Jazz legend Louis Armstrong honored

AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams

Louis Armstrong Stadium is the second largest -- after Arthur Ashe -- at the U.S. Open in New York City.

It’s fitting that at the U.S. Open the world’s greatest tennis players play in Arthur Ashe stadium, named for one of the best Americans to grace the court. But some are confused as to moniker attached to its neighbor, Louis Armstrong Stadium. It’s the second largest stadium at Flushing Meadows – which seats 10,200 -- is named after a jazz musician.

Although the naming of the stadium may seem off, knowing the history of the neighborhood around site of the U.S. Open provides an explanation.

For 37 years, jazz legend Louis Armstrong lived on 107th Street, one mile from the stadium bearing his name. His modest two-story, 3,000-square foot home in Corona, Queens stands as it was in 1943 when the Armstrongs purchased it. A national historic landmark, thousands of people travel from around the globe each year to see it.

At Armstrong’s home you can see paintings of him by Tony Bennett, his reel-to-reel audio player and even a trumpet gifted to him by King George V. Most important are the brick steps he would clown around on with neighborhood kids.

“Around the world he was revered as the great Louis Armstrong but here in Queens he was just Pops to everyone,” said Ben Flood, Louis Armstrong House Museum assistant.

Armstrong wasn’t a tennis player, sandlot baseball was his favorite pastime, but when the American legend died in 1971, the city was looking for a way to honor his life. His wife Lucille Armstrong oversaw the naming of two schools in the neighborhood after her husband. But she wanted to do more.

Louis Armstrong Stadium, which used to be named the Singer Bowl, was built in 1964 for the World’s Fair. When the U.S. Open moved to the site in 1978, Armstrong’s widow worked with the city of New York to honor a man whose smile and voice made millions around the world dance with a stadium minutes from his home.

Before Arthur Ashe Stadium, which opened in 1997, Armstrong was the largest venue on the grounds of the Billie Jean King Tennis Center.

“When officials were expanding the complex there was one stipulation, that they could not change the name of Louis Armstrong stadium,” said Michael Cogswell, director of the Louis Armstrong House Museum. “They agreed and until this day, the name remains.”

Thanks to the efforts of Mrs. Armstrong and the city of New York, 140 mph hits fly in a stadium named after the man who had No. 1 hits for five decades.