Prospect Park Archives

Stuff You Missed in History Class: Prospect Park 150 Edition

April 17, 2017

In 2017, in conjunction with Prospect Park Alliance’s 150th Anniversary celebration, beloved podcast Stuff You Missed in History Class celebrated the park milestone with a two-part episode dedicated to all things Prospect Park. Over the course of the episodes, hosts Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey delved deep into the Park’s creation by Park designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the early years of the park and  its decline in the 1960s and 1970s, and the more recent renaissance led by Prospect Park Alliance.

From Stuff You Missed in History Class:
“Brooklyn’s massive public green space tells the historical story of its community. From an undeveloped tract of land, the space was developed to become an Olmsted and Vaux masterpiece. This year marks the park’s 150th anniversary, so we’re celebrating this piece of living history with a two-parter.”

Listen to Prospect Park, Part 1 

“In our second episode about Brooklyn’s 150-year-old public park, we interview three guests, each with a unique knowledge of the park’s history and its restoration in the last three decades. Many, many thanks to Charles Birnbaum, President and founder of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, Christian Zimmerman, Vice President Capital & Landscape Management at Prospect Park Alliance, and Tupper Thomas, former Prospect Park Administrator for speaking with us.”

Listen to Prospect Park, Part 2 

You can also listen to or download these podcasts at the iTunes Store

Record Volunteer Attendance at It’s My Park Day 2017

On May 20, 2017, dedicated Park-loving volunteers rolled up their sleeves for It’s My Park Day. In honor of Prospect Park’s 150th anniversary, Prospect Park Alliance and REI recruited over 100 dedicated Park-loving volunteers to help care for their favorite green space with brooms, shovels, rakes and trash grabbers. Efforts focused on Lookout Hill, where volunteers removed 46 bags of invasive weeds and cleaned up over 4,000 feet of trails. Volunteers of all ages as well as local community groups came out for this great day of service.

“People love getting involved,” says Marcia Williams, Volunteer Program Project Coordinator. “Volunteering in the Park teaches people to give back to the community, and they feel good about it!” In 2016, roughly 4,000 Prospect Park Alliance volunteers contributed nearly 20,000 hours of service in the Park. “This volunteer group makes a huge difference, and thanks to their efforts, Prospect Park has really changed a lot in the last three decades,” says Williams. “REI and the Prospect Park Alliance have long partnered on It’s My Park! Day because the event has proven to provide a meaningful opportunity for the local community to work together to maintain this Brooklyn gem of 585 acres,” says Mick Minard, a member of REI’s Outdoor Programs and Outreach Team. “REI and The REI Foundation have invested in organizations across the country that share our goal of creating, improving and sustaining access to inspiring outdoor places. REI and the Alliance share a commitment to ensuring access to open space, supporting connected communities, and promoting health and wellness by helping more people share more time outdoors.”

Ready to get outdoors and help Prospect Park? Prospect Park Alliance offers a variety of volunteer opportunities. Register online or call (718) 287-3400 for more information.

PPA Profiles 150: Steve Hindy, Co-Founder, Brooklyn Brewery

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

“The first time I came to New York City was in 1957. I was eight years old, and I came up with my mother and grandmother for the Billy Graham Crusades. My mom and grandma got saved seven nights in a row, and I fell asleep seven nights in a row. On that same trip, we went to the last Brooklyn Dodgers game at Ebbets Field. I was completely taken by New York and Brooklyn, and knew that someday I’d be back here, because I wanted to be part of this. So that’s what I did.”

To say that Steve Hindy has been a “part” of what is going on in Brooklyn is somewhat of an understatement. After spending his childhood in West Virginia, Ohio, and Seneca Falls, NY, Hindy became a journalist and settled in New York City, where he worked for the Associated Press (AP). “I got it into my head that I wanted to cover a war,” says Hindy, “so I studied Arabic and headed to Beirut.” Over the following years, Hindy served as the Middle East Correspondent for the AP. While overseas, he married Ellen Foote, his high school sweetheart, and the couple had two children, Lily and Sam. After six years, the family returned, settling on 8th street in Park Slope.

It was in this house that the Brooklyn Brewery got its start. “In the Middle East, I had met Americans living in Saudi Arabia where they have Islamic Law, meaning no alcohol, so they all made their own beer at home.” Spurred to try his hand at home brewing, Hindy began producing beer from his 8th street kitchen. Together with his partner (and downstairs neighbor) Tom Potter, they established Brooklyn Brewery, producing their first commercial beer in 1988.

