Der Bingle All the Way: Bing Crosby’s Homes

December 15, 2019 — In general, my g-g-g-g-generation doesn’t listen to Bing Crosby songs (as dulcet as his tones are). We don’t watch Bing Crosby movies (as fun as the Road movies are). But come this time of year when sleigh bells silver the air, we cannot get enough of the dude. Bing Crosby is as Christmas as Kringle to most of us. His J-J-J-Jingle Bells and It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas blast through our Google Homes nonstop and his White Christmas and Holiday Inn (as not-Christmasy as those movies are) dance across our 60-inch 4K flatscreens like they’d just been dropped by Netflix this year.

Over the summer, we found ourselves in his home state of Washington, so we dropped by his house, unannounced. Actually we dropped by two of his houses, both times unannounced.

Harry Lillis Crosby, Jr., was born in the city of Tacoma in 1903. He was the fourth of seven children. He wasn’t born into the sparkly biz—his father was a bookkeeper—but Bing became one of the biggest sensations on the planet. A singer, an actor, a businessman—he was the entertainer triple-threat. But what I dig most about Bing is that he did it all while cultivating this uber-cool, breezy, laid-back persona. He conquered the pre-rock world without breakin’ a sweat. And, yeah, I know all this stuff about some of his sons, but what am I gonna do with that?

His birth home is still around, at 1112 North J Street. His father built the house, and today it’s a private residence in a line of private residences atop a small hill with nice view of Commencement Bay and directly across the street from a church. An almost invisible plaque set into the stairs leading up to the house humbly announces where the tiny mewling that would eventually become big-time crooning first started.

Because it was private, there’s wasn’t much to do there. Jump out of the car and self-consciously take a photo while totally missing the existence of the plaque, is what I did. But it’s his boyhood home that’s really worth the stop. When he was three, the family moved to Spokane, and rented for seven years.

It was during this time Bing got the nickname he hung a career on. When he was seven he was so into some kind of parody newspaper comic thing called the Bingville Bugle that people started calling him Bingo, which then became Bing. A real dumb way to get a lifelong nickname, but man what he did with it.

When he was ten, the family settled into another house that his pops built, also in Spokane. Its address is 508 E. Sharp Avenue. Today, the house is owned by Gonzaga University, a college Bing attended for a few years where he semi-studied law but didn’t graduate from. Gonzaga holds Bing’s archives, some 200 pieces of which are on display in that house, which it has turned into a museum.

The place is free to visit. You just have to say hello to the college kid personning the desk who was born two decades after Bing died on that golf course in Spain one month after he Christmas-duetted with David Bowie. His last words? “Let's go have a Coca-Cola,” David Bowie’s last words? I can’t find any record of them, but I really hope they were the same.

The museum covers only the first floor, which is three rooms and a kitchen. The rooms are filled with artifacts from both his life and career. Smoking pipes and photos and albums and pieces of clothing and awards, all kinds of cool stuff. And, yes, plenty of Christmas stuff.

One of the three rooms had a cardboard cutout of him. He was tiny. One of my daughters asked me if that was his actual size, and the docent called in from the other room, “That’s how big he was.” She was referring to the cardboard cutout, but she might as well have been talking about all the glitter in there. 

The room was lined with Bing’s gold records and, in the middle of the room in a glass case, was his Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his turn as a loose-in-the-collar priest in the 1945 movie Going My Way.

And, yes, White Christmas glimmered among all that gold. Silver and gold decorations, indeed.

The museum’s not the kind of place you spend hours at, but it’s the kind of place you really should stop at. In my case, now I can say that I’ve been to his grave. I’ve been to his house. And I’ve used his bathroom.

Now I’m gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fucking Kaye.