There's a certain sad irony to this park. On the one hand, it's a joy to behold, with its huge, lighted gateway and its paths meandering through 32 acres of grassy knolls, lagoons, and historic landmarks. Elizabeth Catlett's famous statue of Louis Armstrong is joined by other artistic landmarks, such as the bust of Sidney Bechet, and the park now houses the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. On the other hand, it's often nearly deserted, and bordered by some rough stretches of neighborhood—not a place to visit after dark.
Inside the park and to the left is Congo Square, marked by an inlaid-stone space, where slaves in the 18th and early 19th centuries gathered on Sunday, the only time they were permitted to play their music openly. The weekly meetings held here have been immortalized in the travelogues of visitors, leaving invaluable insight into the earliest stages of free musical practices by Africans in America and African Americans. Neighborhood musicians
still congregate here at times for percussion jams, and it is difficult not to think of the musical spirit of ancestors hovering over them. Marie Laveau, the greatly feared and respected voodoo queen of antebellum New Orleans, had her home a block away on St. Ann Street and is reported to have held rituals here regularly.
Behind Congo Square is a large gray building, the Morris F.X. Jeff Municipal Auditorium; to the right, behind the auditorium, is the newly renovated Mahalia Jackson Center for the Performing Arts, which is home to the New Orleans Opera and the New Orleans Ballet and hosts an excellent year-round calendar of events—everything from readings to rock concerts. The St. Philip Street side of the park houses the Jazz National Historical Park, anchored by Perseverance Hall, the oldest Masonic temple in the state. Louis Armstrong Park is patrolled by a security detail, but be very careful when wandering, and do not visit after dark.