As the Brewery grew and gained notoriety, Hindy was getting to be a part of his Park Slope community. Having visited Prospect Park in the 1970’s, Hindy’s early impression was that the space was, “kind of forbidding. People were afraid of the Park, and it wasn’t very heavily used.” Hindy was part of the local dog-owner community, and began visiting the Park with others in early morning, emboldened by the safety in numbers. On one of these visits in the early 1990’s, Hindy struck up a conversation with Tupper Thomas, who at the time was the Prospect Park Administrator, and founder of the Prospect Park Alliance. Hindy recalls telling Thomas about the fledgling brewery, “Tupper loved the idea, said ‘oh you have to join my board.’”

Since then, Hindy has served on the Alliance’s Board of Directors, helping to steer the organization during decades of monumental change in the Park, helping to oversee projects like the construction of the Tennis Center. “In the last two decades, the Alliance has become an extraordinarily effective organization, and more importantly, a desirable form of community service for people living in Brooklyn.”

Hindy and the Brooklyn Brewery have made another recent contribution to the Park, a new beer called Long Meadow Gold, created as an homage to Prospect Park in celebration of the 150th anniversary. “Long Meadow Gold is brewed with a new yeast that we’re experimenting with, and has a really bright, lively flavor,” says Hindy, comparing the democratic quality of the Park to a beer. “Beer is a wonderful inexpensive beverage, accessible the same way the Park is for the public and available to everyone. We’re really excited to be a part of the 150th anniversary.” Try Long Meadow Gold at Smorgasburg in Prospect Park.

In addition to the Brooklyn Brewery and Prospect Park Alliance, Hindy has made his mark in the city through his involvement with other community organizations including the Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn and the Gowanus Canal Conservancy. Additionally, Hindy dedicates much of his time to working with Transportation Alternatives, the non-profit organization that advocates for better and safer bicycling, walking and public transit, and fewer cars. Hindy’s son, Sam Hindy, was killed in a bicycling accident in 2007. Ever since, Hindy has been a vocal proponent for pedestrian safety, supporting Vision Zero, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s action plan for ending traffic injuries and fatalities.

Hindy and his family moved to a house in Gowanus years ago, but they still find themselves back in Prospect Park.  “We used the park constantly when we lived up here, and we still use it all the time. We play in the Tennis Center and come to the Park to sit on a bench that is dedicated to our son. It’s on a hill where we used to have birthday parties for our kids, so that’s what we call Sam’s Hill.”  Looking around the Park on a recent spring morning, Hindy is reflective on the changes in the Park, “it’s amazing what’s happened here, and it’s been an honor to be part of the transformation.”

Martin Seck/Jimmy Sawh

Prospect Park Alliance Announces Full Season 150th Anniversary Events

March 29, 2017

On April 1, Prospect Park Alliance President Sue Donoghue, NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver and other elected officials joined community members to kick off the celebration of Prospect Park’s 150th Anniversary, with a weekend of special events and festivities. This Opening Weekend celebration kicks off a full season of 150th anniversary programming marking this milestone, which includes special concerts, tours, an oral history project and exhibition with partners including the Brooklyn Historical Society, Brooklyn Public Library, New York Philharmonic, BRIC and Turnstile Tours.

