c. Elizabeth-Keegin-Colley

Explore Prospect Park’s Waterways

January 25, 2022

Take a free, self-guided audio tour of Prospect Park’s watercourse—a marvel of nature, history and eco-innovation. The tour is presented by Prospect Park Alliance, in partnership with artist Mary Mattingly and More Art, and powered by Gesso. The tour serves as an educational component of the ecoWEIR pilot program currently operating in Prospect Park, and is presented through funding from the Environmental Protection Fund Grant Program for Park Services, administered by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation.

Prospect Park, Brooklyn’s landmark park, is a natural wonder but also a feat of engineering: home to the borough’s last remaining forest and only lake, the park’s watercourse is fed by the New York City water supply. The free, self-guided audio tour provides a new perspective on the natural and human-made ecosystems found in Prospect Park, and its connection to New York City’s water supply. From the natural ponds, local springs, and streams that were here before the park, to the waterways designed by park designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux that today are fed by watersheds as far as 125 miles north of the city, to the future health of these waterways through an innovative ecoWEIR that uses plants to filter water—the tour peels back layers of history, environmental stewardship, and human intervention that are hidden beneath the surface.

The tour begins at the Grand Army Plaza entrance of the park and ends on Wellhouse Drive in the park, a total of 2.02 miles and 12 narrated stops. The route includes a steep set of stairs in the Ravine and passes over dirt/gravel and paved paths. There is an accessible restroom at the end of the tour located at the Wellhouse. 

c. Jordan Rathkopf

Grand Plans for a Grand Plaza

November 20, 2020

Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP, and Prospect Park Alliance President Sue Donoghue have unveiled the design plans for the nearly $9 million restoration of Grand Army Plaza, a New York City and National Historic Landmark, including the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch and the landscaped berms that frame the plaza. Prospect Park Alliance, the non-profit that operates Prospect Park in partnership with NYC Parks, is undertaking the project, which builds on their work over 30 years to restore Prospect Park and its historic landscapes. 
 
“Grand Army Plaza is an iconic Brooklyn destination, welcoming New Yorkers and visitors from across the world to the beautiful Prospect Park. The restoration of the Arch and surrounding landscape will ensure the Plaza is magnificent for generations to come,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio

“By restoring the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch and surrounding area, this project will enhance Grand Army Plaza and help preserve the historic entryway to Prospect Park,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP. “We are grateful to Mayor de Blasio and the Prospect Park Alliance for recognizing the need to invest in this beloved Brooklyn landmark.”
 
“Grand Army Plaza is not only a Brooklyn treasure, but Prospect Park’s grand entranceway, welcoming communities from both the east and west sides of the park. The Alliance is incredibly excited to restore this space to its original grandeur,” said Sue Donoghue, President, Prospect Park Alliance. “Our award-winning team of architects and landscape architects has undertaken the restoration of many important park destinations, from the Carousel to the LeFrak Center at Lakeside, and this work is central to our mission in the park.”

Design Plans

The restoration plan focuses on the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch, which has deteriorated over time: replacing the arch’s roof; cleaning and repointing the brick and stone structure; repairing interior elements, including historic iron staircases that lead up to the roof; and upgrading the exterior lighting with new high efficiency fixtures. 

In researching the restoration design, Prospect Park Alliance worked with Atkinson-Noland & Associates to conduct radar and magnetic investigations of the arch’s structure and internal conditions, and Karcher Company to test the cleaning and conservation processes. In addition, working with Renfro Design Group, Prospect Park Alliance developed a lighting design scheme that showcases the historic elements of the arch and its statuary while making the lighting more environmentally friendly by utilizing energy efficient technology.

The project also includes restoring elements of the surrounding plaza and landscaped berms that frame the plaza on its east, west and north sides. This includes removing invasive vines, shrubs and trees that are in poor condition and planting mostly native trees and shrubs that provide interest and color throughout the seasons. The Alliance will also replace the existing chain link fence with low, decorative steel fencing, and restore the broken bluestone and granite paving around Bailey Fountain and the John F. Kennedy Memorial so that it is accessible.
 
