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Bowne House Visitor Center – Project Summary

October 15, 2013

Project History

In 2006, the trustees of the Bowne House Historical Society (BHHS) voted to construct a Visitors Center on the landmark Bowne House property in Flushing, New York. Following a preliminary design study, the trustees agreed that a Visitors Center would help address critical needs impacting long-term access, preservation, and interpretation of the landmark site:

  • Provision for public access and interpretation of the property during the restoration of the 1661 house.
  • Relocation of administrative functions from the house, alleviating stress on that historic resource.
  • Creation of space for exhibits, lectures, meetings and public events.
  • Installation of ADA compliant restroom facilities for visitors.
  • Storage of archival materials and other fragile materials.


In addition to addressing the needs of the Society during a multi-year restoration, the trustees intended that the Visitors Center serve as a resource and amenity for the community of Flushing and New York City, allowing for additional public programs and providing a flexible space for use by other organizations and groups.

The Society retained a private architect and worked with Historic House Trust and NYC Parks to develop a plan. In the interim, the Society approached a number of elected officials to obtain funding for construction. To date, 2013, over $2,000,000 has been committed to this project.

In accordance with our Donation Agreement with NYC Parks (Parks), the city assumed ownership of Bowne House in July, 2009. Under this agreement, the BHHS will continue to operate the museum, be responsible for its educational programming, and maintain its collections, which it will continue to own.

In 2011, as the Visitors Center plans were nearing completion, Parks made a decision to assume responsibility for the architectural planning as well as for constructions of the building. In accordance with requirements for construction on a landmarked site, Parks has taken the following steps:

  • Conducted archaeological studies on the proposed location: these investigations were done by the firm of Historical Perspectives, Inc.
  • Prepared various designs for consideration and has presented them to the Office of the Queens Borough President.
  • Consulted with NYC Landmarks and a community board committee to gage their opinion of the plans.

The remaining steps include presentation to the full boards and to the NYS Preservation Office (SHPO) and receiving their approval for the new design.

 Construction is expected to take at least two years, with a projected completion date of 2015-2016. We regret that the Visitors Center was not completed and functioning during the restoration and serving as a vehicle to interpret preservation work underway at the house, as originally planned. We look forward to having it serve as a future resource to the museum and to the community.

We would like to thank our elected officials who generously provided funding for this project: Queens Borough President Helen Marshall; NYC Comptroller John Liu, and NYS Senator Frank Padavan.

October, 2011

The plans for the Bowne House Visitor's Center are underway; the firm of James Dixon, Architect PC was selected by the Bowne House Historical Society in 2007 to design the building. The award-winning design will complement the 1661 house and replace the existing early 20th century garage, which is in poor condition and is unsuitable for use as a Visitor's Center. Funding in the amount of $2,359,000 has been allocated for the project by the Queens Borough President and the City Council. Historic House Trust has given us an estimated construction date of 2012.

In preparation for construction work, additional archaeology studies will be done in the vicinity of the garage. Historical Perspectives, Inc. was selected by Historic House Trust to conduct the studies. The archaeology work was scheduled to start in the summer of 2011. Archaeology work is mandated by the city and state whenever construction is taking place at a landmarked property. Boring holes will be dug and soil samples will be taken as well.

The Historical Society had hoped that the Visitor's Center would be open during the restoration work on the house, in order to interpret the work underway on the 17th century structure. Few structures dating from the 17th century remain in America, and the opportunities to observe and learn from the restoration of one of them would have provided a unique and valuable educational experience. We were looking forward to sharing this experience with local school children and with our many visitors. Reviews, tests, permitting and multiple approvals from many agencies at the city and state level have caused delays that the Society could not anticipate. The Society has done its best to advance the project but it remains far behind schedule.

The Visitor's Center, when open, will provide additional display space and storage for those collections which require a climate-controlled environment, ADA compliant restrooms, and much-needed, updated office space.

January 28, 2008

In 2006, the Board of Trustees of the Bowne House Historical Society (BHHS) voted to construct a visitor center on the landmark Bowne House property in Flushing, New York. Following a preliminary design study, the Trustees agreed that a visitor center would help address five critical needs impacting long-term access, preservation, and interpretation of the landmark site:

  • Provision for public access and interpretation of the property during the restoration of the house.
  • Relocation of administrative functions from house, alleviating stress on historic resource.
  • Creation of space for exhibitions, lectures, and public events during and after restoration.
  • Installation of ADA-compliant restroom facilities for visitors.
  • Storage of archival and other fragile materials in a properly controlled environment.