“Prospect Park is one of New York City’s jewels and a landmark in the life of my family,” said Mayor de Blasio. “Celebrating the park’s 150th anniversary reminds me of being married there and the days I spent coaching baseball and taking my children to the playgrounds. On behalf of 8.5 million New Yorkers, I want to thank the Prospect Park Alliance and all the volunteers and organizations that help maintain ‘Brooklyn’s backyard,’ and urge anyone who hasn’t had the chance to pay it a visit.”
“Happy 150th birthday, Prospect Park!” said NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP. “This year marks a major milestone for ‘Brooklyn’s backyard,’and Parks is honored to be a part of the celebration. For thirty years, the partnership with Prospect Park Alliance has made it possible for such a beloved outdoor space to thrive and become the destination is it today. This year, there are plenty of opportunities to come together and enjoy this park we all hold so dear. We look forward to another 150 years of joining this community to care for Prospect Park.”
“Prospect Park’s history closely mirrors that of the city, and its upswings and downswings,” said Sue Donoghue, President of the Prospect Park Alliance, the non-profit organization that sustains the Park. “Prospect Park Alliance was founded at a time when the Park was in decline, and through a successful private-public partnership, today the Park is once again a cherished community haven. We are so thrilled to present a range of events this spring, summer and fall that will bring the community together to celebrate this important milestone.”
Prospect Park’s history closely mirrors the history of Brooklyn, which was chartered in 1834 and by the 1860s became the nation’s third largest city. This growth prompted civic leaders to spearhead the creation of Prospect Park as Brooklyn’s flagship park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who also designed Central Park. In 1866, ground was broken and in 1867, the Park Commissioners held an “Opening Day” event that attracted thousands of visitors. Since that time, the Park has served as Brooklyn’s Backyard, a haven for millions of community members from across the borough. Since 1987, the Park has operated through a private-public partnership between the City and Prospect Park Alliance, the non-profit organization that sustains, restores and advances the Park.

Prospect Park Anniversary Season 
This full season of programming is funded in part by Bloomberg Philanthropies. A calendar of highlights follows:
Opening Weekend
Friday, March 31 – Sunday, April 2
Join Prospect Park Alliance to kick off the 150th anniversary celebration of Prospect Park, Brooklyn’s Backyard, with a full weekend of special events and festivities. The fun kicks off Friday, March 31, when Lola Star brings her popular skating disco to the ice at the LeFrak Center at Lakeside. All weekend long, enjoy the start of the spring season with an Opening Day Parade and Fair, an exhibition 1860s ballgame, running and walking tours, and the first Smorgasburg of the season, including the launch of a special Brooklyn Brewery Prospect Park 150th brew: Long Meadow Gold.
Party for the Park
Thursday, May 11
Prospect Park Boathouse
This spring fundraising party for Prospect Park Alliance will celebrate the Park’s 150th! Enjoy music, light bites from some of Brooklyn’s top restaurants and cafes, and specialty cocktails from some of the borough’s top mixologists. The party will feature Butter & Scotch, Tooker Alley, El Atoradero, Insa, Littleneck, Lumpia Shack, East Wind Snack Shop, Hugo & Sons, No. 7 Restaurant, Four & Twenty Blackbirds and Ample Hills. Nitehawk Cinema will host a lounge with exclusive cocktails and film screenings celebrating the Park’s 150th.
It’s My Park! Day: Prospect Park 150
Saturday, May 20 
Prospect Park
Join Prospect Park Alliance and REI to care for your Park! On It’s My Park! Day, Alliance volunteers will participate in a citywide effort to care for our green spaces with brooms, shovels, rakes, and trash grabbers. In honor of Prospect Park’s 150th anniversary, the Alliance is aiming to have 150 volunteers in the Park on May 20. Stewardship work will include woodland restoration. Presented by REI.
New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks: Prospect Park 150
Friday, June 16
Long Meadow Ball Fields, Prospect Park
The New York Philharmonic partners with Prospect Park Alliance to honor the Park’s 150th Anniversary as part of the Philharmonic’s Concerts in the Parks, Presented by Didi and Oscar Schafer. The Philharmonic will feature Brooklyn-based musicians performing an opening act, presented as part of the Philharmonic’s Share the Stage program and in celebration of the Park’s 150th and the Philharmonic’s 175th anniversary.
The Means of a Ready Escape: Brooklyn’s Prospect Park 
On view July 13, 2017 – September 30, 2018 
Brooklyn Historical Society
In celebration of the 150th anniversary of Prospect Park, Brooklyn Historical Society and Prospect Park Alliance present an exhibition that celebrates the founding vision of the Park, traces its social and historical trajectories, and examines the important role that Prospect Park has played as “Brooklyn’s Backyard” for 150 years.
The Connective Project
July 7–17, 2017
Prospect Park
In celebration of the 150th Anniversary of Brooklyn’s Backyard, Prospect Park Alliance is bringing together artists, Brooklyn notables and the public to create a site-specific art installation, which celebrates the special meaning the Park has in the lives of millions of community members from across the borough and beyond. Funded in part by Bloomberg Philanthropies and NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital.
BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival: Prospect Park 150th Celebration
Summer 2017
Prospect Park Bandshell
As part of the 150th celebration, BRIC and Prospect Park Alliance will host a special one-evening celebration of Prospect Park as part of the annual BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival, featuring performances and special festivities in honor of the Park.
The Moth StorySLAM: Prospect Park 150
Thursday, September 7
Prospect Park Picnic House

Prospect Park Alliance and The Moth present a special Moth StorySLAM in celebration of the Park’s 150th Anniversary.  This open-mic storytelling competition is open to anyone with a five-minute story to share on the night’s theme: Anniversaries. Come tell a story, or just enjoy the show!