Background on the Project
 
Park creators Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed Grand Army Plaza as the grand formal entrance of Prospect Park at the time of its construction in 1867. In 1889, the plaza became the site of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch, which was dedicated in 1892 to commemorate those who fought with the Union troops during the Civil War. The arch was designed by John H. Duncan with sculptures by Frederick MacMonnies, two preeminent figures of their times. On top of the arch is a quadriga of Columbia, who represents the United States, surrounded by two winged Victories who trumpet her arrival. Smaller sculptures mounted on pedestals depict soldiers and sailors. 

In the early 1900s, the plaza was redesigned when the subway was constructed below, but retained its original form and layout. In the 1930s, the plaza’s fountain was replaced by Bailey Fountain, designed by architect Egerton Swartout and featuring bronze sculptures by Eugene Savage. Paving around the fountain was changed from asphalt hex block to bluestone borders in ashlar pattern and granite block in fan pattern, bound by low granite walls and steps. In addition, a chain link fence was erected around the berms, which broke up their gentle contours and diminished their intended rural effect. 

The Arch was landmarked in 1975, when the structure was in severe disrepair, and in 1976 Columbia literally fell from her chariot. The City undertook a restoration of the Arch in 1977-79, with subsequent work in 1989 and the mid-1990s. In 1999, the Arch’s bronze statuary groupings were restored by the NYC Parks Monuments Conservation Program. 

In addition to the restoration of Grand Army Plaza, Prospect Park Alliance also is restoring the adjacent northeast corner of Prospect Park. This includes the restoration of the Flatbush Avenue perimeter of the park, through funding from Borough President Eric Adams and New York City Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo; the construction of two new park entrances on Flatbush Avenue, the first new entrances to the park since the 1940s, through funding from NYC Parks through its Parks without Borders program; and is also restoring northeast corner pathways, benches and lighting through $2 million in funding from the mayor. In recent weeks, the Alliance reopened Endale Arch in the park’s northeast corner after a $500,000 restoration.

The project is slated to begin construction in late 2021 or early 2022, and open to the public in 2023. Visit the Prospect Park Alliance Capital Project Tracker for information on the full range of projects underway in Prospect Park.

c. Elif Altinbasak

Prospect Park Alliance Celebrates Black History Month

February 19, 2020

Happy Black History Month! Prospect Park Alliance is celebrating this important awareness month by making a path through history in Prospect Park. 

The Drummer’s Grove—A Prospect Park Tradition
In the 1960s, an Afro-Caribbean community emerged just east of Prospect Park in the neighborhoods of Flatbush, East Flatbush and Crown Heights. In 1968, some of these “Little Caribbean” residents began to meet weekly at the southeastern corner of Prospect Park for a drum circle. Calling themselves the Congo Square Drummers, they came together in Prospect Park “to rehearse, and just to play and rejoice,” says Abiodun McCray, one of the group’s founders. Recalling African ancestors who brought their musical traditions to the West Indies in the 17th century, this was a way for the Congo Square Drummers to celebrate community and remember home in the midst of the African Diaspora.

Over the years, the drum circle grew, and in 1997 Prospect Park Alliance added seating to the area and gave it the name of Drummer’s Grove as a part of a renovation of the Parkside and Ocean Avenue Entrance. Today the beat goes on in Drummer’s Grove, and it continues to be a place where anyone can stop by on a Sunday during the warmer months to play, dance, or simply enjoy the music.

Above photo courtesy of Elif Altinbasak. See a video of the Prospect Park Drummer’s Circle in full swing on YouTube, courtesy of Humberto Middleton.

