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Borough president honors Queens’ history with landmarks tour

By Gina Martinez

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the New York City Landmarks Law, Borough President Melinda Katz declared April “Queens Landmarks Month” and invited members of the press on a tour of prominent landmarks throughout the borough Tuesday afternoon.

The landmarks measure was signed into law by Mayor Robert Wagner on April 19, 1965. Queens boasts 11 historic districts, two interior landmarks and more than 70 individual landmarks.

The tour made numerous stops, including the Queens Historical Society at Kingsland Homestead and the Bowne House Historical Society in Flushing, Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, King Manor in Jamaica, and a drive-by of famous jazz musicians homes in St. Albans’ historical district, Addisleigh Park.

During each stop, directors of the sites gave Katz a brief tour and history lesson on the significance of the location.

One of the standouts was the Bowne House Historical Society in Flushing. Built in 1661, John Bowne lived in his Anglo-Dutch residential style home until his death in 1695. Bowne was one of the first men in America to fight for religious freedoms when he and fellow Quakers practiced their faith in Flushing.

Katz spoke in front of the home and said that it was a representation of the religious and cultural diversity in Queens. She mentioned how Bowne’s fight to be able to worship as he wanted to carries over to today, where Queens is home to people from 120 countries, who speak 130 languages and practice all the religions of the world.

“We love the fact that families fight their whole lives to bring their children right here to Queens in order to be able to educate their children and pass on their traditions and religion,” Katz said. “That is the phenomenal and distinct thing about this borough. We pride ourselves on those differences. We have communities that move forward all together as one.”

The highlight of the tour, however, came at the Louis Armstrong House.

Armstrong moved into his Corona home with his wife Lucille in 1943 and he lived there until his death in 1971. It was then designated as a landmark in 1988. Katz was given a tour by the museum’s Executive Director Michael Cogswell.

While inside Armstrong’s living room, Katz sat at a piano and gave an impromptu performance of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly,” much to the delight of those in attendance.

The tour was a reminder of the rich history within the borough. The locales were incredibly well-preserved and well-looked-after by the directors and staff.

The night ended with a reception in Queen Museum, where attendees viewed a special exhibit called “Panorama of Queens, 1965-2015 — Fifty Years of Landmarking,” which highlighted all Queens landmarks with special markers on the Panorama of New York City.

Katz spoke at the reception and talked about why this anniversary and law are so important.

“This is the 50th anniversary of the landmarks law,” she said. “ In 1965 Mayor Wagner had the foresight to understand that we needed to have a mechanism to save historic buildings, to make sure that the future generations know what the past generations have done, to make sure that the history of this great city is not lost. It is an amazing and remarkable thing.”

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