Ongoing Programs

 Prospect Park History Tour
Select Sundays at 10 am and select Friday evenings at 6 pm, April through October
Celebrate the 150th anniversary of Prospect Park on this special series of guided walking tours of this iconic park in the heart of Brooklyn. These tours will examine the Park’s many layers of natural and human history, from the landscape design to architectural eras visible in the built environment to stories about how people have enjoyed the Park over time. Presented by Turnstile Tours in partnership with Prospect Park Alliance.
Campfire Conversations
April 1, May 6, June 3
Lefferts Historic House, Prospect Park
Prospect Park Alliance and the Brooklyn Public Library kick off a new monthly event series as part of the 150th celebration of Prospect Park. The first Saturday of the month, enjoy live music, community conversations and refreshments around a roaring fire.
Our Streets, Our Stories: Prospect Park 150
All season long, share your Prospect Park story with Prospect Park Alliance and Brooklyn Public Library, which will be recorded for posterity in the Brooklyn Public Library’s Brooklyn Collection. The Alliance and Library are seeking 150 stories in celebration of the 150th: learn more at
Brooklyn Brewery – Prospect Park 150th Brew: Long Meadow Gold
In celebration of the Park’s 150th, Brooklyn Brewery brewed Long Meadow Gold, a beer that captures the countless long afternoons of fun in Prospect Park, and turns them into a crisp pale ale packed with laidback vibes that could only come from Brooklyn. A portion of all sales will benefit the non-profit Prospect Park Alliance to sustain, restore and advance the Park. Long Meadow Gold will be available at Smorgasburg Prospect Park which takes place Sundays on Breeze Hill in Prospect Park starting April 2.
Programs and prices are subject to change. For up-to-date information, please visit our events calendar.

Sanden Wolff

PPA Profiles: Peter Dorosh, Natural Resources Crew

March 16, 2017

This year, Prospect Park Alliance celebrates the Park’s 150th anniversary with stories from members of the community about the impact the Park has had on their lives. Interested in contributing your own? Submit your story and we might share it with other Park lovers!

During a recent spring snowstorm, Peter Dorosh was quick to point out the flurry of bird activity taking place. “See the robins? They’re hunting for insects under the snow. They already have their spring blush,” said Dorosh, referring to the creatures rosy breasts. Dorosh is a field technician with the Prospect Park Alliance Natural Resources Crew, which conducts woodland restoration and trail maintenance. The ultimate goal is to bring the Park’s woodlands back to their original state.

A Brooklyn native from Wallabout, one of Brooklyn’s oldest neighborhoods, Dorosh began visiting Prospect Park in 1975 when he was 14 years old, drawn by the diversity of bird species. “Prospect Park was the number one spot for me because warblers are my favorite family of birds,” said Dorosh. “There are 36 warbler species and you can see most of them during the migration seasons in the Park.” Prospect Park is what is known as a stopover site for many birds, an area in between the wintering grounds and summer breeding sites. During fall and spring migrations, Prospect Park is a world-renowned hotspot for birds that drop in to rest and refuel before continuing on their journeys.

An avid birdwatcher since he was a teen, Dorosh depends primarily on his vision to locate the birds he observes. Categorized as profoundly deaf, Dorosh relies less on the sound of birdsong to locate his quarry, and more on another virtue. “I’m very patient… I stand there and look for the movement.”

Recalling his bird watching expeditions in the 1970s, Dorosh recalled “the birding was great, but you just had to be careful of where you walked. It wasn’t safe in a lot of areas, and the Vale of Cashmere was a no-no—I used to get scared going there by myself. I usually hung around areas like the Upper Pool, which was safer, but pretty degraded.”

