It’s not much to look at architecturally and frankly it was not supposed to be around that long.
For 50 years, Louis Armstrong Stadium has persevered, lasting longer than almost every other New York sports structure – longer than Ebbets Field, Shea Stadium, Giants Stadium, and ever incarnation of Madison Square Garden. It’s as old as the pre-renovated Yankee Stadium and older than the 1970s refit.
In fact after next year, Armstrong would have the same lifespan as the old Polo Grounds.
Only Robert K. Kraft Field at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium for the Columbia Lions, the Rose Hill Gymnasium at Fordham, the West Side Tennis Club Stadium, old Downing Stadium on Randall’s Island and the Jones Beach Amphitheater have lasted longer on the New York landscape.
And for some, they are as happy to see it last.
“I love that stadium. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I have a pretty good record on that court,” John Isner said. “I love playing on Louis Armstrong. It’s always a great atmosphere, and fans support the Americans very well there. I didn’t know it was the 50th anniversary of that court.”
Built in 1964 by the Singer Sewing Machine Company for the World’s Fair, Armstrong was then known as the Singer Bowl, seating 18,000. It was built some events at the Fair and also hosted 1964 Olympic Trials.
It was supposed to go by the wayside after the fair, but it was spared the wrecking ball with a handful of other pavilions.
Ultimately, it wasn’t used too much. It became a concert venue with the Doors, Jimi Hendrix and the Who – among others – gracing it stage and the Mets used it as a celebration stadium after the 1969 World Series. A charity basketball game was also played there.
In 1973, the city renamed the stadium for jazz musician and Corona resident Louis Armstrong, who passed away two years before.
It wasn’t until W.E. “Slew” Hester, the incoming president of the USTA, saw the stadium on a flight into LaGuardia Airport. Looking to move the Open from the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, but also keeping it in New York, he inquired if Armstrong was available for use.
After negotiations with the city and the offer to refurbish the park around it, including knocking down the United States Pavilion- which ultimately because the location of Arthur Ashe Stadium- the long rectangle of Armstrong was cut into two and made into the main court stadium of the Open and the Grandstand, in time for the 1978 Open.
But since it was essentially re-fitted in a short period of time, there were obviously some problems with the facility. Think about it, the new, current stadiums in New York were built over a three to four year period of time. Armstrong was refitted in less than a year.
The press didn’t like it too much, because the press box was small, cramped and faced west, which meant it was very hard to watch a match during twilight.
And the top of the stadium was very steep with plenty of bad seats in the house.
None of that mattered until the early 1990s, when the USTA eyed a move to San Diego and then Mayor David Dinkins cut a deal allowing for Ashe to be built and expanding the National Tennis Center.
Armstrong was again retrofitted with the top was taken off in 1999. It retains the same look today.
More importantly, Armstrong is the location of some of the best matches at the Open. Since it doesn’t want Ashe to get backed up to facilitate an each move between the day and night sessions, Armstrong gets more of the competitive matches in the first week.
More importantly, it maintains the intimacy which is lost in the cavernous Ashe.
“It’s my favorite court in the world,” said Sam Querrey, who won in five sets yesterday on the venerable old court. “I love playing out there. Got a good record out there. I think Isner will say the same thing. He likes it out there. It’s a fun court. People are down close and, you know, I’m always excited when I play out there. I hope they don’t have plans to knock it down or change it at all. I really like it.”
Unfortunately for Querrey, next year will be the last for the old girl.
“Oh, well what you are going to do?” he said.
The old Singer Bowl is scheduled for demolition after 2015 to make way for a new, larger, roofed Louis Armstrong Stadium with the Grandstand moving to the southwest corner. It’s all in the name of progress and who knows if the new facilities will play the same way Armstrong has over the years.
Or will the new buildings have the same memories?