time.  He also distinguished himself as a patron and friend of Helen Keller, Mark Twain and Booker T. Washington.  He was also a deputy and eventual business partner with Charles Pratt, the founder of Pratt Institute, in his oil refinery business based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.).

    Back to Coe Hall, it’s located on 400 acres near Oyster Bay, and houses the main mansion, an arboretum and several Victorian-era conservatories, among several other less notable buildings.

    The main house is well worth the  $10 admission — for the month of December, they had it decked out in Christmas regalia.  A Queen Elizabeth impersonator from the NY Renaissance Fair was also hosting a banquet in the main entertaining space.   I was particularly excited by the full barroom off the den, and the safe next to the fireplace.

    The grounds themselves were gorgeous as well — come spring, I will definitely plan another visit.


    December 8, 2009
    Lyndhurst in December.  If you squint you can just make out the tiny French hunchback they keep locked in the tower for “atmosphere”.
    Why’d you wake me from my nap?

    Lyndhurst is a total gem:  a Gothic Revival castle about 30 miles north of New York City, with full year round tours, beautiful grounds and entirely original furnishings and few modernizations since 1911.  Plus, in December all the rooms are decorated in fairy tale themes so if you love historic mansions and dropping acid, this is your Nirvana.



    December 5, 2009

    The 40-room Rockefeller mansion before the murders …

    What the heck’s a Kykuit?
    Kykuit (rhymes with “die-cut”)  is a 40-room estate built by one of America’s most storied family dynasties,  the Rockefellers.  I went in the early summer and for $18,  my luffer and I (hi Chris!) took a 2 hour tour of the main house, the formal gardens and the garage.  The tour guide was a tetchy old queen straight out of central casting:  Tommy Bahama button down, linen slacks and a James Lipton goatee.  His first “moment” involved hissing at someone in our group who was taking pictures, “what don’t you understand about ‘no photographs’?!”  Meee-ow.


    Historic Old Richmond Town

    December 4, 2009
    The 314-year-old centerpiece to Historic Richmond Town’s collection of 28 fully and partially restored buildings.

    What is Historic Old Richmond Town and do I actually have to call it that?
    A museum town, with 28 restored buildings from the late 17th to the early 19th centuries.  There’s a tinsmith, a schoolhouse, a tavern, general store, blacksmith and school, plus a whole lot of private homes.  Some of the buildings were a little down in the mouth — a Colonial Williamsburg gone to seed — but I think it’s pretty cool.  And did I mention it’s smack dab in the middle of Staten Island?!