Filed Under:  Entertainment

Ceremonies open Armstrong Park once again

28th November 2011   ·   0 Comments

By Mary LaCoste
Contributing Writer

Louis Armstrong must have been smiling down from heaven as the park named in his honor was reopened Friday morning, Nov. 18. It was blessed with perfect weather and a happy gathering of school children, neighbors, city officials and interested citizens. There were speeches, music and enthusiastic applause.

The mayor spoke as did councilpersons and park officials. The National Park Service will be in charge of much of the space and operate a visitors’ center focusing on jazz history. Across the rear of the area is the beautifully renovated Mahalia Jackson Performance Center.

The jazz band included “Uncle” Lionel Batiste who remembered when his house stood on the ground cleared of homes to make way for the park over 30 years ago. He could remember the early days of the park when it was used for the Jazz Fest before it moved to the Fair Grounds. He may have also remembered Congo Square, adjacent to the park. It featured a fountain that danced to the Bamboola.

Jennifer Jones, in full costume, led the group as it entered through the newly opened gate under the arch spelling out “Armstrong.” Inside, the people admired the new statues reflecting the history and genius of New Orleans music. Best of all, they saw the statue of Louis Armstrong on a new and more prominent pedestal.

Wandering, some discovered an antique rose garden salvaged after Katrina neglect by Leo Watermeier, who is the leader and inspiration of the Friends of Armstrong Park organization. He said, “We’re really happy to have the entire park open. Now we need to get a management plan in place so the park is properly maintained and security is improved.”

Those who wandered into the Congo Square noted that the old Municipal Auditorium sits unused and unrepaired but that the sign identifying the area as the “Cradle of Jazz” was still intact. To their surprise, the fountain in the center of the Congo Square pavement was dancing — and you could almost hear the Bamboola!

Indeed, Louis Armstrong was smiling.

This article was originally published in the November 28, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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