Since its founding in 1987, Prospect Park Alliance has undertaken an extensive restoration of the Park’s natural areas, including the woodland Ravine and the Park’s historic watercourse and Lake, which suffered from significant erosion and neglect. The Alliance’s work to restore the Park’s woodlands over the past three decades represents a $15 million investment that has encompassed nearly 200 acres of woodlands and the planting and ongoing care of more than 500,000 trees, plants and shrubs.

Before Dorosh began a career at Prospect Park Alliance in 2001, he was working at a bank and acting as the President of the Brooklyn Bird Club. After 16 years at the bank, he resigned during a merger, and applied shortly thereafter to work at the Alliance. After short stints elsewhere in the Park, he joined the Natural Resources Crew, a job that has allowed him to use his birding expertise to improve the Park. “I used to work in a 10’x6’ cubicle, and now my office is 528 acres! It’s a change of pace, and a change of scenery.”

“Restoring habitats is like art. To see an area become more beautiful and healthier is one of the greatest things. When I started coming to Prospect Park, the watercourse was so degraded, and now we have wood ducks! It’s a wonderful thing, to see ducks and ducklings in the habitats that were degraded back then, that are much richer now, it’s nice to see the Park revitalized and restored.”

“You can come to this Park, bird all year, and see close to 200 species, which is amazing for a small park like this. For people on a tight budget, or who don’t have the use of a car, this is a place they can come to on public transportation, and see an amazing diversity of birds.” Now a guide with the Brooklyn Bird Club, Dorosh is an advocate of this peaceful pastime. “Birding is a hobby, a leisure—something to distract you from the stress of work and other things that might bother you in life. It is meant to be a peaceful, harmonious thing to do.”

Watch a video profile of Peter and the Prospect Park Alliance Natural Resources Crew:

c. Virginia Freire

PPA Profiles 150: Margaret Ring, Concessions Manager

February 17, 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. 

She’s met John Turturro and Steve Buscemi, ice skated with Molly Shannon, and has given Rosie Perez a lift in her golf cart. One time Michael Bloomberg bought her a drink at Peter Luger Steakhouse. But Margaret Ring is a Brooklyn celebrity in her own right. “People say ‘Marge is a legend.’ I talk to everybody, I talk to every person who walks into this park.” And after just a few minutes of walking through Prospect Park with her, it’s clear she’s not joking.

A lifetime in Brooklyn and twenty years in the Park—working at various times at the Carousel, the former Wollman Rink and the Parade Ground—means Ring carries her own celebrity status. “You can’t go anywhere with her,” laughed friend and Prospect Park Turf Crew Supervisor Karen LeRiche. “Everywhere she goes, people know her and want to talk to her.”

“I’m that sixth-degree person,” agreed Ring, “you give me one person and I know somebody that knows somebody. No matter where I walk into, that happens.”

Perhaps unsurprising, since the Ring family have flourished in this corner of the world for many generations, “My parents, my grandparents, my great grandparents, were all from Brooklyn. Before there was air conditioning, my grandfather slept out in Prospect Park in the summers.” Ring’s uncles worked for in Prospect Park, planting trees in the 1940’s, and her parents got engaged in Prospect Park, on the Long Meadow. Her father, who according to Margaret “people said was the most handsome man in Brooklyn,” was an umpire on weekends at the Parade Ground. “He introduced us to the Park. On Sundays after the baseball games we would go through the woods here, he would take us up and down the trails.”

Growing up around the Park—biking, playing softball and spending hours in the playgrounds—Margaret has witnessed firsthand the transformation of Prospect Park. “As a kid, I walked from Grand Army Plaza home alone through the Park maybe one or two times. I said, ‘wow, this is beautiful’ but I didn’t see a single person in the Park, it was kind of scary.” Brooklyn’s flagship park, which opened to the public in 1867, has seen it ups and downs, but during a citywide fiscal crisis in the 1970s, it fell into serious disrepair. Dilapidated structures, untended greenery and unsafe conditions led to a precipitous drop in visitorship. The community outcry that followed was directly responsible for the founding of Prospect Park Alliance in 1987.

Ring began working for the Prospect Park Alliance in 1997, as the organization was growing and undertaking increasingly ambitious projects aimed at improving the Park and increasing visitorship. “I tell everybody, if it wasn’t for the Alliance, we wouldn’t have a Park as nice as this. Even in the 20 years I’ve been here, I’ve seen changes.” A project she particularly cherishes is the restoration of the Park woodlands, “even when it was bad, it was still beautiful, but when they finished the Ravine, I tell you, I cried. I took my father through, and he cried too. You couldn’t walk through it in the ’70s.”

