The name of this street and plaza comes from the National Race Course, a horse-racing track that operated here from 1854-1866.
The Corona area began as West Flushing in 1854, when a group of speculators from the City of New York developed the area and named it after its 200-year-old neighbor to the east. That year also saw the beginning of regional Long Island Rail Road service and the opening of the National Race Course. Developers planned the streets around the railroad route, rapidly increasing settlement in the following years. In 1856, the National Race Course was renamed Fashion Race Track, after a champion horse. The racetrack became a major attraction, featuring the new sport of harness-racing. With the construction of lavish new tracks in Fordham and Sheepshead Bay, however, and with a resurgence of thoroughbred racing, the track closed down in 1866.
In 1867, music publisher and land developer Benjamin W. Hitchcock extended his influence into West Flushing by buying 1200 parcels of land. He also saw to the opening of a Flushing Rail Road station at National Avenue. The town grew in population and prominence and by 1872, its residents wanted a name change that would distinguish it from Flushing, and express pride in their flourishing community. West Flushing became “Corona,” a Latin term for “crown,” designating it as the “crown” of all towns on Long Island. During the latter half of the 19th century, Corona became home to many factories producing goods as varied as portable houses, fine china, and Tiffany glass.
Corona continued to thrive, and the defunct racetrack site provided space for new housing and commercial development in the heart of the neighborhood. Its population had reached 2,500 by 1898 and 6,200 by 1910. The introduction of rapid transit in 1917 spurred further and greater population growth for Corona than in any previous period. Home to a predominantly Italian and Jewish population, Corona has experienced a huge influx of Latin American immigrants since the end of World War II. Among its most famous residents, the great jazz musician Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) lived here from 1943 until his death.
The City acquired this property, nestled underneath the Corona Plaza elevated train stop at the intersection of National Street and Roosevelt Avenue, in 1917 upon condemnation of sections of Roosevelt Avenue. Parks was then assigned jurisdiction in order to create a public park. Originally named Corona Plaza in 1928, the site was renamed National Plaza by Commissioner Stern in 1985. National Plaza supports a handful of trees, shrubs, and potted flowers and attracts local vendors selling artwork and other products. It is part of the Greenstreets project, a collaboration between Parks and the Department of Transportation initiated in 1986 and revived in 1994, which seeks to beautify urban spaces by transforming patches of concrete and asphalt into small parks.