Louis Armstrong’s House and Garden Trumpet Historic Preservation

April 30, 2012 by

The Armstrong house garden in Corona, Queens. Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens.

The great jazz artist, Louis Armstrong spent his last 28 years in a modest home in Corona, Queens. Armstrong’s fourth wife Lucille purchased the house in 1943 while Armstrong was away on tour, notifying him of his new address by telegram.

Front of Armstrong house before it became a museum. Photo: Archives of Louis Armstrong House Museum.

Louis Armstrong’s Last Garden Party
The home was built in 1910, and the Armstrongs added a garden and patio in 1971 after the purchasing two adjacent foreclosed lots. The garden played an important role in Armstrong’s last years: he celebrated his last birthday with a large party in the garden just two months before his death.

The entrance to the Armstrong house garden. Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens.

Satchmo blowing his trumpet in the back garden. Photo: Archives of the Louis Armstrong House Museum.

The garden’s koi pond sits beside the patio. Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens.

Born and raised in a very poor, rough New Orleans home with no running water, Armstrong grew up sleeping on a dirt floor. Years later, when he arrived by taxi at the new Queens house, Armstrong paid the driver to wait while he knocked on the door–thinking someone might have been playing a joke on him as he’d never lived in such a “palatial” home.

Armstrong house. left, before it became a museum. Photo: Archives of Louis Armstrong House Museum. Right, the house today, Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens.

Living in Corona Like a Regular Guy
Although the Armstrong could have afforded a much grander home in a fancier neighborhood, he always loved the unpretentious lifestyle in Corona, Queens where he felt he was treated like a regular guy. “We don’t think we could be more relaxed or have better neighbors any place else,” he once wrote in an unpublished manuscript. “So we stay put.”

Louis Armstrong goes for stroll with a pet schnauzer and neighborhood kids in Queens in 1970. (Associated Press/Wide World, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

On tour more than 300 days a year, when Armstrong was home he was known to engage with the neighborhood kids, playing trumpet with them on his stoop or inviting them in for ice cream. Corona was Satchmo’s neighborhood, from the local Chinese restaurant, to the barbershop down the street where he had his hair cut.

Armstrong plays trumpet on his stoop with neighborhood kids. Photo: Archives of Louis Armstrong House Museum.

Vote to Preserve a Slice of New York City History
When preserving an historical neighborhood house such as this one, we preserve not just a building, but a slice of history, a slice of life. The Louis Armstrong House and Museum is one of the 40 New York City contenders for a portion of the $3 million in grants to be distributed by Partners in Preservation, a program in which American Express, in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, awards preservation grants to historic places across the country. The grant will fund restoration of the garden and patio and provide visitors level access to the patio and garden.

In an unpublished journal, Armstrong wrote that they couldn’t have better neighbors than in Corona, Queens. 

I am not writing about the Armstrong House to promote it above any of the other 40, but to share it as an example of another important New York City site whose preservation will benefit the city, not just in attracting visitors, but in preserving the stories such places leave behind.
Vote to preserve New York City history here!
From now until May 21, 2012, anyone 13 years of age and older, local residents and others across the globe can vote for The Louis Armstrong House or any other of the 40 sites in the running–either from a web-enabled mobile device, online, or on Facebookonce a day (but you can vote every day) for the same site or for a different site.

As I mentioned in earlier posts, the top four sites receiving the most votes will be announced on May 22 then each of the four winners will receive their full grant request–up to $250,000–with the balance of the $3 million to be distributed among the remaining sites.
Time to Party at Louis’ House!
Saturday, May 5 & Sunday, May 6
Come out for hot fun, cool jazz and ongoing historic house tours led by trained docents. Outside in the garden, guests will enjoy live jazz, sample red beans ‘n rice (Louis’ favorite recipe), a self-guided scavenger hunt, swing dancing and raffles. Raffles include a trip for two to New Orleans sponsored by Jet Blue Airlines and the Westin New Orleans Canal Place.

Louis Armstrong House Museum 
34-56 107th Street
Corona, NY 11368 

Tuesday-Friday: 10 am-5 pm 
Saturday-Sunday: 12 pm-5 pm

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