As much as any restoration project has improved the Park, so has the work of Margaret Ring and other Alliance and Parks staff who serve the public. They not only contribute to the positive change that has come to pass in the Park in recent decades, but also help sustain the Park’s authentic Brooklyn identity. “You treat people as if they’re your grandparents, your brothers and your sisters, that’s very important,” said Ring. “I had the good fortune to play in this park as a child, and I still do. It’s wonderful to work in a place this beautiful.”

Do you have a Prospect Park story? Share with us and have a chance to become part of Brooklyn history!

Prospect Park 150: The Creation of Prospect Park

January 18, 2017

In 2017, Prospect Park Alliance celebrates the 150th anniversary of Prospect Park. All year, we’ll be bringing you tales from the history of Prospect Park, from important milestones to untold stories. In this piece, learn about the creation of the Park. 

Robert Fulton’s steam ferry transformed Brooklyn into the world’s first commuter suburb in 1814, forever changing the docile farming existence of early towns and foreshadowing the need for an urban respite. In 1834, the City of Brooklyn was chartered, and during the next 30 years it became the third most populous city in the country, following only New York and Philadelphia. Successive waves of European immigrants settled in the growing city, and sprawling farms gave way to row homes, ferry lines quadrupled, and street grids emerged, devouring more and more of the rural landscape. At the same time, new concepts concerning the potential role of public parks in America were gaining popularity.

Beginning in 1858, the design team of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux had transformed more than 800 acres of jagged rock into Central Park across the East River in Manhattan. It was the first landscaped public park in the United States and introduced the term landscape architecture into the English language.

Soon, a movement grew in Brooklyn for a park of its own. Leading the effort was James S.T. Stranahan, a business and civic leader with considerable real estate interests in Brooklyn. In the early 1860’s Stranahan argued that a park in Brooklyn “would become a favorite resort for all classes of our community, enabling thousands to enjoy pure air, with healthful exercise, at all seasons of the year…” He believed that Brooklyn could become a great metropolis, and envisioned a Park not only as a public nicety, but also as a way to lure wealthy residents to the town. Stranahan would later serve as the first president of the Prospect Park Commission, and would oversee the Park project from inception to completion.

In 1861, civil engineer Egbert L. Viele proposed a layout for the new Park. Though Stranahan was impressed with Viele’s design, his own vision differed. In 1865, Calvert Vaux sketched Prospect Park’s present layout at Stranahan’s request. After Central Park, Vaux was ready for a new project, and his report persuaded Brooklyn commissioners to authorize the full purchase of the land for Prospect Park. Vaux convinced his partner Olmsted to join the effort, and together in 1866 they submitted a comprehensive plan for the development of Prospect Park.

Frederick Law Olmsted, who grew up on a farm in rural Connecticut during the 1820’s and ‘30s, had very strong beliefs about the function of public parks in people’s lives. To Olmsted, a great park should be a tranquil, rural landscape where people could recuperate from the incessant pace of city life. Prospect Park then, would provide a peaceful escape where weary Brooklynites might revitalize the mind, body and soul. Olmsted believed that these pleasures belonged to people of every social class, not just the wealthy who could afford to travel outside the city. Prospect Park would be for everyone, but especially Brooklyn’s poor who could find a bit of country—a place reminiscent of their homelands perhaps—right out their own backdoors.

Olmsted and Vaux designed an elaborate infrastructure for Prospect Park, and construction began on July 1, 1866, under their supervision. The principal features of the design included the Long Meadow, a heavily wooded area they called the Ravine and a 60-acre Lake. Olmsted and Vaux’s plan included rolling green meadows, meandering carriage drives with high elevation scenic lookouts, woodland waterfalls and springs, and a rich forest complete with maples, magnolia and cherry trees, among others. Original Park structures included rustic shelters and arbors, and sandstone bridges and arches. A Concert Grove House and Pavilion were built adjacent to the Lake so Park visitors could enjoy music in a pastoral setting, and there was a Wellhouse near Lookout Hill, and a Dairy complete with milking cows. The design team could not keep curious and delighted visitors away, and welcomed them inside for the first time on October 19, 1867, long before the Park was complete. In 1868, two million people came to enjoy what would come to be known as “Brooklyn’s Jewel.” 

