Two Rustic Bridges Get a Refresh

July 10, 2023

If you’ve wandered through the center of Prospect Park in the past few weeks, you may have noticed that two beloved bridges are getting an upgrade. Work is underway to improve Binnen Bridge, originally designed in the late 1870’s and located near the Boathouse at Binnen Falls, and Music Grove Bridge, which is located near the Nethermead and was constructed in 1887 in conjunction with the nearby Music Pagoda.

In contrast to the more common stone bridges seen across the park, both the Binnen and Music Grove bridges are rustic structures. Rustic structures were an important part of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s original design for Prospect Park. Made of wood and other natural materials, these bridges and dozens of other rustic shelters and arbors were constructed using hand tools in the 1870s and 1880s, often from downed park trees, allowing them to seamlessly blend into the park’s naturalistic landscape. While all of the park’s original rustic structures have been lost to time and natural deterioration, Prospect Park Alliance has reconstructed some of the most significant of these structures over the last few decades.

Rustic Shelter Archival Photo

A rustic shelter in Prospect Park’s Ravine c. 1885 Prospect Park Archives/Herbert Mitchell Collection

The rich history of these rustic structures harkens to the park’s earliest days. Binnen Bridge marks the point where the faster-moving Binnenwater stream meets the Lullwater, the term Olmsted used for the large area of slower-moving water near the Boathouse. Originally made of locust, the bridge has been reconstructed repeatedly from the time of its construction, first with timber and then, in the 1930s, with pipe-rail concrete. Binnen Bridge was fully reconstructed by Prospect Park Alliance in 1997, using historic photographs to recreate the original size and character of the log railings and wooden deck. The reconstruction received an Excellence in Design Award from the New York City Art Commission.

Historic image of Binnen Bridge c. Prospect Park Archives/Bob Levine Collection

Music Grove Bridge was constructed during the creation of the Music Pagoda in the Nethermead in the 1880s. The surrounding area was designed to host large gatherings and open air concerts, and the bridge was built to accommodate foot traffic from the large number of visitors who would travel to the area to hear music under the canopy of London Plane trees. The bridge remains an important access point from the park’s northern woodlands.

The New York City Department of Transportation is currently in the process of restoring both the Binnen and Music Grove bridges, and park-goers should expect to encounter detours while this construction is underway. The work  is estimated to be completed in 2023.

Learn more about the Binnen Bridge and Music Grove Bridge restoration and more details on Prospect Park Alliance’s current Capital Projects Tracker.

c. Martin Seck

Celebrate Olmsted’s 200th Birthday

March 16, 2022

2022 marks the 200th birthday of Frederick Law Olmsted, co-designer of Prospect Park and renowned father of American landscape architecture! To celebrate, Prospect Park Alliance is hosting a variety of events in partnership with Olmsted 200, an initiative hosted by the National Association for Olmsted Parks, in appreciation and exploration of Olmsted’s legacy. Join us for virtual and in-person events to celebrate Olmsted in April and May:

Frederick Law Olmsted: Landscapes for the Public Good Exhibit
Saturday, April 23 – Sunday, May 29 (Thursdays + Fridays 12 pm – 4 pm, Saturdays + Sundays 10 am – 1 pm)
Boathouse, Free

Learn more about Olmsted’s important work by viewing Frederick Law Olmsted: Landscapes for the Public Good, an exhibit that focuses on his life story, major landscape commissions and their relevance to contemporary society.  This exhibit, which will be up through the end of May, was created as part of a partnership with the National Association for Olmsted Parks, the Olmsted 200 campaign, and the Oak Spring Garden Foundation. Stop by the Prospect Park Boathouse Thursday — Sunday (times vary) to visit in-person or take a virtual tour of the exhibit.

Olmsted 200: Lungs of the City—Olmsted’s Parks in Music
Saturday May 28, 12 – 1 pm
Boathouse, Free, Registration Required

Join Prospect Park Alliance and the American Wild Ensemble for Lungs of the City: Olmsted’s Parks in Music is a program of new chamber music commemorating the 2022 bicentennial of the birth of Frederick Law Olmsted. In this concert, American Wild Ensemble, a septet of winds, strings, and percussion, will perform eight new works inspired by Olmsted-designed parks including Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park. The program includes newly commissioned works by composers Oliver Caplan, Nell Shaw Cohen, Michael-Thomas Foumai, Libby Meyer, Ayumi Okada, Justin Ralls, Christina Rusnak, and Ryan Suleiman. Lungs of the City: Olmsted’s Parks in Music is a cross-regional concert series of world premieres co-curated and co-commissioned by American Wild Ensemble, Juventas New Music Ensemble, Landscape Music, and Michigan Technological University Department of Visual and Performing Arts.

Past Olmsted 200 Events:

Olmsted 200: Parks in Conversation—Virtual Tour of Central Park and Prospect Park
Tuesday, April 12, 12:30 – 1:15 pm
$10, Registration Required

Join Prospect Park Alliance and Turnstile Tours for a virtual tour in celebration of Frederick Law Olmsted’s 200th birthday that explores two of his New York City masterpieces—Central Park and Prospect Park. Central Park guides will highlight the park’s arches, meadows, and natural features, while Turnstile Tours guides will examine parallel features in Prospect Park and compare and contrast the different elements of the parks, including examples of Olmsted designs that have been adapted to fit better with modern-day recreational uses and ecological practices. Built a decade apart, the parks share many similarities, but also reflect Olmsted’s evolution as a park designer, and both speak to his lasting influence on landscape design and public space.
Learn more and RSVP for a tour.