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The Sacred History of Gran Bwa
Did you know that Gran Bwa, a sacred Haitian gathering spot, is located next to Prospect Park Lake?
As a part of the 20th-century wave of West Indian immigrants to Brooklyn, many Haitians settled in the neighborhoods of Flatbush, East Flatbush and Crown Heights. Deenps Bazile, one of these Haitian immigrants, was walking through Prospect Park in the 1980s when he felt spirits instructing him to carve a tree trunk next to the Lake. Bazile sculpted a large human head, two small human faces, a lion and a legba (a Haitian Vodou spirit) in the tree stump. This sculpture sparked the use of the area by the Haitian community, and it came to be named after Gran Bwa, the Haitian Vodou spirit associated with trees, plants and herbs. Although the sculpture is no longer in the park, its site continues to be an important gathering spot for the Haitian community.

The largest celebration at Gran Bwa, called Bwa Kayiman, happens annually in August. At this ceremony, participants memorialize the Haitian revolution—which propelled it to become the first black nation to attain independence from their enslavers—and nourish Haitian Vodou spirits. Says Makini Armand, “Gran Bwa is a place to experience the healing power of nature and community, for us to restore ourselves through experiences that bond us with one another and with the natural community around us… it’s an important part of our cultural background to keep families together, and preserve the Haitian heritage and keep the culture alive.”

Photo via Prospect Park Alliance Archives. See a video of the annual celebration in Prospect Park, courtesy of CityLore on YouTube.

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Shirley Chisholm, Brooklyn’s Hometown Hero
A local hero, Shirley Chisholm was born in Brooklyn to Barbadian parents. She spent her childhood in Barbados but returned to Brooklyn at age ten and lived much of her life in Crown Heights, to the northeast of Prospect Park and blocks away from the site of the historic Weeksville village. Chisholm was the first black Congresswoman in U.S. history, and both a leader and an advocate for residents of Brooklyn and the country at large. Her notable achievements in Congress included working to expand access to food stamps, helping to pass Title IX and extending minimum wage requirements to domestic workers. In 1972, Representative Chisholm became the first Black major-party candidate to run for President of the United States. True to her famous slogan, “unbought and unbossed,” Chisholm refused to abandon the interests of her constituents, no matter what establishment politicians did to intimidate her or mitigate her efforts. 

In 2018, Prospect Park Alliance President Sue Donoghue joined First Lady Chirlane McCray to announce that a monument to Chisholm would grace the park’s Parkside entrance—a location where the Alliance is undertaking a significant restoration as part of the work to improve the park’s eastern perimeter. After an open call for submissions and public feedback, artists  Amanda Williams and Olalekan Jeyifous were selected to design the park’s new monument—the first to be commissioned as part of the She Built NYC program, which seeks to expand representation of women in the City’s public art collection. The monument is in the design phase, and an important part of the upcoming restoration of the Parkside and Ocean perimeters.

Photo a still from “Chisholm ‘72” from Realside Productions.

Prospect Park Archives

The Prospect Park Dairy’s Throwback Menu

March 15, 2019

Today, Prospect Park visitors can enjoy a range of tasty bites around the park, from King David Tacos to the Bluestone Cafe, but when the park first opened in the 1800s, the Dairy was the place to eat. 

In the late 1800s, before pasteurization, fresh milk was a near-delicacy for Brooklyn residents, accustomed to a gray, watery variety of milk produced by most city cows. When the Dairy opened in Prospect Park, a herd of cows grazed in the park and provided “wholesome milk, cold or warm” to grateful park picnickers, according to the Brooklyn Park Commissioners. 

 In the summer of 1871, it was reported in the Annual Report of the Brooklyn Park Commissioners  that “11,000 quarts of milk were disposed of by the glass, or in larger quantities to pic-nic parties (sic), or family gatherings, for which purpose the grounds in this vicinity of the dairy cottage were a favorite resort during the summer.”

Dairy customers could purchase a variety of snacks for their picnic, some of which may seem odd by today’s standards:

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In addition to the custard cups, sardines and pickled oysters, denizens could order cold beef, ham, tongue and sandwiches in advance, and “biscuits, crackers, cracknells, maccaroons (sic), ladies’ fingers, almonds raisins, figs, prunes, etc.” were available “at usual grocers’ and confectioners’ charges.” Tables and seats were provided at the Dairy without charge, and croquet equipment, hoops and various table dressings could be rented on site. 