In addition to addressing the needs of BHHS during and after the multi-year restoration, the Trustees believe the visitor center would serve as a resource and amenity for the community of Flushing, Queens, and New York City, allowing for additional public programs and providing a flexible space for use by other organizations and groups.

A microcosm of 300 years of social, cultural, and political history, Bowne House (ca.1661) is the oldest house in Queens and among the oldest in New York City.
It was built by John Bowne, who emigrated from England to Boston in 1649 and settled in Flushing, Queens, when New York was under Dutch rule. His family prospered in America: the nine generations born and raised in the house produced businessmen, horticulturalists, educators, and politicians. Over the course of 300 years, the family left its mark on American culture, participating in events of both regional and national significance—starting with John Bowne's courageous defense of religious freedom in 1662, an act which established the principles later codified in the Bill of Rights.
Bowne House has been a museum since 1947. Chartered by the New York State Board of Regents, the Bowne House Historical Society's mission includes the preservation of the house, its contents and grounds for its historical and educational interest, for its significance to the history of New York and for its importance in the establishment in this country of the fundamental principles of freedom of conscience and religious liberty.

The BHHS is in the process of transferring ownership of the Bowne House property to the City of New York Department of Parks & Recreation and establishing a license agreement to operate the museum and conserve and care for the collection. The anticipated completion of the transfer is spring 2008.

Project Description
The BHHS developed a Request for Proposal (RFP) for architectural services that outlined the parameters of the project and described the programmatic needs of the institution. The key factor in designing a visitor center for was to preserve the integrity of the site and minimize any negative impacts to the house, landscape, adjacent park (Margaret I. Carmen Green), and neighboring structures. For this reason, it was decided that the square feet of the visitor center should not exceed 1,500.

Other design guidelines included:

  • Scale: Small footprint; one story with basement for mechanical equipment and storage.
  • Materials: In-keeping with architecture of house and period of significance (1661-1947 – occupation of Bowne and Parsons Families).
  • Landscape: Minimize removal of existing trees.
  • Circulation: Consider visitor and other access to and through the site and house.

The prescribed visitor center program included:

  • Orientation area with interpretative panels and gift shop display.
  • Administrative office for at least two persons with archival storage and meeting space.
  • Flexible space for exhibitions, lectures, educational programs, and other events.
  • Handicap-accessible toilet.

In addition to preserving the site and meeting the museum’s and institution’s needs, another objective of the visitor center included in the RFP was to use sustainable methods of design and construction, e.g. “green building”, which would allow the building to be certified as a LEED (Leadership in Energy and environmental Design) building. LEED is a nationally-recognized rating program for sustainable design and construction.

Design Schemes
The prominent firm of James Dixon Architect was chosen to prepare two design schemes that would explore the potential of constructing a visitor center on the Bowne House site while adhering to the program, criteria, and guidelines noted above.

Scheme A – Rehabilitation and Expansion of Existing Garage
With the first scheme, the architect utilized an existing garage structure erected ca.1925 and substantially altered overtime. Scheme A calls for remodeling of the existing structure, both exterior and interior, and the construction of an addition that would double the existing square feet of the garage from approximately 650 to 1,350. Although the scale, form, and materials of the new addition recall a barn structure, the building’s exterior will be rendered in a contemporary design style, clearly distinguishing it from the house and garage.

Scheme A: View from Bowne Street

Scheme A: Plan


Scheme B – New Building at Bowne Street
Scheme B is a new building of approximately 1,500 square feet located adjacent to Bowne Street, which would help resolve issues of access and security and give the new facility—and the activities it will house—a greater community presence. The building uses materials and details of the house, but, like Scheme A, renders them in a contemporary manner.

Scheme B: View from Bowne Street

Scheme B: Plan

Next Steps
BHHS is currently reviewing the merits and costs of both schemes with the Historic House Trust and New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. The goal is to choose a single scheme to further develop, secure necessary approvals, and to break ground in spring 2009.

Financial support in excess of $400,000 has been provided by the Office of Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and New York City Councilman John Liu. Additional funds will be needed for planning and construction costs, specifically those related to meeting the LEED standard for sustainable buildings, and for outfitting the building with furniture, furnishings and equipment.

The Society is excited about this project, which will complement and enhance the historic 1661 structure and serve as an important resource for the museum as we plan for the future.