Place Congo: Armstrong Park Tour
This tour includes historic structures in Armstrong Park as well as buildings that once stood in its footprint but were demolished by the city in the 1960s and early 70s.
The heart of the park is Congo Square, where, beginning in the 18th century, enslaved people practiced sacred traditions of music and dance with African roots. The square is abutted by the Municipal Auditorium, a showpiece for the city’s business leaders when it opened in 1930.
The city built the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts in 1973 as part of a grand design for a cultural center for opera and European classical music. Those plans fell through, but not before the city bulldozed a swath of the surrounding neighborhood, Treme, uprooting a Black community full of cultural heritage sites, like Globe Hall and Perseverance Masonic Lodge No. 4 (known as Perseverance Hall), where jazz emerged around the turn of the 20th century.
Other early jazz venues once found here, like the San Jacinto Club, were home bases for social clubs that were pillars of Afro Creole society. Later in the 20th century, nightclubs like the Gypsy Tea Room and the Caldonia Inn hosted musicians who laid the foundation for New Orleans’ brand of rhythm and blues.
A handful of historic buildings on the grounds evaded the wrecking ball, including the “treehouse studio” where radio station WWOZ broadcasted from 1984 until 2005. They’re clustered near what was once the intersection St. Claude and Dumaine Street, where, Professor Longhair famously sang, “you will see the Zulu King” on Mardi Gras Day. That the lyric has outlasted the street corner is part of the paradox of Armstrong Park, which now celebrates the culture that thrived here before its construction.