Archive for the ‘NYC’ 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.


    Lower East Side Tenement Museum

    December 7, 2009
    A recent photo of my apartment.

    Why would I want to take a tour of where poor people lived?
    I know this is a website about mansions, but I would be remiss if I didn’t include some other historical sites.  The Tenement Museum An entire brownstone on the Lower East Side that’s been gussied up to look like a tenement from the early 20th century.  It’s one block away from Congee Village (dumplings!) and a couple doors down from where Gus’ Pickles used to sell their amazing half dills out of barrels.


    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?!


    Bartow-Pell Mansion

    December 2, 2009
    This place is in the Bronx right off the expressway and a stone’s throw from Orchard Beach.

    What is it?
    Fancy old mansion from the 18th century.  It’s furnished and there are pretty gardens and a formal tour.  But it’s only open on weekends until 4 and probably not during the winter.