A walk on Linden Boulevard in St. Albans, under the Long Island Rail Road overpass at 180th Street near the St. Albans station, reveals a colorful mural on the north side depicting jazz and R&B greats Billie Holiday, Illinois Jacquet, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Brook Benton, Milt Hinton, Fats Waller and James Brown, as well as baseball’s Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella. It appeared in 2004 and was organized by Winnie Morgan and designed by Joe Stephenson with the aid of volunteer artists; it replaced an earlier mural that had chipped away and had otherwise been compromised over the years.
The personalities on the mural weren’t selected arbitrarily — everyone here was a resident of St. Albans, and more specifically, most lived in Addisleigh Park, a quiet neighborhood located between Guy Brewer Boulevard, the LIRR, Linden Boulevard and 111th (Brinkerhoff) Avenue.
Southern Queens’ ascendance as a mecca for jazz musicians began in 1923 when Clarence Williams, a successful musician and entrepreneur from Plaquemine, Louisiana, purchased a home and eight lots at 171-37 108th Avenue. Anticipating the increasing popularity of jazz in the north, Williams moved first to Chicago in 1920 and then to New York with his wife, singer Eva Taylor, in 1923. Desiring open spaces reminiscent of his upbringing in the Louisiana delta, Williams made his home in Queens. He would be the first in a lengthy line of jazz musicians to come to southern Queens.
Elsewhere in Queens, Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie called Corona home (both are interred in Flushing Cemetery); swing kings Benny Goodman and Woody Herman resided in Jackson Heights; Bix Beiderbecke in Sunnyside; and Cannonball Adderley in East Elmhurst, among many others.
The Queens Jazz Trail, a map and walking guide by Tony Millionaire and Marc H. Miller and published by the Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts, is an excellent guide to the residences of jazz musicians borough-wide.
For those who aren’t familiar with my work on Brownstoner.com, I’m Suzanne Spellen, and I write under the pen name “Montrose Morris.” Mr. Morris was an important late 19th century architect who worked almost entirely in Brooklyn. He was especially prolific in Central Brooklyn – in Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, where I lived for close to twenty-five years. I took his name as a log-in name well before I started writing for the blog, and it just stuck. I write about architectural history, neighborhood history, and the people who lived, worked and walked in our streets. I’ll be doing the same here, and I hope to do Queens proud.
I have a Queens connection as well as a Brooklyn connection; I spent the first five years of my life in Queens. Not impressive street cred, but it’s what I’ve got. My family lived in St. Albans until I was six, when we moved to upstate New York. I went to pre-school in a park in St. Albans, and went to kindergarten at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic School, on Riverton Street, near Farmers and Baisley Boulevards. I still have very vivid memories of the school, and the house I lived in, even though it wasn’t for all that long, and was long ago, when dinosaurs still roamed the streets.
I was asked to write about Queens and its history and buildings, so I thought I would start with an area that is not on the radar for hip and happening colonization anytime soon, thankfully. This first post about Queens is going to be personal, and hopefully informational. As many have said, and will continue to say, Queens is a multi-cultural melting pot, with more cultures and ethnicities than any other part of New York City. Queens is so much more than just Long Island City, Forest Hills, Astoria and Ridgewood. Today, the first Queenswalk is going to look at my old hometown of St. Albans.
Image Source: Juliet Kaye
Naida Njoku has a miniature passion. Since getting her first one at age 14, she has collected more than 500 dolls from five continents, everything from Jacqueline Kennedy to Mahatma Gandhi to Asian figurines in long, black dresses. In 2008, the retired nurse opened the Maria Rose International Doll Museum and Cultural Center to share her collection with others. Not only can patrons take a trip around the doll world at this Southeast Queens venue, but they can admire a replica of a quaint English village replete with a train set. Today, December 29, until the end of 2013, patrons can visit for free.
Maria Rose International Doll Museum
187-11 Linden Boulevard, St. Albans
Saturday, December 29
12:30pm – 4:30pm | Free