By Mark Stevens
As the city of Jamestown prepares for the Grand Opening of the National Comedy Center during the Lucille Ball Comedy Festival on August 1-5, 2018, a tour of where to find the best tributes to the legendary star seem appropriate.
More than 2500 miles from the corner of Hollywood and Vine sits Desilu Studios at the corner of Third and Main in Lucille’s hometown of Jamestown, NY. Walking through this museum dedicated to the TV show I Love Lucy is like taking a trip back in time. The Studios features exact replicas of the Ricardo’s New York City apartment living room and kitchen, as well as the hotel room where Lucy and Ricky stayed during their Hollywood, California vacation. It also houses original costumes, props from I Love Lucy, TV guide covers, and Lucy’s many golden Emmy Awards. A replica of Ricky Ricardo’s famous nightclub, The Tropicana Room, can be seen upstairs during special events.
The trip down memory lane doesn’t stop there, as next door to Desilu Studios is the Lucille Ball – Desi Arnaz Museum. Admission to both museums is included in a features several distinct galleries that chronicle the lives of the first couple of comedy, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. From the early years through decades later, the museum showcases the couple’s careers and love story through old photographs, video clips, paintings and even Lucille Ball’s monogrammed 1972 gold Mercedes-Benz. Admission to both museums is included in a single ticket.
If those aren’t reasons enough to love Lucy, here are a few more. Images of the iconic actress can be seen towering over the city of Jamestown, with several murals created in her honor. Painted by local artist Gary Peters, Jr., these breath-taking likenesses are a must-see. The first is a scene from the famous Vitameatavegamin commercial episode which dominates a parking garage on the corner of Third and Spring. Down the street, a 33 cent postage stamp mural is fittingly affixed to the post office building at Third and Prendergast. Another on the corner of Fourth and Spring depicts a formal portrait of Lucy and Desi. And, one tucked away on a Third Street wall between Pine and Cherry illustrates the famous candy on the conveyor belt scene. All these larger than life murals are crafted in black and white, with the exception of the fifth and largest mural. Located in Brooklyn Square, the 1800 square foot painting is entitled, California, Here We Come and shows the Ricardo’s and the Mertz’s driving out to the west coast for their Hollywood adventure. Use our interactive map, “10 Places to Experience Jamestown’s “I Love Lucy” Culture,” to take a self-guided tour.
The next stop on our search for Lucy is home sweet home, two homes exactly. Lucille Ball was born August 6, 1911 on Stewart Avenue in the Jamestown. The house belonged to her grandparents Fred and Florabell Hunt. Lucy’s mother, Dede, returned home from Montana to have her baby Lucille who Florabell eventually delivered. Though born in Jamestown, Lucy grew up in neighboring Celoron in a house on what was 8th Street. It has since been renamed 59 Lucy Lane. In addition to her mother and grandparents, Lucy grew up with her brother Fred and cousins, Lola and Cleo. Guests are invited to drive past 59 Lucy Lane or visit their website for interior photos, but no tours are currently available.
Also located in Celoron is Lucille Ball Memorial Park, home of the Desi Arnaz bandshell and two statues depicting Lucille Ball’s likeness. One of the Lucille Ball statues, dubbed “Scary Lucy,” gained national media attention in early 2016 after several Lucille Ball fans felt the likeness did not do her justice. A new statue, affectionately nicknamed “Lovely Lucy,” was commissioned and unveiled on what would have been the comedienne’s 105th birthday, August 6, 2016. Today, both works of art reside at Lucille Ball Memorial Park and it’s not uncommon to see people taking a selfie with the original queen of comedy.
For those wanting to pay their respects to the Hunt and Ball families, look no further than Lake View Cemetery in Jamestown. Enter through the main gate at the corner of Buffalo Street and Lakeview Avenue and follow the red-heart pathway. At the end, you’ll find the Hunt family plot where Lucille Ball’s ashes were placed. Horse-drawn covered carriage tours of the cemetery are available regularly during the annual comedy festival.
Speaking of the festival, climb aboard a cozy coach bus and take advantage of guided Lucy Town Tours. While a DVD plays in the bus featuring old photos of Jamestown, the tour makes stops at Lucy’s childhood homes in Jamestown and Celoron, as well as Lakeview Cemetery and Lucille Ball Memorial Park.
In addition to the tours, there are always several Lucy-related activities like grape stomping and trying your skills with the candy conveyor belt. The festival also features comedy workshops and performances by some of the biggest names in the industry. Over the years, Jamestown has welcomed the likes of Ellen DeGeneres, Ray Romano, Joan Rivers, Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld, drawing visitors from all over the world. For 2018 Lucille Ball Comedy Festival events, click here.
Soon, in addition to Lucille Ball, the world will also be able to celebrate and honor the achievements of those before and after her through the National Comedy Center. This cultural interactive visitor experience is designed to celebrate comedy’s past, present and future in all its forms, from early vaudeville acts to the latest viral memes. This state-of-the-art museum features over 50 exhibits and cutting-edge personalization technology, making the experience entirely unique, even as guests return again and again. The National Comedy Center may not be about Lucille Ball, but it is the fulfillment of her vision for her hometown, as a destination to celebrate a craft that has endured decades of family entertainment.
Originally from New England, Mark Stevens is a writer and journalist who lives in Jamestown, NY with his wife and three children. He enjoys travelling and spending time with family and friends.