Published: February 3, 2016
By Laura Beach
NEW YORK CITY — David Llewellyn Reese, 63, died suddenly at his home on Wednesday, February 3. An authority on New York history and a passionate enthusiast of its arts and architecture, Reese served as the curator of the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens, at the time of his death.
Born in Mount Kisco, N.Y., on October 15, 1952, Reese earned a master’s degree in architectural history from the University of Virginia, concentrating in American architecture of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. He wrote his thesis on Carrere and Hastings’ design for the US House and Senate Office Buildings.
A past director of New York’s Abigail Adams Smith Museum and of Gunston Hall, the Eighteenth Century Virginia home of George Mason IV, he was named curator of Gracie Mansion, the historic residence of the mayors of New York City, in 1987. Reese’s tenure there overlapped that of mayors Ed Koch, David Dinkins, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. As chief officer of the Gracie Mansion Conservancy, Reese undertook the ambitious reinterpretation of Gracie Mansion’s historic public spaces.
Reese joined the Louis Armstrong House Museum as its first curator in 2012. Acknowledging his passing, the institution wrote, “David had devoted his entire career to historic sites. During weekends and vacations, he would typically visit other historic houses. He truly loved the Louis Armstrong House and brought an enviable level of professionalism to the conservation and preservation of our site. We will all miss him, personally and professionally.”
“He loved history, decorative arts and music. He had season tickets to the Metropolitan Opera and never missed the special New Year’s Eve performance. Recently, he developed an interest in the Civil War and after Christmas took his mother to visit battlefields from the Shenandoah to Gettysburg,” said Margaret Caldwell, a friend for 35 years.
She added, “David was always geared up for a decorative arts exhibition, whether at Doyle, Christie’s or the wonderful Kugel pop-up show last October. Just two weeks ago, we looked at the Tomassi bronzes at Carlton Hobbs, one of his favorite haunts. David knew New York inside out. Having made a list of special places we wanted to go, we visited the Hispanic Society of America. Last spring, we jumped in the car and headed to the Untermyer Gardens. David surprised me with a picnic.”
Reese advised the Morris-Jumel Mansion and the Abigail Adams Smith Museum, among other institutions, and was active in the Attingham Summer Program, the Victorian Society in America and in University of Virginia alumni groups.
He lectured frequently on Federal period architecture, Nineteenth Century decorative arts and historic site management. His writings included contributions to The Elements of Style, A Practical Encyclopedia of Interior Architectural Detail (1991) and City Secrets Manhattan: The Essential Insider’s Guide (2012).
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