B’Earthday Bash
Saturday, April 23, 1 – 4pm
Prospect Park Audubon Center

Join Prospect Park Alliance for a fun and festive day in the park—we’ve got a lot to celebrate! It’s Earth Day, the Prospect Park Audubon Center’s 20th Anniversary, and the birthday of two legends: naturalist John James Audubon, and… the 200th anniversary of the birth of landscape architect and Prospect Park’s creator, Frederick Law Olmsted!

Celebrate with activities for all ages that celebrate the historic and environmental importance of Prospect Park, Brooklyn’s slice of nature and home to a thriving ecosystem of hundreds of species of plants and animals, 30,000 trees, Brooklyn’s only lake and last remaining forest.

Olmsted 200: Parks in Conversation—Prospect Park Walking Tour
Saturday, April 23, 11 am – 12:30 pm
Sunday, April 24, 3 – 4:30 pm
Prospect Park, Prices Vary, Registration Required

Join Prospect Park Alliance and Turnstile Tours on Frederick Law Olmsted’s 200th birthday with a special tour celebrating his two New York City masterpieces—Prospect Park and Central Park. Prospect Park’s Turnstile Tours guides will be joined by guides from Central Park to explore Olmsted’s unique vision and legacy while comparing and contrasting the two parks and what they tell us about his evolution as a designer over the decade separating their construction. Built in different geographical and political contexts, Prospect Park and Central Park share many similar structures hallmarks—varied terrain and meandering paths to spark curiosity, grand vistas to inspire awe—that speak to Olmsted’s lasting influence on landscape design and public space, elements we continue to appreciate and benefit from today.
Tours will be held on Saturday April 23, 11am–12:30pm and Sunday, April 24, 3pm–4:30pm.
Learn more and RSVP for a tour. 

Black History Spotlight: Otto Neals’ Peter & Willie

February 17, 2022

Otto Neals, a Brooklyn resident and one of the first Black artists to have work featured in a New York City park, has a remarkable knack for bringing stories to life. Neals is the sculptor behind Peter & Willie, the beloved statue of a boy and his dog in Prospect Park’s Imagination Playground, located along Ocean Avenue just south of the Lincoln Road entrance to the park. Since its installation in 1997 as part of the Alliance’s complete reconstruction of this playground, Peter & Willie has been a source of joy, fun and inspiration to countless families.

Neals has discussed his inspiration for the piece and his connection to Peter and Willie, the two protagonists of Ezra Jack Keats’ stories The Snowy Day and Peter’s Chair. In a 2021 interview with Current News, Neals recalled fond memories of reading Keats’ work with his kids, but being puzzled by the story of a Black boy told by a white author and illustrator.

Christian Zimmerman, Vice President of Capital and Landscape Management for Prospect Park Alliance, oversaw the project and worked closely with Neals. “Prospect Park Alliance and the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation wanted to recognize the storybook characters from Keats’ work, so we had a competition to select an artist for the job,” Zimmerman recounts, “and the select committee was really taken by Otto’s concept.”

Imagination Playground is a hub for imagination and creativity. “It is a very special type of playground, and not a playground in the traditional sense. There aren’t any swings or moving play equipment. It is really intended for children 6 and under, and it’s about (embracing) storytelling,” Zimmerman expressed. Neals’ proposed vision for Peter & Willie fit seamlessly with this intention.

Once installed, the sculpture was immediately and wholeheartedly embraced by the community. “The bronze piece’s original patina was a deep dark blue…and if you rub bronze, eventually the patina goes away. The very first place the deep blue disappeared was on Peter’s ears,” Zimmerman recalls. “Otto designed it in a way that was so accessible that children would sit down next to Peter and tell him secrets. They would whisper in his ear, and have conversations with Peter. They still do!” From the boulder the characters are perched upon, to the scale of the characters themselves, each element of Peter & Willie’s stature is intentional and has informed the community’s long standing connection to the piece and to Imagination Playground.

As a self-taught artist, Neals has said, “My talent as an artist comes directly from my ancestors. I am merely a receiver, an instrument for receiving some of the energies that permeate our entire universe and I give thanks for having been chosen to absorb those artistic forces.” Neals is committed to creating art for his Brooklyn community, and has succeeded in providing inspiration and art in Brooklyn’s Backyard.

Neals and Zimmerman and the project’s contractor in 1996 en route to select the boulder where Peter and Willy sit today. Photo courtesy of Christian Zimmerman.

Now in his 90s, Neals continues to inspire artists in Brooklyn and beyond to create community-centered work and has provided generations of families and kids with joy and fun through Peter & Willie. The piece is an honorary Literary Landmark in partnership with the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation and is a steadfast cherished destination and source of inspiration in Brooklyn’s backyard.

Learn more about the Park’s 7 playgrounds and things to do with children.