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Louis Armstrong Community Center

Louis Armstrong Center

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This center honors jazz musician Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong (1900-1971). He lived in a small Corona home with his wife from 1943 until his death in 1971.

Louis Armstrong’s musical career had quite an unusual start: an arrest. Eleven-year-old Armstrong fired a pistol into the sky on New Years Eve, 1912, and a judge subsequently placed him in the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys. His first musical instruction came from the Home’s band director, Peter Davis. Young Armstrong rapidly made a huge name for himself locally as an up-and-coming jazz coronet and trumpet player. In 1924, after a brief stint performing in Chicago with the King Oliver Orchestra, Louis Armstrong and his new wife Lillian Hardin moved from his native New Orleans to New York City in hope of advancing his musical career. New York was rapidly asserting itself as a center for jazz, beginning to draw black musicians from New Orleans, Chicago, Kansas City, and Memphis to the new mid-town jazz clubs and the creative incubator of the Harlem Renaissance. After he joined the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, Armstrong was on the path to national renown.

By the time he had moved to Corona, “Satchmo” (short for “Satchel mouth,” an apparent play on his breath capacity when playing his instruments) had become an international celebrity. He played with such legends as Bessie Smith (1894-1937), Glenn Miller (1904-1944), and Bing Crosby (1903-1977). Cutting records, performing for royalty, filming movies, and playing in bands small and large, Armstrong traveled an average of 300 days per year. At the end of a series of appearances on Dick Cavett, the Tonight Show, and two weeks of performances in the Empire Room at the Waldorf Astoria, Louis Armstrong died on July 6, 1971. A defining figure in 20th century jazz, his incredible skill established him as one of the form’s greatest innovators.

The first developers arrived in this area in 1854, calling the community West Flushing. These investors hoping to take advantage of the newly installed lines of the Long Island Rail Road, and the neighborhood grew around the train stations in its early years. By 1872, the area was renamed Corona as a reference to the ‘crown’ of villages in northwestern Queens. The population grew after the opening of rapid transit lines in 1917, and it continues to expand in the 21st century due to continuous immigration from the Caribbean, South America, and Asia.

In 1995, the City granted this site, located at the intersection of 108th Street and Northern Boulevard, to Parks for the creation of a new recreation center for the local communities of Queens. The Department of Cultural Affairs and Parks have maintained the center since the time of its construction. Originally a two-building complex providing the local community with diverse social services from drug rehabilitation to job training, a third building was added to the site in 1996. Named that same year, the Louis Armstrong Center has served the community with a variety of activities and programs, including basketball, soccer, and martial arts programs and dance classes for both young and old. In 1996 Little Dancers, a large-scale sculpture by Howard McCalebb, was installed in the facilities courtyard.

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