About the Dairy, Prospect Park creator Frederick Law Olmsted wrote, “A man from any class shall say to his wife… ‘My dear, when the children come home from school, put some bread and butter and a salad in a basket and go to the chestnut tree…We will walk to the dairy-man’s cottage and get some tea and fresh milk for the children and take our supper by the brook-side.’”

The Dairy was a hugely popular Prospect Park attraction during this time, not least because picnicking was prohibited in Central Park. Though the Dairy was razed in 1935 by then Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, picnicking became synonymous with Brooklyn’s Backyard, and continues to be a preferred pastime of Prospect Park visitors. 

View a gallery about the history of picnicking in Prospect Park. 

Planning your picnic in Prospect Park? Check out the park’s current food offerings, which include the Bluestone Cafe at the LeFrak Center at Lakeside, King David Tacos and more. 

The Dairy’s menu was located by our friends a Turnstile Tours! Prospect Park Alliance and Turnstile Tours host a series of walking tours that examine the many layers of natural and human history to be found in Brooklyn’s Backyard. Learn more and get tickets for a park tour today. 

Prospect Park’s Scandalous First Wedding

February 20, 2019

It probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that Prospect Park is a popular destination for weddings. Couples who love the park and want a slice of nature in their Brooklyn nuptials choose the Prospect Park Picnic House and Boathouse as the place to tie the knot every year. But this was not always the case. The first Prospect Park wedding, which took place in the park’s former Rose Garden in 1923, caused quite a stir.

Let’s go back to the 1870s, the early days of Prospect Park when famed designers Olmsted and Vaux were first plotting out the features of the park. The area, known now as the Rose Garden, was first conceived as a children’s playground, with a carousel powered by a real horse, seesaws and swings. Despite the attractions, the playground was not a popular destination. The area’s geographic features made it too hot and exposed to be a playground. It was, however, an excellent climate for growing roses. And so the park’s Rose Garden came to be.

In the 1890s, the landscape was transformed into a botanical destination. Three water basins—reconstructions of which are still visible at the site—filled with aquatic plants and fish were installed by the design firm of McKim, Mead and White. The landscape was planted with an assortment of exotic flowers and roses, and in 1901, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle exclaimed, “some of the roses are larger than teacups,” adding, “there can be no finer sight in the domain of floriculture in the United States.”

In 1923, local residents Elizabeth Hoyt Senarens and Owen Morton Gunderson applied for a permit to be married in Prospect Park. The Park Commissioner issued the first permit of its kind for a wedding to be held at 7:45 am, “so that there might be no interruption from a crowd of romping children or unsympathetic grownups.” The wedding was considered a novelty and a scandal, and was widely covered in the press by publications such as Brooklyn Life, Brooklyn Standard Union, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and even The New York Times.

The bride, Elizabeth Senarens, explained to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that, “she had always yearned for roses and even as a little girl had thought the Prospect Park rose gardens the most romantic place for a wedding in the world.” But the media attention surrounding the nuptials took its toll when the couple’s pastor decided at the last minute that he would not officiate the wedding. In an interview with the Times, the reverend was quoted saying, “I never did consent to perform the ceremony in the park,” and that when he learned the details he, “refused at once.”

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The Rose Garden in a vintage postcard, c. Prospect Park Archives/Bob Levine Collection

The couple had difficulty finding another pastor to perform their ceremony, until finally Rev. Ernest J. Marvin of the Fenimore Street M.E. Church agreed on the condition of anonymity. The press did not honor this request, publishing his name as the minister who presided over this historic first wedding in Prospect Park.

