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A day at two museums and one park July 21, 2017

Posted by Mike C. in Art, Education, Film, History, Jazz, Music, Personal, Photography, Travel.
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One day last July, my friend Lori Downing and I toured the Fire Island Lighthouse. On Wednesday, our destination was Corona, Queens, to tour a pair of museums. Our first stop was the Louis Armstrong House Museum on 107th Street, followed by the Queens Museum in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. In between, we walked through the park to see two relics from the 1964 New York World’s Fair: the abandoned New York State Pavilion, and the Unisphere. That part of this post includes home movies my grandfather shot at the fair, as well as recollections from my aunt Randy and Hank Neimark.

It took an hour and a half to get to our first stop due to heavy traffic on the Long Island Expressway (I-495) and Grand Central Parkway, and limited parking spots near the house. We parked a block away on 108th Street.

It would be 20 minutes until the next tour, so we walked through the garden…

…and looked at the pre-tour exhibits:

Photography was not allowed during the tour, but was allowed everywhere else.

I’m familiar with “What a Wonderful World,” but not enough to know it was recorded in 1967. That means this year marks its 50th anniversary:

The gift shop at the entrance:

The tour began just after noon. Our guide was Elaine, a museum docent that lives only 12 blocks away. She brought us back to the exhibit room for a short introductory DVD. It was then that I learned his name is pronounced phonetically, as in “Lewis,” not “Louie.” After the DVD, Elaine guided us to the house.

Everything in the house is nearly as it was when Louis’s wife Lucille died in 1983, 12 years after his passing. Even the doorbell, which Elaine rang before we walked in, was original.

After walking in, Elaine guided us to the living room, which included portraits of Louis and Lucille, lavish furnishings, and a Spinet piano (which he didn’t play).

Louis and I have something in common: home speech recordings. His medium was reel-to-reel tape; my media were cassette and microcassette. When I was younger, I would record myself, either talking about what I’d been up to recently, interviewing family members, or co-hosting a “radio show” with my cousin Chris. That last one was also recorded on video. While we were in the den, Elaine played a few examples of Louis’s speech recordings. As we learned later in the tour, he also recorded singing and trumpet improvisation from home.

The next stop was the downstairs bathroom with bathtub. The wall and ceiling were all mirrors. After that, it was on to the dining room, which led into the kitchen. Floral wallpaper adorned the walls and part of the ceiling. The cabinets and dishwasher were blue while the counter, sink, and dual oven (with six gas burners) was white. A can opener was built into the wall along with a compartment with paper towels, foil, and plastic wrap. Adjacent to the kitchen was a smaller dining room, which served as Louis and Lucille’s bedroom while Lucille’s mother lived with them and stayed in their bedroom.

The tour headed upstairs where the aforementioned bedroom and recording room were located. The bedroom had a double-size bed with drawers on either side, paintings of scenery hanging on the walls, Mylar wallpaper, a lamp, and a chandelier. The Mylar wallpaper carried into the spacious bathroom and closet. The recording room had reel-to-reel tape decks, amps, a record player, radio, shelves of records and tapes, a desk, and a portrait of Louis painted by his friend Tony Bennett. Bennett signed it with his real surname: Benedetto. Actually, the tapes and records are housed at Queens College, but will move to the Education Center that is going to be constructed across the street from Louis’s house.

That concluded the tour. I didn’t list everything that Lori and I saw and were told by Elaine, but I feel I’ve shared enough. I highly recommend taking the tour. Plan your visit here.

When we got back outside, Elaine suggested we pose with Louis’s cutout. She said it was necessary to gesture as he did:

Lori suggested taking one with Elaine:

In the gift shop, I bought a sticker, pin, picture postcards, and a DVD of an American Masters documentary from 1989: Satchmo: The Life of Louis Armstrong. Some of the interviews were filmed in the living room.

Before we left, I signed the guest book:

Lori and I walked back to her car and we drove to the Queens Museum at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

As I noted at the top, we walked through the park first. On our way to the Unisphere, I got a great view of the New York State Pavilion:

The Unisphere:

Lori walked toward the fountains, but I stayed behind; I didn’t want to get wet:

A different angle:

A closer look at the New York State Pavilion:

I even caught a quick glimpse inside the pavilion right before the gates were closed:

They were open because New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio toured the interior earlier in the afternoon.

Lori was fortunate enough to attend the 1964 New York World’s Fair, as did my grandparents, parents, and my parents’ siblings. My maternal grandfather, Arthur Rose, brought his movie camera to the fair and captured what he saw. The film, along with all of his home movies, was transferred to VHS 30 years ago. Six years ago, I transferred the VHS tapes to an external hard drive and then to DVDs.

Here is what my grandfather captured:

I also posted the film to Facebook, which garnered nothing but positive feedback and memories. My aunt Randy Stephen (née Rose), who was in the film, had this to say:

That was really wonderful, Mike (although I can just imagine how many times grandma must have yelled at grandpa for his camera work 😝)! I do remember going to the World’s Fair a few times, although I was only 6 or 7 at the time. The kid going crazy in the beginning must have been Bruce Goldberger, since I saw his mom, Ann, in the movie, as well. They were our neighbors in [the] Colony Park [section of Freeport].

Hank Neimark – a fellow alumnus of LIU Post and its radio station, WCWP – was there, too:

Michael Kosmin (Charter WCWP-FM guy) and I, claiming that we were doing radio reports on the ’64 World’s Fair, managed to get rides on the Goodyear Blimp. We contacted Goodyear PR, got permission over the phone, and with Nagra in hand headed out to the now abandoned Flushing airport. Of course we weren’t on the air yet, butcha know…. What a thrill. Over Manhattan, over the bridges, and over the Fair. We hitched on to the blimp twice.

Thank you to Hank and Aunt Randy for your stories.

Before heading into the Queens Museum, I heard a plane flying overhead – likely approaching nearby LaGuardia Airport – and quickly photographed it:

Founded in 1972, the Queens Museum is housed in the New York City Building, a pavilion built for the 1939 New York World’s Fair and used again for the 1964 fair. In between the fairs, it was the home of the United Nations General Assembly for the U.N.’s first few years of existence. (Sources: Building History | Queens Museum, Queens Museum Wikipedia entry)

Lori and I looked at a few exhibits in the museum, starting with another relic of the 1964 World’s Fair: the Panorama of the City of New York:

I had to sharpen the pictures below since they came out blurry.

I didn’t have to sharpen these:

World’s Fair Visible Storage:

This houses memorabilia from the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs.

Nine: 2017 Queens Museum Studio Program Exhibition:

Our second museum trip concluded with the Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass:

After I bought a book of World’s Fair postcards in the gift shop, Lori and I returned to the car and she drove me home. There was heavy traffic going back, too, so it took another hour and a half to get home. The traffic gave us plenty of time to talk and listen to the jazz CDs I brought with me.

I had a wonderful time at the museums and in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Thanks again, Lori. Until next year.