Feb 3, 2016
From Elevators to Outsider Art: A Guide to 16 Under-the-Radar Museums in Queens
Surely you spent all of January going to the quirkiest museums in Brooklyn, but now we’re in the thick of the winter doldrums, despite a few unseasonably warm days. It’s slushy and crummy out there, but you’ve still got to leave the house sometimes. Why not take the opportunity to range a little farther afield? Our borough to the north also happens to offer plenty of quirk per capita. Besides, since the MTA is poised to ruin the lives of anyone who might dare to take the L or the Q into the city for the next million years, well, riding the G up north is starting to look like a pretty good option.
So we’re excited to share 16 under-the-radar museums in Queens that are sure to tickle your fancy, whether your interests tend toward elevators or Louis Armstrong or the Mets.
Bayside Historical Society
208 Totten Ave, Fort Totten
Tues – Fri, 10 – 4; Sat & Sun, 12 – 4
The centerpiece of the Bayside Historical Society is the Castle, built in the late 1800s, which remains one of the few surviving examples of Gothic Revival castellated-style architecture in NYC. Over the years it has been put to various uses by the US Army, in 1986 it was designated a National Historic Place, and it’s been tended by BHS, under whose auspices it has become a cultural venue, since the late 1980s. The Society also maintains the Lawrence Cemetery, which hosts tours and cultural events. BHS also curates historical exhibits; currently on view is one on hats throughout the ages and another on the construction of the Throgs Neck Bridge and the Clearview Expressway.
43-39 21st St, Ste 206, Long Island City
The first-ever museum dedicated to the humble elevator was started, unsurprisingly, by someone who spent his whole life working in the industry. Patrick A. Carrajat even wrote a book on the history of the elevator, which is available online for free. The museum, housed on the second floor of a taxi garage in LIC—which neighborhood he calls “the nexus of the elevator world”—boasts some 4,000 elevator-centric items, mostly from Carrajat’s private collection, including antique meters, switches, and gauges, vintage manuals and safety certifications, 19th-century plaques and signs, and company memorabilia, from branded pens to lighters to jewelry.
Fisher Landau Center for Art
38-27 30th St, Long Island City
Thurs – Mon, 12 – 5
This 25,000–square-foot museum lives in a former parachute harness factory and is devoted to the contemporary art collection curated and selected by Emily Fisher Landau. Many of the works are from the early careers of significant 20th-century artists, including Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Kiki Smith, and Cy Twombly. Currently on view are selections from the nearly 400 works that Landau gifted to the Whitney in 2010.
King Manor Museum
King Park, Jamaica
Thurs – Fri, 12 – 2; Sat – Sun, 1 – 5 pm
King Manor is Southeast Queens’ only historic house museum, presenting an experience of life in Jamaica in the early 19th century through tours, exhibits, lectures, and more. The manor is the former home and farm of Rufus King and his family, who were lawyers and politicians and early proponents of the anti-slavery movement.
The Living Museum
80-45 Winchester Blvd, Queens Village
Mon – Thurs by appointment (call 718-264-3490)
Giving a somewhat different spin on “outsider art,” the Living Museum showcases work made by inpatients and outpatients of the Creedmore Psychiatric Center, a 300-acre facility opened in 1912 by (this is really what it was called) the Lunacy Commission of New York State. The museum is huge, housed in a 40,000-square-food former dining hall, and it’s densely packed with work, from poems on the walls to Picasso-inspired sculptures made of coat hangers to a trove of straightjackets repurposed into canvasses. The New York Times called it “a beehive of beautiful, sometimes unfiltered minds,” and cofounder Janos Marton explained the concept as “turning patients into ‘crazy artists’—using the disadvantage of mental illness to our advantage.”
Louis Armstrong House Museum
34-56 107th St, Corona
Tues – Fri, 10 – 5; Sat – Sun, 12 – 5
Built in 1910 and bought by Louis and his wife Lucille in 1943, the Armstrong House holds five different huge collections related to Satchmo’s life. There’s Louis’s own collection of reel-to-reel tapes, band parts, and scrapbooks; Armstrong memorabilia including thousands of letters and photographs; art objects owned by the couple; and a wide array of additional ephemera. In honor of Black History Month, all visitors in February will receive a limited-edition reproduction of one of Louis’s scrapbook pages.
Mets Hall of Fame Museum
Next to the Jackie Robinson Rotunda in Citi Field
open during games
FREE for ticket holders
Opened in 2010, a year after Citi Field, the Mets Hall of Fame Museum houses—of course—the Mets Hall of Fame, which used to be in the Diamond Club at Shea Stadium. The museum also boasts Mets-y ephemera like the 1969 World Series trophy and an original Mr. Met Head.
