On the heels of the anniversary of one of Louis Armstrong’s greatest hits, the perfectly-preserved home of the former jazz legend—now a public museum—looks to shake things up
Fifty years after the release of What A Wonderful World, first recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1967, the jazz legend’s spirit is still alive in Corona, Queens. The Louis Armstrong House Museum — a perfectly-preserved two-and-a-half story red brick house which he and his wife Lucille called home from 1943 until his death in 1971 — is a nod to the singer’s legend in the heart of one of New York City’s most diverse boroughs.
There’s a stumbling block, however: not enough people know about it. And with numbers on the decline, this architectural wonder in Queens could benefit from more visitors.
“We were on a steady rise and then we plateaued a little bit,” the museum’s Director of Research Collections, Ricky Riccardi, says of the visitors’s decline. While the museum draws international sightseers, getting New Yorkers short-term tourists to go 20 minutes on the 7 train has proven challenging. “For locals, going to Queens is like going to Siberia,” Riccardi tells Architectural Digest. “I meet Armstrong fans all the time in Manhattan and they roll their eyes at coming out to Queens.”
But there are big plans to hopefully change that. In July, the museum broke ground on a $23 million state-of-the-art education center, which is scheduled to open in two years. “We’ll have a brand new building across the street from the Armstrong house,” Riccardi explains. “Once that’s open, we will be in great shape.”
There’s no need to wait two years, however. As it stands now, the museum — which is in need of all the support it can get — is an incredible time capsule of architecture, music, culture and design—one that truly does encapsulate the wonderful world the five-decade trumpeter and singer built during his lifetime.
Nobody has lived in the mid-century home since the Armstrongs passed away (Louis in 1971; Lucille in 1983). “Lucille was supremely devoted to his legacy,” explains Riccardi. “She made sure nothing was sold or thrown out, and she had the house declared a national historic landmark in 1977.” The home is so well-preserved “visitors often remark it feels like Louis and Lucille stepped out for lunch. It’s like you’re in a time machine.”
During tours (which cost $6-10, and include access to the exhibit area and garden), audio that Armstrong recorded throughout his life is played. “You’ll hear him talking to his wife,” describes Riccardi. “People get the chills when his voice erupts from the room.” Other elements of the museum include a painting of Armstrong by his close friend Tony Bennett, the couple’s original vacuum cleaner, and Armstrong’s trumpet, which was given to him by King George V. An original Pucci dress owned by Lucille is even hanging in the wardrobe in the bedroom.
But there’s one room possibly that stands out above them all. “Everybody who comes to the house falls in love with the kitchen,” says Riccardi. The turquoise-covered room, designed in 1970, has original lacquered cabinets and mounted appliances that are de rigueur today.
Despite detractors of the commute, the museum’s most special quality is, perhaps, its location. “Louis was born into such poverty in New Orleans, he gets a house in Queens, and he just loved the integrated, working-class neighborhood so much,” Riccardi shares. In fact, What A Wonderful World was written by Bob Thiele and David George Weiss for Armstrong as an homage to Corona, Queens.
“He could have lived in Beverly Hills or a mansion … anywhere he wanted,” explains Riccardi. “And he stayed in Corona. These are his people.”
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