Today, just about 150 years later, the Prospect Park Alliance staff work to continue to advance the vision of Olmsted and Vaux. This is achieved through restoration of historic structures, the creation of innovative new amenities like the LeFrak Center at Lakeside, and in partnership with the City, the daily upkeep of the landscape. It is a year-round efforts that keep this space an essential resource for the millions of visitors every year. 

Learn more about the Prospect Park Alliance, and how you can become a steward of this great Park.

c. Virginia Freire

PPA Profiles: Mitchell J. Silver, Commissioner of NYC Parks

This year, Prospect Park Alliance celebrates the 150th anniversary of Prospect Park, and we’re sharing stories from community members about the impact the Park has had on their lives. Interested in contributing your own? We’re partnering with the Brooklyn Public Library to collect your Prospect Park stories, visit our website to submit your story or visit the Central Library on Sunday, January 29, to record your story, which will be archived in the Brooklyn Collection as part of the Our Streets, Our Stories oral history project. Portrait by Virginia Freire.

“There! That corner right there is where I played little league.” Gesturing to the Parade Ground on a recent January morning, Mitchell J. Silver, Commissioner of NYC Parks, recalled his early experiences in Prospect Park. 

“I first visited the Park when I was two months old,” said Silver. “The Park was like my backyard, I spent so much time here. Once I started riding a bike, the Park really opened up to me. By the time I was 11 I knew almost every path.” 

As Prospect Park enters its 150th year, Silver reflected on the evolution he has seen in the Park during his lifetime. “Growing up here in the mid-1970’s, Prospect Park wasn’t always such a pleasant place, and it wasn’t as well cared for as it is today.” However, the intervening decades and work of the Prospect Park Alliance has made a difference. “Coming to the Park now, just to see the LeFrak Center at Lakeside and the quality of the Park and to see the transformation thanks to the work of the Prospect Park Alliance, has been so amazing for me.” 

As Commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, Silver is an important partner to Prospect Park Alliance in its management of Prospect Park. He oversees nearly 30,000 acres of parkland citywide, which also includes playgrounds, beaches, marinas, recreation centers and wilderness areas. “Parks don’t sit in isolation,” said Silver, “they are part of the overall system of the city. Density and open space go together. Period.”

In March 2014, Silver was picked to be the new Parks Commissioner by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who called Silver a “visionary” and praised his passion for “fairness and equality.” Prior to returning to his native New York City as Parks Commissioner, Silver had served as the Chief Planning & Development Officer and Planning Director for Raleigh, NC. When he and his family returned to New York, one of Silver’s first steps was to assess all parks throughout the city—large and small. 

“We decided to take a data-driven approach, and we looked at the parks where we’ve invested less that $250,000 during the last 20 years. We found that about 134 parks were hiding in plain sight, that’s where we had to focus first.” By October 2014, Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Silver had launched the Community Parks Initiative—a program to revitalize under-resourced public parks located in New York City’s densely populated and growing neighborhoods with higher-than-average concentrations of poverty. As part the Community Parks Initiative, Prospect Park Alliance is providing pro-bono design work for the renovation of three underserved neighborhood parks. 

“The Community Parks Initiative work is really an extension of our mission,” said Alliance President Sue Donoghue. “We have decades of experience designing and building innovative and award-winning playgrounds in Prospect Park. The chance to share our expertise, and improve recreational opportunities for neighboring communities is an important park of our work.”

Another one of these visionary projects is the Parks Without Borders initiative, which seeks to make parks more open by improving entrances, transforming underutilized areas, and creating vibrant public spaces. In 2016, Prospect Park Alliance was awarded funding through Parks Without Borders to create two new park entrances along Flatbush Avenue, and enhance a third, after receiving the highest number of nominations from the public. “Parks Without Borders has engaged thousands of New Yorkers, who shared ideas for park improvements online and in person. That’s proof positive of how excited New Yorkers are to increase accessibility and openness in their favorite parks,” said Silver. 

No matter how many parks the Commissioner oversees, he will always have a special place in his heart for Prospect Park. “I learned to ice skate in the Park, I ran track in the Park, we held our family functions here at the Peristyle by the Lake,” said Silver. “It just has this very sentimental feeling for me, like it’s home. Literally, like my backyard.”

Share your Prospect Park story.