Queens Botanical Garden

Edification value 2/5
Entertainment value 3/5
Should you go? 2/5
Time spent 84 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The plants are terrific, but I will pick this tucked-away sundial.

Queens Botanical Garden, Flushing

It was a gift from Queens-based Bulova Watch Company, and a garden resident since April of 1951!

I still wonder whether I was right to include botanical gardens in my definition of museums. However, I did it, and I haven’t undone it. So another garden it is. I didn’t even know the Queens Botanical Garden existed when I started this project.  However, it does bill itself as “a living museum,” so its staff seem to agree with me.  It also calls itself “a place of peace and beauty for the quiet enjoyment of our visitors.” Please reserve your noisy enjoyment for places like the American Museum of Natural History.

Queens Botanical Garden, Flushing

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Kingsland Homestead / Queens Historical Society

Edification value  2/5
Entertainment value  2/5
Should you go?  2/5
Time spent 16 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Captain King’s great-grandsons, twins Ernest and Charnley Murray, also became sailors.  Bearded and beret-ed in 1898, they’d fit in perfectly with the hipster denizens of today’s Bushwick or Williamsburg.

Charnley and Ernest Murray, Kingsland Homestead


Kingsland Homestead, the home of sea captain Joseph King and his offspring, today houses the Queens Historical Society. Much like the Museum of Bronx History in the Valentine-Varian House, this building thus serves the dual purpose of historic house and museum for the borough. As in the Bronx, it’s difficult to pull off.
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Voelker Orth Museum, Bird Sanctuary, and Victorian Garden

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  2/5
Time spent 32 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Voelker Orth MuseumThe small “Victorian” garden hosts a couple of bird feeders, a grape arbor (they freeze grapes and make grape juice for visitors all year round), a patch of lawn, and even a teensy koi pond.

Voelker Orth Museum


Voelker Orth Museum

I didn’t believe that they could squeeze a museum, bird sanctuary and Victorian garden onto a residential lot in Queens. I mean, two of those things, maybe. But then, I’d never been to the Voelker-Orth House.

In 1899, German immigrant Konrad Voelker bought a rather pretty house on the outskirts of Flushing to live in with his wife Elizabeth and daughter Theresa.  Voelker published German language newspapers in New York, and the house reflected his success and the family’s prosperity. Continue reading “Voelker Orth Museum, Bird Sanctuary, and Victorian Garden”

Lewis Latimer House

Edification value  4/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  4/5
Time spent 58 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Latimer’s work on the lightbulb made him (slightly) famous, but he patented many other things. He invented a method of cooling a room by dampening fabric hung in a window.  And a rack that could safely lock your hat, coat, or umbrella, for use at offices or restaurants. And finally, a better train toilet, details of which I’m probably happier not to know.

Lewis Latimer, the son of escaped slaves, helped patent the telephone, refined the design of the light bulb, and ended up a Grand Old Man of the General Electric Company.  He also painted and wrote poetry.

He’s sort of a footnote to history — but a good footnote, and a meaningful one, not one of those ones you just skim over.  It’s therefore fantastic that his home in Flushing today serves as a museum to his memory.

Lewis Latimer House

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Bowne House

Edification value 3/5 
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  2/5
Time spent 61 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Bowne House, Flushing, QueensWe didn’t even discuss it on the tour but this vintage washing machine (definitely later than 1661) evoked for me all the artifacts from hundreds of years of Bowne family life in this house– the stories they could tell!

Imagine the year 1661.  Charles II was crowned King of England.  Sweden and Russia wrapped up a war.  The Netherlands ceded the territory of New Holland to Portugal (nowadays it’s a chunk of Brazil).  A kid named Isaac Newton enrolled at Cambridge.  And Englishman John Bowne and his wife Hannah settled in a small farmhouse in the Dutch village of Vlissingen, in the hinterlands of New Amsterdam.

