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The Restoration of Prospect Park's Music Island & Esplanade

History is Recovered and Restored

In this marvelous video, produced and donated by Samantha Davidson Green, you will experience the story of the restoration of Music Island and the Esplanade. From ground-breaking to ribbon-cutting Samantha captures the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux for Prospect Park and the careful honoring of that vision by the Prospect Park Alliance and Shelby White, a great friend of Prospect Park.

 

Music Island and Concert Grove 1930

With its shoreline and scenic views, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux conceived of Music Island, the Esplanade and the Concert Grove as a central space for Brooklyn residents to come together, whether for musical concerts or ice skating on the Lake.

Concert Grove was originally intended as a large promenade for audiences of open-air concerts on Music Island, a small islet in the nearby Lake. It was the only formal space in the Park and was augmented by two structures: the Concert Grove House and the Concert Grove Pavilion (nicknamed the Oriental Pavilion for its Chinese and Moorish inspired architecture). Both were designed by architects Thomas Wisedell and Calvert Vaux in 1874. The Concert Grove House served as a restaurant and comfort station for the music-lovers who arrived by horse-drawn carriage to attend elegant Saturday afternoon orchestral and choral concerts. The Oriental Pavilion, with its broad hipped roof and delicate cast-iron support columns, served as a tea house. Due to acoustical difficulties, concerts were moved to the Music Pagoda, at the north edge of the Nethermead, when it was built in 1887. Soon after, the Concert Grove came to be referred to as the Flower Garden.

Wollman Rink 2007

The original Olmsted and Vaux landscape was dismantled in 1960 for the construction of the former Wollman Rink. Using Olmsted and Vaux’s plans for Prospect Park and through extensive photographic research and analysis, Music Island and the Esplanade have been restored to their original design. Music Island has been rebuilt in five acres of re-excavated Lake. The granite walls along the formal part of the esplanade have been reconstructed as per their original design and the soft edge of the extended esplanade has been restored with boulders and native trees, shrubs and aquatic plants. The radial path system and terrace in the Lower Concert Grove have also been re-established. The completion of Music Island and the Esplanade marks a significant milestone in the Alliance’s ongoing restoration of Prospect Park and its entire 60-acre watercourse.

Music Island and Concert Grove 2012

The re-creation of Music Island and the Esplanade is the first phase of a restoration project that will include, in the second phase, a new 25,000-square-foot facility and two skating rinks to be completed in late fall 2013. The rinks will host ice skating and hockey in the fall and winter and roller skating and a water playground in the spring and summer. The first phase was funded principally by a $10 million grant from the Leon Levy Foundation, with additional funding from the Environmental Protection Fund of the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the New York State Dormitory Authority, and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Music Island is being named in honor of Ms. White’s father, Chaim Baier, and the Esplanade is in honor of Ms. White and her late husband, Mr. Leon Levy.

So, why did they decide to create a formal space in Prospect Park?

In the 1866 Report of the Landscape Architects, Olmsted and Vaux write of their plans to provide an area in the Park that would satisfy organized gatherings of great size—serving the same purpose as that of the Mall and Bethesda Fountain in Central Park.

In their words (and they tended to write in very long sentences):

“…in the design of public grounds, two quite different uses of them, and two quite different ideals, may properly be had in view… Because [simply] it is a very pleasant thing to find in the midst of a large town a winding road or walk, with borders on either side of dense luxuriant foliage, or with a fair landscape opening from it as completely free of anything artificial as if in the country, [it does not follow] that nowhere in a public ground should there by conveniences for congregation or any obvious display of human handiwork. In a park of five hundred acres, provision of both kinds may be furnished… As an agreeable, natural decoration of a space like the concert ground, designed to be mostly occupied by an audience, is impracticable, its plan is formal, and its decorations will be mainly architectural.”
 

 


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