Prospect Park Landmarks
Litchfield Villa is still standing as it has since 1857, when Prospect Park was just a gleam in the eye of James Stranahan. Here is a view from 77 years later, in 1934.
On March 15, 1966, Litchfield Villa was named a New York City landmark. In its landmarks designation report, the Landmarks Preservation Commission declares that “Litchfield Villa is part of the romantic American past, that the mansion ranks as an outstanding example of the ‘Italian Villa’ Style executed in the grand manner, that it is notable for its refinement of detail and that it makes a significant contribution to the beauty of the City.”
Historic preservation seems like a recent trend, but back in 1918 Brooklyn residents were concerned about the disappearance of old colonial farmhouses once so plentiful particularly in the Flatbush area. The Lefferts family donated their house to New York City, and enough money was raised from the public to move it from 563 Flatbush Avenue (at Maple Street), a few blocks away to its current site within Prospect Park.
Although the house didn’t have far to move, it was still a large undertaking. At two in the morning on February 19, 1918, trolley wires were cut, street car traffic stopped, and the house was moved on rollers across the Brooklyn Botanic Garden into the Park. I would love to have seen that.
It is the second Lefferts Homestead, in fact, because the original was burned during the Battle of Brooklyn in order to prevent its use by British troops. Designated a New York City landmark on June 21, 1966, Lefferts Homestead was cited in the report as “an excellent example of a charming Eighteenth Century Dutch Colonial farmhouse.”
Olmsted and Vaux wanted to link Prospect Park to other parts of Brooklyn and share some of its picturesque qualities with residents not in the immediate proximity. They accomplished this by inventing a new kind of road, the parkway (in fact, they coined the word). Eastern Parkway connects to green space in Queens. Ocean Parkway connected the Park with Brooklyn’s other big attraction, Coney Island.
Construction of this six-mile long roadway began in 1874. This photo from 1896 shows its multiple lines of trees which shaded the pedestrian “malls” on each side. In the center you can see the wide road for vehicles; smaller roads, not visible here, flank the edges. An integral part of Ocean Parkway was its bicycle path, the first in the US. The bike path opened in 1895 with 10,000 cyclists participating, cheered on by large crowds. A bridle path was located on the western side until the 1970s.
Prospect Park’s physical link to the Parkway was eliminated in the 1950s by the Prospect Expressway. To prevent further changes, Ocean Parkway was designated a Scenic Landmark in 1975.
The Peristyle, which overlooks Parkside Avenue and the Parade Ground, was built 1905 and landmarked December 10, 1968. It may remind you of the Boathouse, though the architect is McKim, Mead & White as opposed to Helmle & Huberty. Both structures are neoclassical in style with white terra cotta tile on the exterior and vaulted Guastovino ceiling tiles. The word peristyle means colonnade, or a row of columns surrounding a space. As the Landmarks Preservation Commission put it: “Possessing great dignity and superb proportions, this early Twentieth century peristyle has no peer in the City of New York. The flowing rhythm of twenty-eight graceful marble columns with square piers at the corners, supporting a full ornate terra cotta entablature, evokes poetic memories of the Grecian temple and the grandeur of classical antiquity.”