Museum of the Moving Image
36-01 35th Ave, Astoria
Wed – Thurs, 10:30 – 5:00; Fri 10:30 – 8:00; Sat – Sun, 11:30 – 7:00
MoMI is on the site of the historic Astoria studio, the former East Coast home of Paramount Pictures. It opened in 1988 as the first museum in the United States dedicated to the art, history, technique, and technology of film, television, and digital media. In 2011 the museum began a massive expansion that doubled its size and added two new theaters and an education center. The museum screens 400+ films each year, hosts myriad discussion series and educational programs, and has a core exhibition of 1,400 artifacts, and one of the largest collections of video games and gaming hardware. The museum is definitely keeping up with the times, too: there’s an exhibit on cat gifs currently on view, and last weekend they welcomed feline superstar Lil Bub for a celebrity appearance.
9-01 33rd Rd, Long Island City
Weds – Fri, 10 – 5; Sat – Sun, 11 – 6
This museum and sculpture garden serve as an extension of the life’s work of Isamu Noguchi, one of the most critically acclaimed sculptors of the 20th century. It was opened in 1985 in a converted industrial building across the street from where the artist had had a studio since the 1960s. The Noguchi Museum comprises an open-air sculpture garden within a building that houses ten galleries containing the world’s largest collection of Noguchi’s sculptures, drawings, models, and designs.
Underpenny Plane & Cast Iron Museum
10-13 50th Ave, Long Island City
Mon – Sat, 11:30 – 7:30; Sun 11 – 5
Yet another testament to one person’s tenacity and collecting fervor, the Underpenny Museum showcases antiques dealer Undsung Park’s vast collection of mid-19th-century artifacts. There are hundreds of vintage pieces lining the walls, from trivets to penny banks to hand planes to toys. One side of the museum is for viewing only, but the pieces on the other side are all for sale.
Vander Ende–Onderdonk House
1820 Flushing Ave, Ridgewood
Sat 1 – 5
Originally built in 1661, the Onderdonk House is NYC’s oldest Dutch Colonial stone house and was used as a marker in the disputed boundary between Kings and Queens Counties in 1769. Now home to the Greater Ridgewood Historical Society, which was established in 1975 in large part to save the Onderdonk House from demolition, it now serves as a historical museum, with a permanent collection of archaeological artifacts from the Onderdonk site, rotating exhibits on the history of Queens, and cultural and educational events from genealogy workshops to maker markets.
Queens County Farm Museum
73-50 Little Neck Pkwy, Floral Park
10 – 5
Sprawling across an incredible 47 acres, the Queens County Farm Museum, started in 1697, is NYC’s largest remaining tract of undisturbed farmland and the longest continuously farmed site in New York State. The centerpiece of the complex is the restored Adriance Farmhouse, built in 1772, and there are also barns and outbuildings, an orchard, beehives, an herb garden, a vineyard, a greenhouse, and livestock including cows, sheep, hens, and goats. The museum hosts regular events like seasonal hayrides, the Amazing Maize Maze, the annual Queens County Fair, and lots more.
Queens Historical Society Museum
143-35 37th Ave, Flushing
Tues, Sat, Sun, 2:30 – 4:30
The Kingsland Homestead, which houses the Queens Historical Society Museum, is one of the few surviving 18th-century homes in Queens and was the first in the borough to receive New York City Landmark status. Current exhibits include “Leading the Way: Six Outstanding Women of Queens” and “Victorian Parlor,” wherein one of the homestead’s rooms has been modeled to look like it would have in 1870. The QHS archive encompasses maps, atlases, manuscripts, photographs, family papers, rare books, genealogies, and ephemera covering 300 years of the history of Queens.
44-19 Purves St, Long Island City
Thurs – Mon, 11 – 6
The Sculpture Center’s history goes back to 1928, when it was founded as the Clay Club in artist Dorothy Denslow’s Brooklyn studio. In 1930 it moved to Manhattan and over the next several decades established itself as a pioneering exhibition space for sculptural works. The name was changed to Sculpture Center in 1950, and the organization relocated to its current LIC home in a former trolley repair shop in 2001. Sculpture Center has no permanent collection, instead focusing on commissioning new work and presenting rotating exhibits dedicated to experimental and innovative developments in contemporary sculpture.
Socrates Sculpture Park
32-01 Vernon Blvd, Long Island City
10 – sunset
In the late 1980s, the land that would become the Socrates Sculpture Park was abandoned and fast becoming a disgusting landfill, but in 1986, a group of artists and community members worked together to clean it up and make it over into an open studio, exhibition space, and public park. The Center’s mission is to give artists opportunities to make and show large-scale and multimedia installations in an outdoor environment that encourages the public to interact with the art. The space also hosts a slew of events, from Rooftop Films screenings to Circus Amok performances to the LIC Bike Parade.
Voelker Orth Museum
149-19 38th Ave, Flushing
Tues, Sat, Sun, 1 – 4
Well over a century old, the home containing the Voelker Orth Museum has been continuously owned by one family since the 1890s. The property was extensively restored before being opened to the public in 2003, and in addition to the house, the museum includes a large Victorian garden, which is maintained using 18th-century techniques and also serves as a bird sanctuary. The museum offers exhibitions, house tours, performances, talks, workshops, and educational programs.
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