Day Trippin’

The Armstrong Center

By Joy and Brian Pape

Welcome to our new column — Day Trippin’ — where we share highlights of our visits and ideas for places to go for a day.

The new Armstrong Center captures the fluid curves of musical instruments, and the brassy color of Armstrong’s trumpets. Credit: B Pape.

Yes, this is a Village paper. We are so lucky to be living close to so many places that are full of history and exciting things to do!

INSIDE THE NEW ARMSTRONG CENTER, Joy views exhibits of Louis Armstrong’s many years as a world-revered artist and humanitarian. Credit: B Pape

It was a beautiful Saturday, making a last-minute decision to gosomewhere just for the day. We’ve wanted to go to the Louis Armstrong Museum for some time, so an article in the NY Times “re-sparked” our interest. Brian wanted to bike. I thought that was a bit of a ‘hike.’ When we checked the trains, we saw it would have taken as long to take the subway as it would to take the bike. Oh, BTW, we don’t own a car so that was out of the picture. So, we took off for Corona Queens on our cargo bike.

The Armstrong Center opened on July 6, 2023 with the exhibit Here To Stay. It tells the story of LouisArmstrong’s five-decade career as an innovative musician, rigorous archivist, consummate collaborator and community builder. The Center was built on a former parking lot, costing $26 million (of mostly state and local funding). It is the permanent home for the 60,000-piece archive of Louis and Lucille Armstrong and houses a 75-seat venue offering performances, lectures, films and educational experiences.

Directly across 107 Street from the Armstrong Center is the historic home of Louis and Lucille Armstrong, preserved from their many years of life there. Credit: B Pape.

Caples Jefferson Architects designed the 14,000-square-foot building, staying mindful of theArmstrongs’ love for their community and their neighbors on the block. “In a neighborhood comprised of modest two-story houses, we wanted to keep the building in the scale of its surroundings while creating an urban precinct that notes the singular work of the man whose music underlies so much of what we listen to today,” explained architects Sara Caples and Everardo Jefferson. “The design of the museum is simultaneously exuberant and restrained, and is, in every way, a celebration of the legacy of Louis Armstrong.”

The center is directly across 107 Street from the Louis Armstrong House Museum. It is a modest two-story dwelling in this working-class neighborhood where Armstrong lived with his wife, Lucille, from 1943 until his death in 1971. Lucille continued to live there until she died in 1983, working to ensure that it became a National and New York Historic Landmark honoring her husband. 

She willed the home and its contents to the City of New York which designated the City University of New York, Queens College, to shepherd the process that preserves and interprets Armstrong’s house and grounds. The college is also responsible for collecting and sharing archival materials that document Armstrong’s life and legacy, developing programs for the public that educate and inspire, and engaging with contemporary artists to create performances and new works. The Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation (LAEF), which helped to facilitate this process, continues to work today as a force for jazz education. 

The current 2023 artists in residence are Esperanza Spalding, Antonio Brown and Amyra León. Wynton Marsalis is on the advisory board.

We found the tour and exhibits to be personal and touching. We found the House interiors to be a blast from the past, having grown up in the ‘60s and ‘70s with similar interior designs. To see the humanity of Armstrong come through so strongly in his love for children (though they never had their own children), especially in the neighborhood that provided him with a sense of “normality” compared to his hectic touring schedule and his very turbulent earlier life. We learned that Lucille had decided to buy the house instead of traveling constantly for years, using her own resources when Louis said he didn’t think it was necessary. Thus, the poignancy of the exhibit, Here To Stay, shows the Armstrongs’ commitment to Corona and New York.

Ever since our visit, we’ve been listening to Louis’ music in the background at home.

How to get there—best to make reservations with LAHM 

Subway: Take the 1 train to the Times Square station, switch to 7 train to the 103 St.-Corona Plaza station, then walk about 11 minutes north to 39 Avenue, then to 37 Avenue, then around the corner to 34-56 107 Street, Corona, Queens. Estimated travel time is 1 hour, including 11 minutes of walking from the subway.

Bike: I prefer the greenways, so I’d go up the Hudson River Greenway to 56th Street, over to the Queensboro Bridge, then Northern Boulevard bikeway to 34 Avenue. Much of 34 Avenue is bikeway or closed to traffic as part of the “Open Streets” program. At 106 Street, go south to 37 Avenue then around the corner to 107 Street. Estimated travel time is 1 hour and 11 minutes.

Car: Avoid tolls by going over the Williamsburg Bridge, then take BQE up to Grand Central Parkway or Astoria Boulevard near LaGuardia Airport, then exit at 31st Drive or at 106 Street down to 37 Avenue, then around the block to 107 Street. Estimated travel time is 1 hour and 7 minutes.