Tag Archives: Prospect Park

PODCAST REWIND: A Short History of Prospect Park

PODCAST REWIND Prospect Park, Brooklyn’s biggest public space and home to the borough’s only natural forest, was a sequel for Olmsted and Vaux after their revolutionary creation Central Park. But can these two landscape architects still work together or will their egos get in the way? And what happens to their dream when McKim, Mead and White and Robert Moses get to it?

ALSO: what classic Hollywood movie actor is buried here?

ORIGINALLY RELEASED JUNE 5, 2009

THIS IS A SPECIAL ILLUSTRATED PODCAST!  Chapter headings with images have been embedded in this show, so if your listening device is compatible with AAC/M4A files, just hit play and a variety of pictures should pop up.  The audio is superior than the original as well. (This will work as a normal audio file even if the images don’t appear.)

For this and our older episodes (Episodes #5-#83), subscribe to The Bowery Boys: NYC History Archive feed, on iTunes, directly from our host page, or directly via our RSS feed.

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The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

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Some images of Prospect Park from 1895 to 1920 from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

The boat house, photographed in 1910, but could very well be a picture from today with an Instagram filter!

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MCNY

Anybody for a game of polo on the lawn? Pictured here in 1896.

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The entrance to Prospect Park, with Grand Army Plaza (a fairly new edition in this photograph from 1900) and the Mount Prospect Reservoir on the hill.

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MCNY

 

Sheep attending to the meadow in a photograph (from early 20th century) by Robert Bracklow.

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MCNY

 

You can thank McKim, Mead and White and the rising preference of neoclassicism in the Gilded Age for the abundance of statuary in Prospect Park (pictured here in 1903).

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MCNY

 

The park is an arresting synthesis of Olmsted and Vaux’s original vision (as seen in this picturesque view from 1909), McKim, Mead and White’s neoclassical alterations, and Robert Moses’ pragmatic additions from the mid 20th century.

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A former feature of the lake called Fire Island, named for its flamboyant flowers!

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MCNY

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE HISTORY OF PROSPECT PARK, CHECK OUT OUR PODCAST ON THE HISTORY OF PARK SLOPE.

It’s Open House New York 2015! Adventures await at these free sites

 Open House New York is the absolute best time of the year to wander the city and visit dozens of New York City’s greatest historical landmarks and architectural wonders.  Unfortunately, reservations for some of those places pretty much filled up within ten minutes.
But never fear! This year, it seems that a great number of the most interesting ones don’t need reservations and are wander-in-as-you-please type venues. Go to their website or pick up a copy of the Open House schedule and stitch together some great weekend plans.

 

Below are some my personal recommendations, ten must-see stops for your weekend.  I’ll be spending my weekend hitting several Open House sites, including some of those listed below.  You can follow along with my trek through the city on Twitter (@boweryboys).

 

For a few of these, I’ve also made some podcast listening suggestions; you can download those older Bowery Boys episodes from the links, pick them up on iTunes, or stream them on Stitcher and other services.

All the times below are from the Open House New York website. Please check their site before you go for any changes!

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress
New York City Hall

Manhattan, Broadway at Murray Street
12 pm4 pm
They’re opening City Hall for free tours? Well, technically, they already give limited tours. But having them as part of Open House NY is a rare treat. Just bring a photo ID and probably get there as early as possible.
Before you go: Listen to our podcast on the history of New York City Hall.  
In the neighborhood: Take a trip to the Manhattan Borough President’s Map Display or visit the African Burial Ground.

Courtesy NYCAgo
Courtesy NYCAgo
Salvation Army’s Centennial Memorial Temple

Manhattan, 120 West 14th Street
Saturday, October 17:  10am – 2 pm
The Salvation Army’s cavernous theater, rarely opened for tours, is a beauty to behold. To quote Daytonian in Manhattan:  “Ask three architectural historians to identify the style of the Centennial Memorial Temple and you will get three separate answers.  It is variously tagged Art Deco, Ziggurat Moderne, and German Expressionism.  I have my own term:  Wizard of Oz Art Deco.” There’s no place like 14th Street.
In the neighborhood: The beautiful Grace Church is open all weekend.  And don’t forget The Masonic Temple of course!

Courtesy the United States Lighthouse Society
Courtesy the United States Lighthouse Society
National Lighthouse Museum

Staten Island, St. George, 200 Promenade at Lighthouse Point
Saturday and Sunday, October 17-18) 11am – 5pm
A brand new museum for New  York City makes its home in the United States Lighthouse Service Depot near the ferry terminal. Almost as interesting as their collection is a history of the site itself “comprised of six historical buildings that date back to the time that the site was the location of the U.S. Lighthouse Service, where all items used by lighthouses around the country were manufactured.”
In the neighborhood: It’s just a short cab or bus ride over to Snug Harbor Cultural Center or down to the Alice Austen House.