The morning of the wedding came, according to the Standard Union, “blowing a chilly breeze… not at all conducive to romance.” Police were on hand to contain the throngs of curious onlookers, and the wedding proceeded, attended by the family and friends of the wedding party, newspaper reporters and photographers, and a “few stragglers on their way to work,” as per a report from the Times.

Today, the former Rose Garden is entering a new phase, as Prospect Park Alliance begins plans to reimagine this northeastern area of the park that has seen little use in past decades. In recent years, the Alliance has invited the community to help shape the future of this area through community visioning and feedback surveys. Thanks to the input of the local community, Alliance architects are now in the process of designing a space that will serve the entire community, and encourage many more memorable occasions for years to come.

This story comes to us from Turnstile Tours: learn about this and other amazing tales of park history on a tour of the Prospect Park presented by the Alliance in partnership with Turnstile Tours. Tours for families and park lovers of all ages explore the parks’ little known treasures, architectural and cultural history.

Learn more and take a park tour this spring!

C. Prospect Park Archives/Bob Levine Collection

Highlights from the Bob Levine Collection

February 18, 2019

You may recognize from past Throwback Thursdays that many of Prospect Park Alliance’s archival materials come from one person: Bob Levine. His collection spans more than a century of Brooklyn’s Backyard and includes thousands of archived postcards, photographs, maps and drawings of the park. But who is this collector extraordinaire? 

Take a look at some of the highlights of the collection, selected by Bob Levine himself. 

A Brooklyn native and Prospect Park enthusiast, Levine has, in his own words “circled Prospect Park.” He grew up on Ocean Parkway, lived as a young man along Ocean Avenue and is now settled in Park Slope. “I always loved nature,” says Levine of his connection to the park, “it just felt like a natural draw.” As a child in the 1960s, he played little league at the Parade Ground and explored the park’s vast nature trails. When, in his teens, he developed an affinity for collecting remnants of the past, it was only natural that Prospect Park was a subject he gravitated towards.

Levine initially made a connection with Prospect Park Alliance in the 1990s. At the time, he ran a program that helped autistic members of community find work. The Alliance had a call out for volunteers, and Levine and his group helped clean the Lake. Levine then made a connection with Alliance archivist Amy Peck to share his bounty of archival findings. 

Today, Levine is still actively adding to his collection of Prospect Park historic materials, and much to the delight of Prospect Park Alliance and the park community, still contributing to the Prospect Park Archives.

c. Harpers Weekly

The “Beautiful Spectacle” of Skating Carnivals

January 14, 2019

Long before Prospect Park Alliance opened the LeFrak Center at Lakeside, the park’s state-of-the-art skating rink, Brooklynites would wait for temperatures to drop and then flock by the tens of thousands to Prospect Park’s 60-acre Lake to enjoy this winter recreation, with crowds as many as 20,000 skaters on peak days.

A Brooklyn Daily Eagle article from February 7, 1881, reports:

The ice on the Prospect Park lake is eighteen inches thick. Yesterday it was crowded all day, and by the afternoon the surface was rather badly cut up by the steel runners of the skaters. The ice is swept at night after the skaters leave and flooded a little, so as to make a smooth, even surface in the morning. The skaters are allowed to remain until 11 o’clock on all except Sunday nights, when the ice is cleared at about 9 o’clock.

With so many people flocking to the ice, and with periodic warm spells midwinter, the scene at the Lake was often chaotic. Collisions between skaters and slips through thin patches of ice were not uncommon, and “keepers” uniformed in blue kept watch over the crowds.

By the early 1900’s, the city was staging “skating carnivals” as reported on in the January 2, 1915, edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Brooklyn was treated to a new and beautiful spectacle last night, when the Park Department permitted a skating carnival to be held on the Prospect Park lake. In the light of the full moon and with a thousand Chinese lanterns strung around the big body of water, 10,000 men, women and children flitted to and fro on the flashing steel runners. Some of them even danced on the ice.

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Photo of lanterns around frozen Prospect Park lake, c. New York Historical Society.

