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Virginia Freire

PPA Profiles 150: Katherine Borowitz and John Turturro

August 16, 2017

This year, as Prospect Park Alliance celebrates the 150th anniversary of Prospect Park, we’re bringing you stories from members of the community about the role the Park has played in their lives. Interested in contributing your own? Submit your story and have a chance to become part of Brooklyn history. Portrait by Virginia Freire.

When couple Katherine Borowitz and John Turturro first moved to Park Slope in 1988, it was Prospect Park that drew them in. “It was the view, really,” recalls John. “We were up high enough,” Katherine agrees, “and on 10th street, there are all these little gaslights in the park at night, it was like artwork.”

“When we moved in, it snowed…and we had our boxes, I remember that.”

“We had no heat, and we had to sleep in our parkas, but we didn’t care.”

For both Katherine and John, Brooklyn was a new frontier—John was born in Brooklyn, but grew up in Queens. Used to living in Manhattan, the couple remembers the difficulties of transitioning to the neighborhood. “There weren’t many restaurants,” says Turturro, “and our car battery kept getting stolen.”

“I never went past the Long Meadow to the other side [of the Park] through the Ravine,” remembers Borowitz, “nobody did back then. It was dangerous.” Shortly after moving to Brooklyn, the family welcomed their first child and got to know the Park as parents. “We used the old 9th Street playground, and visited the Carousel a lot when our first child was born. We didn’t go through the Park, we went around it.”

In the 1960’s and 70’s, New York City’s financial crisis hit city parks hard, and Prospect Park was no exception. Dilapidated structures, broken benches and high crime rates characterized the once illustrious 585 acres, originally opened in 1867 and designed by architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. When Prospect Park Alliance, the non-profit dedicated to taking care of the Park, was founded in 1987, the organization began to tackle the Park’s challenges.

The Alliance’s first success came with the restoration and reopening of the Prospect Park Carousel in 1990, followed by the ongoing revitalization of the Park’s woodlands. In the past 30 years since the Alliance began its work, the Park has seen visitorship skyrocket, and numerous facilities and areas of the Park revived.

Today, Katherine and John have no trepidations about using the Park, and they come on a daily basis as dog owners. “My knowledge of the Park has increased tenfold since having a dog,” says Borowitz, “I know the woods, I’ve got the whole map finally in my head. And it’s not just having the dog, it’s also that I feel safe here.”

When they aren’t walking in the Park, Borowitz and their dog Phoebe are an animal-therapy team, and their work has different goals in different settings. Working with A Fair Shake for Youth, their goal is to help children improve their interpersonal skills through interactions with dogs. At Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, interactions with Phoebe help patients relax and focus their attention on a non-medical interaction. Katherine recently became a licensed social worker, and intends to weave Phoebe into her practice.

John enjoys Prospect Park not only as a bike rider, but also as a filmmaker. Turturro, an Emmy Award-winning actor of stage and screen, is acclaimed for his work in films such as Do The Right Thing; O Brother, Where Art Thou; and recently the HBO miniseries The Night Of, for which he received a Best Actor Emmy nomination. He has also produced and directed several movies, many of which include scenes in Prospect Park.

“I‘ve used it for films, all very different movies.” Turturro’s 1999 film, Illuminata, is a period piece, and stars his wife Katherine. Turturro took advantage of the Park’s 19th-century details and filmed several scenes in the Park, including inside the Meadowport Arch, in front of which the couple is pictured. His 2005 film Romance and Cigarettes included a sequence between James Gandolfini and Kate Winslet on the Park’s Peninsula, and 2013’s Fading Gigolo with Woody Allen brought him to the Nethermead and the Carousel. “It’s beautiful in the Park, so you think, why not do it here? And then you get to walk to work.”

Most of all, Katherine and John appreciate the changes that have come to the Park for the opportunities it affords all visitors. “I love coming every day,” says Katherine. “You see everybody coming with their picnics and their kids and their volleyball nets… I think there is a democracy to this Park that you don’t get in other parks.”

Ruminating on the things they love in the Park, the couple rattles off a list of favorite places. “The World War I memorial by the Lake, and I love how the Alliance redid the LeFrak Center at Lakeside, it’s gorgeous,” says Katherine.

“It’s very calming,” agrees John.

“It’s one thing to have this manicured, bucolic landscape, but it’s a whole other level of fantastic that we have the woods too.”

“And the drum circle.”

“Yeah, you can go on and on.”