Tour offers glimpse into borough’s holidays’ past

Flushing Town Hall was one of several stops in Queens on the Holiday Historic House Tour. Photo courtesy Flushing Town Hall
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Last weekend, many Queens residents took a step back in time by joining in the Queens Historical Society’s 26th annual Holiday Historic House Tour.

The tour, which took place Dec. 8, gave participants a chance to visit seven different historic sites in the borough, which showcased a wide range of previous eras and cultures, from the 17th century to the early 20th.

While the tour has been running for a quarter century, this year was the first time the Louis Armstrong House Museum was included as a stop. The Corona landmark was purchased by the music legend and his wife in 1943. Visitors had a chance to not only learn about the site, but hear some holiday gems from Armstrong as well.

“We had a great response from our visitors,” said Jennifer Walden, director of marketing for the Armstrong museum. “Most of our visitors were first-time guests. They had heard about the house but had not had a chance to visit yet.”

Those who dropped in heard rare recordings of Armstrong reading “A Visit From St. Nicholas” and other Christmas pieces, and also got to sample some complimentary sweets.

Dating even further back is Flushing Town Hall. The 1862 building was once the political center of Flushing, and its rich history was celebrated as part of the historic house tour. Now serving primarily as a performance space, the Town Hall delighted guests with a program of classical music. The Balsam Trio — Alex Hu, Sverre Bauge, and Pei-Hsuan Tsai — from Queens College’s Aaron Copland School of Music, performed pieces from Beethoven and Brahms, accompanied by guest artists Abram Korsunsky and Gloria Shih of the Gracieux Piano Trio.

Because the Town Hall’s second-floor theater is in the midst of a four-month renovation, the musicians performed in the venue’s gallery. They also opened a pop-up gift shop, featuring the work of Queens and Long Island artists, to accommodate the renovations, and kicked off a gift shop sale which will be continuing through the holidays.

“Some people had never been to Flushing Town Hall before, and some attend the Holiday House Tour every year,” said Ellen Kodadek, of Flushing Town Hall. “It was also great to see families with children on the tour. Many people are still unaware that Flushing Town Hall is a multi-arts center that presents performances, educational programs, and exhibits all year long.”

Kodadek said the Holiday House Tour was an ideal way for residents to not only learn about the history of the area, but to get a better understanding of their own community.

Debby Silverfine, director of the Voelker Orth Museum, which also participated in the tour, agreed. Her venue, which occupies a late 19th-century house and garden, provided visitors with a brief tour and invited them to join a sing-along with Kenneth Gartman, playing the museum’s Sohmer piano, which was made in Queens. They could also sip on hot mulled cider and eggnog, and shop for plants on sale in the house’s dining room.

“In one neighborhood you can catch a glimpse into the world of a colonial Quaker community, the home of a 19th-century German immigrant newspaper publisher, an African-American inventor, and a musical legend,” Silverfine said, referring to the Friends Meeting House, Volker Orth Museum, Lewis H. Latimer House Museum, and Louis Armstrong House Museum. “In a city that is always changing and growing, these few remaining sites offer a sense of place, possibility, and why families chose to live in Queens.”

Each of the seven houses that were part of the tour are open to the public throughout the year. Those interested in learning more about them and dropping in for a visit can go to

Posted 12:00 am, December 17, 2013
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