In the 1930’s and ’40’s, as all kinds of ice sports became increasingly popular, these “carnivals” became daytime sporting events with thousands watching from the shore, including ice hockey matches between teams from Brooklyn Technical High School and Manual Training High School (later called John Jay High School), speed-skating races and figure-skating displays. The carnivals even had an Ice Carnival King and Queen.

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The 1936 Ice Carnival King and Queen, c. Prospect Park Archives.

Today, New Yorkers can experience with thrill of gliding over the ice throughout the season at Prospect Park’s LeFrak Center at Lakeside. And while skating on the Lake is no longer permitted, Lakeside’s two rinks are just yards from the water’s edge, and visitors need only a bit of imagination to relive those festive nights over 100 years ago.

c. Harpers

Prospect Park’s Bizarre Bygone Attraction

October 17, 2018

Prospect Park has seen many attractions come and go over its more than 150 year history. One of the more unusual—at least by today’s standards—is the Rotary Yacht.

In the summer of 1878, Park Commissioners gave the green light to inventor David Smith to operate a 225-foot circular water ride called the Rotary Yacht in the Upper Pool (today, nearby to the popular Dog Beach). Hailed by The Brooklyn Eagle as an “ingenious and useful contrivance,” and a “queer looking craft,” the Rotary Yacht was a spectacular sight. Floating in the water just off the Long Meadow, the boat was lit with colorful lanterns and adorned with the “flags of all nations.”

The yacht was powered by nine sails, which could hold up to 220 riders for a spin around the yacht’s center post every 90 seconds. The newspaper described the summer of 1878 to be particularly hot, and there was “not a breath of air stirring.” Most of Brooklyn had gone to Coney Island to escape the heat, leaving Prospect Park rather desolate. For the people who lived nearby, the Rotary Yacht was a fantastic amusement.

While the yacht was a pleasant attraction for most, stories have been told of some falling  into the water and one death was associated with the structure. The yacht was removed in 1883, but the bygone boat now lives on in archives.

Learn more about the park’s past in the Prospect Park Archives.

c. Domenick D'Andrea

The Battle of Brooklyn in Prospect Park

August 13, 2018

Long before designers Olmsted and Vaux reshaped the topography to create Prospect Park, the hills of Brooklyn served as the stage of the largest battle of the Revolutionary War in terms of total combatants: the August 27, 1776, Battle of Brooklyn. The chain of lowland hills that run through Brooklyn overlook long, open flatlands. In the 1770s, the area was covered with thick forest and brush. There were only four passes that cut through the rocky ridge, including Flatbush Pass in what is now Prospect Park.

Six weeks prior to this historic engagement, the Continental Army had captured Boston at the Battle of Bunker Hill. The Colonists knew that the British would respond by securing the most strategic military outpost, the port city of New York. General George Washington had already started moving troops to Brooklyn in early May, and General John Sullivan was charged to hold the ridgeline that extends from today’s Green-Wood Cemetery, through Prospect Park to Mount Prospect Park. Flatbush Pass, which runs between a cluster of rugged hills where today joggers strain up the park’s East Drive, was marked with a large white tree called the Dongan Oak, which was chopped down to impede the British advance.

On August 27, the Hessians (German mercenaries hired by the British) pushed up Flatbush Pass to meet the American blockade. The invading forces were instructed to wait to attack the Colonists until the British gave the signal. General Sullivan expected the British to travel from the Gowanus Pass, and was unaware that the British troops had found their way to Jamaica Pass, thanks to local Loyalists. At approximately 9 am, the British General James Grant fired a cannon to signal the Hessians to commence their attack. With the Hessians at the front and the British forces coming from the rear–over grounds now known as the Vale of Cashmere and Nellie’s Lawn–the American soldiers were completely caught by surprise, and fled in panic across today’s Long Meadow.

