Flushing Lewis Latimer House Museum receives preservation award from New York Landmarks Conservancy

Lewis Latimer House
Photo courtesy of NYC DPR

The Lewis Latimer House Museum in Flushing has received an award from the New York Landmarks Conservancy for its outstanding preservation efforts.

The museum — located at 34-41 137th St. — is one among many restoration projects that have been announced as a winner of the 2019 Lucy G. Moses Preservation Award and will be recognized at the April 23 ceremony at The Plaza in Manhattan.

“The Lucys are a joyous celebration of great preservation work and great preservation leaders,” said Peg Breen, president of The New York Landmarks Conservancy. “It’s a wonderful and, often moving, look at why historic homes and institutions mean so much to us.”

The Lucy G. Moses Preservation Awards are the Conservancy’s highest honors for excellence in preservation. The Awards recognize individuals, organizations and building owners for their extraordinary contributions to the city.

“The Lewis Latimer House Museum is gratified to receive this award, in recognition of the collaborative efforts between Lewis Howard Latimer Fund, New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, Historic House Trust of New York City, and the contractor Baschnagel Brothers, to restore this unique African American heritage site for the public good,” said Ran Yan, executive director of the museum. “It was a community effort, with paint donated from Benjamin Moore’s historical colors pallet and a volunteer day with future preservation students from the Mather High School.”

Named after Lewis H. Latimer, a brilliant innovator who overcame a lack of formal education to become a great inventor, the museum celebrates his achievements as well as African-American heritage and inspires a future generation of visionaries.

The 1889 wood-frame residence suffered from deteriorated roofing and siding, peeling paint and broken shutters. The conditions left the museum struggling to present a welcoming appearance. The much-needed restoration improved the entire envelope — wooden clapboards and trim were replaced and the house painted. The wood shingle roof and associated systems were replaced to match the historic roof. New lightning protection will help preserve the house’s future.

Born to fugitive slaves, Latimer enlisted in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War, where he taught himself technical drawing.  He later worked for the attorneys who Alexander Graham Bell used to patent the telephone and was responsible for the complicated illustrations. At the U.S. Electric Light Company, he oversaw installation of lighting in major cities around the world and invented a new method of making carbon filaments for the incandescent lamp.  In 1884, Latimer went to work for Thomas Edison.

Latimer and his wife purchased the Queen Anne-style house in 1903, and he lived there for the rest of his life. Originally on Holly Street, the building was rescued from demolition and moved to its current location in 1988. The NYC Department of Parks & Recreation owns the property; the Lewis H. Latimer Fund, Inc. operates the museum. It is a member of the Historic House Trust, which oversaw this project.

Today, The Lewis H. Latimer House Museum provides multilingual STEAM programming and exhibitions that call attention to Latimer’s and other African American’s’ contributions to science, technology, and American life.