Louis Armstrong Park
Just across Rampart Street from the French Quarter, in Treme, lies Louis Armstrong Park. The Treme neighborhood and its contribution to New Orleans music has been accurately portrayed in the HBO series Treme. Armstrong Park has been newly reopened after years of repair as a result of the destructive forces of Hurricane Katrina. Now the park is alive with the wonderful music it was created to honor. The striking entrance invites you into one of the most historic parks in New Orleans. In one corner is Congo Square, in the back of the park the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts adds elegance. Throughout the park graceful swans float by on lovely ponds.
Early in the history of New Orleans, during the French and Spanish colonial period, Sunday was a day of respite for the African slaves. A patch of land known as "Place de Negres”, “Place Publique”, later “Circus Square” or informally “Place Congo” in what is now Armstrong Park was then the Sunday meeting place for these people. During the French Colonial period the area was floored with cobble stones and became the place for dancing. Slaves would spend Sundays selling crafts and wares, making music and dancing. In the morning the enslaved would join together to pay homage to their religion, the land, and to practice traditions taken from them. This historic place became known as Congo Square and was added to the national register of historic places in 1993. Congo Square has always been a mystical place, quite possibly the place where Jazz was born. It's sacred ground to be treasured.
Today Congo Square is still a place of the celebration of the roots of Jazz and contributions of Africans to our music. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was held here in the early days before it became the internationally famous Jazz Fest that it is today and outgrew the small, historic Congo Square. Nevertheless, Congo Square is used more and more often as a site for all festivals and concerts to ensue that all of New Orleans and our visitors will remember the roots of our most revered musical traditions including the Second Line and the Mardi Gras Indians. There is an organization called People United for Armstrong Park, whose motto is "sowing seeds on sacred ground" that is dedicated to the preservation of Armstrong Park, and to returning Congo Square and the Treme neighborhood to its rightful place in the music scene of New Orleans.
Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts
In the back of Armstrong Park rises the modern, state of the art theater named for one of New Orleans' greatest daughters, Mahalia Jackson. This theater, completely renovated after Hurricane Katrina is the site of premiers for movies filmed in New Orleans, operas, and a Broadway Season every year that brings hit shows like Lion King, Wicked and Jersey Boys to New Orleans. It's graceful crystal chandeliers provide an elegant venue that seats 2100 people. With Armstrong Park's lagoons and weeping willow trees as its front lawn, intermission at any performance at Mahalia Jackson Theater is almost as entertaining as the performance.
Photos of Armstrong Park
Some of the beauty of this small park and the elegance of the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts can be seen in these photos.