Bowne House, Flushing, Queens

356 years later, that modest house (with several additions and alterations) still stands on its original plot of land. Today we call Vlissingen the neighborhood of Flushing in the borough of Queens. Continue reading “Bowne House”

Queens College Art Center

Edification value  2/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  
Time spent 19 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Milanese designer Silvia Giovanardi’s samurai dress. Her work incorporates natural fibers and a lot of Japanese influence.  I don’t recall ever seeing a fashion riff on samurai armor before!

Fabric of Cultures at Queens College Art Center
Silvia Giovanardi, Samurai Dress
Library at Queens College, Flushing
Brutal in its efforts not to be Brutalist

The Queens College Art Center occupies a glassed-in hallway on the sixth floor of the fairly depressing, blocky library building on Queens College’s campus in the far reaches of Flushing.  This building doesn’t want to be Brutalist and standoffish, but its efforts to be welcoming are so forced and artificial that it ultimately feels even less welcoming than if the architects hadn’t tried in the first place.

The guard at the front desk may not exactly know that the library even houses an Art Center on its sixth floor. But based on my experience, if you’re nice about it and confident about where you’re going he will happily wave you on into the library, no need to show an ID or sign a guest register or anything. Continue reading “Queens College Art Center”

Godwin-Ternbach Museum

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 23 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned This picture book of famous men who loved cats.  Beautifully illustrated and funny and reminded me how much I don’t want to be one of those single guys with cats.  

Cat Book at Godwin-Ternbach Museum, Queens College
Sam Kalda, “Of Cats and Men,” 2017

The entry on William S. Burroughs begins, “In a gentlemen’s club such as this, there are bound to be a few scandals.”

Klapper Hall, Queens College, FlushingQueens College started collecting art in the 1950s, and today holds a collection that, according to their website, encompasses over 5,000 objects from across history.  That makes the Queens College art collection more comprehensive than that of the Queens Museum, and the most encyclopedic in the borough.

As that collection grew, the college eventually decided to create a venue to curate and display it. Founded in 1981, the museum takes its name from its founders: art historian Frances Godwin and art restorer Joseph Ternbach. The Godwin-Ternbach Museum today consists of a medium sized space in the very institutional-looking Klapper Hall.  The museum has a flexible, open floorplan, with super high ceilings and a small mezzanine level overlooking it on three sides.  With its pretty parquet floor, the space reminded me oddly of a basketball court for art. Continue reading “Godwin-Ternbach Museum”

New York Hall of Science

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  4/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 135 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The Hall of Science boats a small outdoor rocket garden, with a Gemini Titan 2, a Mercury-Atlas D, and a reproduction Saturn V engine.  

Mercury Atlas D Rocket, New York Hall of Science
Fly me to the moon…or at least orbit

Very big science, and a reminder that we sent the first astronauts to space strapped to the top of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

New York Hall of ScienceFlushing Meadows Corona Park is strewn with relics from New York’s two great World’s Fairs, in 1939 and 1964.  While the Queens Museum is the last building still around from 1939, the nearby New York Hall of Science is a notable survivor from 1964. Today, the Hall of Science is sort of a patchwork of old-school science museum and hip, modern, interactive experience.  To wit, it kinda wants to be called “Ny-Sci,” though I don’t want to call it that.  Its home is a similar patchwork–at times I couldn’t figure out what parts of it are midcentury versus later additions.  

World's Fair at New York Hall of Science, Queens
1964 World’s Fair Display

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Queens Museum

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  4/5
Should you go?  4/5
Time spent 144 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The Queens Museum could install the Mona Lisa on loan from the Louvre and the Panorama of the City of New York would still be the best thing at the Queens Museum.

Queens MuseumEach of New York’s outer boroughs has a showpiece, namesake museum.  They range from the huge and ambitious Brooklyn Museum to the quirkier, but still ambitious, Bronx Museum of the Arts.  The Queens Museum, in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, has something unique in all of New York City’s museums making a visit mandatory for anyone who loves New York City.

I’ll get to that in a moment; first some history. Continue reading “Queens Museum”