General Sullivan was unable to organize a retreat before the Hessians overtook the forward guard, and the fighting devolved into hand-to-hand combat. Some Americans escaped through the swampy landscape, some were captured and sent to British prison ships in Wallabout Bay, and others were battlefield casualties. Ninety years later, when the park was being built, remains of those soldiers were uncovered, as were American fortifications and gun pits.

The Battle of Brooklyn was the first conflict in the American Revolution after the July 4 signing of the Declaration of Independence, and these hills remained hallowed ground for the people of Brooklyn for many generations. The memory of Battle Pass was part of the reason the site was chosen for Prospect Park in the 1850s, and markers were added in the park to commemorate that fateful day in American history. Visitors can find three bronze plaques along the East Drive which describe the events and mark the line of defense as well as the location of the Dongan Oak. At the base of Lookout Hill, the Maryland Monument commemorates the heroic stand of Major Mordecai Gist’s Maryland Regiment, which numbered just four hundred men but managed to hold off two thousand Hessian and Scottish invaders around a Dutch farmhouse, now known to Brooklynites as the Old Stone House. Only ten men survived, and the monument is inscribed with General Washington’s exclamation, “Good God! What brave fellows I must this day lose.”

Brooklyn Historical Society

Alliance + Brooklyn Historical Society Present 150th Exhibition

July 17, 2017

Related Programming: Urban Health, Urban Parks: The Salve of the City

In celebration of the Park’s 150th Anniversary, Brooklyn Historical Society and Prospect Park Alliance present The Means of a Ready Escape: Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, an exhibition that highlights the 150-year social history of Brooklyn’s Backyard. The collaboration between BHS and Prospect Park Alliance tells the story of the 585 acres of forest, field and swamp that Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux were charged with transforming into an urban oasis that would sustain generations of Brooklynites to come. The exhibition opened to the public on Thursday, July 13, 2017.

The Park has never been simply an escape from the city, but a fundamental part of it. Brooklyn and Prospect Park have grown and changed together. Turn-of-the-century swan boats, carriage rides, and lawn tennis are long gone, replaced by in-line skaters, birders, dog-walkers, and drummers. But the aspiration to provide, in Olmsted’s words, “simple, temperate, healthful, rural and domestic forms of recreation” to Brooklyn’s “overworked inhabitants” is, perhaps, more fully realized today than ever before. Throughout its history the people of Brooklyn, and many others, have used, shared, and shaped Prospect Park.

Visitors to The Means of a Ready Escape will learn that sheep roamed the Long Meadow until the 1930s, Brooklyn’s middle-class black families chose Prospect Park over closer green spaces because it was a place where they “felt welcome,” Robert Moses’ efforts to modernize the Park resulted in paving grassy areas for parking lots, and that Adele, a Park Slope caretaker, famously led children into the Park to play, introducing them to the safe haven it could be, despite the era in which the Park fell into disrepair. As the borough changed, so did the Park. The fiscal crisis of the seventies coincided with early waves of gentrification in surrounding neighborhoods. Lacking facilities staff to maintain its infrastructure, the park became perceived as notoriously unsafe. The gem-like boathouse we know today was then used as a recycling center. Paths and fences went unrepaired. The non-profit Prospect Park Alliance was formed in the eighties, in an effort to sustain, restore and advance the Park. Examples of the hard work of compromise within a public park space, like rules around barbequing, the creation of the Drummers Grove, and car access in the park, are explored. Because the bones that comprised its foundation were so very sound, the Park has endured. 

This history is told through panels and over 150 artifacts and documents including numerous postcards, scrapbooks, posters and photographs that reflect the ongoing relationship between the park and its many users. Visitors will enjoy viewing Olmsted and Vaux’s original plan of the Park, 1920s objects like tape measures and paper weights that depict scenes from the Park, hand drawn renderings from the 1990s of the Park’s woodlands restoration, and a model of the AIA National Honor Award-winning Samuel J. and Ethel LeFrak Center at Lakeside by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien Architects in collaboration with Prospect Park Alliance, which opened in 2013. 

For hours and directions, please visit the Brooklyn Historical Society website.