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Jay Street Firehouse

Downtown Brooklyn, 365 Jay Street
Saturday, October 17, 10am-4pm
I’ve been fascinated by this curious building for years. And now you can climb to the top! “On OHNY Weekend, climb the six flights up to the historic crow’s nest to see where Brooklyn’s fire fighters once watched the horizon for plumes of smoke.”
Before you go: Listen to the Bowery Boys podcast on the history of the New York City Fire Department
In the neighborhood: Admire the beautiful architectures of the Brooklyn Historical Society or take a tour of the magnificent Brooklyn Academy of Music.

 

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Vale of Cashmere

Brooklyn, Prospect Park via Grand Army Plaza
Saturday and Sunday, October 17-18, 10am – 6pm
Olmsted & Vaux’s most opulent creation within Prospect Park, an “Alice-in-Wonderland kind of place,” is finally being renovated. “The creation of the Zucker Natural Exploration Area was a first step in this process, and upcoming projects include the restoration of the woodlands and Flatbush Avenue perimeter.”
Before you go: Check out our podcast on the history of Prospect Park
In the neighborhood: Take a tour of the Central Library or visit the Old Stone House.

Courtesy Peter Pennoyer Architects Bookshelf
Courtesy Peter Pennoyer Architects Bookshelf
Marine Air Terminal

Queens, LaGuardia Airport
Saturday and Sunday, October 17-18, 10am – 6pm
Going to LaGuardia Aiport — on purpose?  Trust me. This is worth the trip. The Marine Air Terminal is one of the oldest parts of the airport and the most beautiful.  “The striking circular space is planned with rational simplicity: two stories high with a three-tiered, skylit ceiling. Deep green marble walls set off its defining feature: a vividly colored wraparound mural by James Brooks depicting the history of flight and man’s quest to conquer the skies.”
Before you go: Listen to the Bowery Boys podcast on the history of LaGuardia Airport

Courtesy Marco Cantini
Courtesy Marco Cantini
New York State Pavilion

Queens, Flushing-Meadows Park
Saturday and Sunday, October 17-18, 1pm – 5pm
This enduring ruin of the New York World’s Fair has been newly painted, coming as close to looking like its old self.  “The New York Structural Steel Painting Contractors Association donated their services to re-paint the building’s iconic crown in the original shade of “American Cheese” yellow, brightening the Philip Johnson-designed landmark just in time for the 50th Anniversary of the closing of the fair. Long lines are expected; arrive early!”
 Before you go: Listen to the Bowery Boys podcast on the history of the New York State Pavilion. This show co-stars filmmaker Matthew Silva who gives some exclusive insight into the structure’s later years.
In the neighborhood: Take a tour of the grounds of the old World’s Fair (both of them) then race over to the Queens Museum to check out the Panorama!

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
The Hall of Fame for Great Americans

Bronx, Bronx Community College, 2155 University Avenue
Sunday, October 18, Noon – 4pm
Nestled within the spectacular architecture of Bronx Community College is a true throwback — the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, a procession of busts celebrating a wide assortment of American inventors, thinkers and civic leaders.  They stopped updating this many decades ago but its tranquil setting will convince you that you’re on the set of some film set on Mount Olympus.
In the neighborhood: While on the campus, visit the sumptuous Gould Memorial Library and the truly astounding Brutalist masterpieces designed by Marcel Breuer.

Wikimedia
Wikimedia
Bohemian National Hall

Manhattan, 321 East 73rd Street
Saturday, October 17, Noon – 4pm
Here’s an intriguing surprising on the Upper East Side, celebrating New York’s early Czech and Slovak immigrant culture. The building itself is glorious as is the view from the roof! “Established in 1892, the Bohemian National Hall has been a center for Czech and Slovak immigrants on the Upper East Side of Manhattan for more than a hundred years. It is one of the few well preserved original Czech buildings left in New York City and an important symbol of the Czech contribution in the United States.”
In the neighborhood: Experience a bit of 18th century civility at the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum or marvel at the largest synagogue in the world over at Temple Emanu-El.

 

From "A landmark history of New York; also the origin of street names and a bibliography" (1901)
From “A landmark history of New York; also the origin of street names and a bibliography” (1901)
Hamilton Grange National Memorial

Manhattan, 414 West 141st Street
Sunday, October 18, 6pm – 8:30pm
Alexander Hamilton’s old home will probably be one of the hottest destinations during Open House New York. Not just because of a certain musical, but also because the unique hours.  Hamilton Grange will be open at night, allowing you to experience this classic mansion from a new perspective.

Before you go: Listen to the Bowery Boys podcast on the legendary duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.
In the neighborhood: Just nearby you can check out a tour of the unique architecture of City College, or, if you want to keep in a Revolutionary-era mood, stroll the old Morris-Jumel Mansion!

 

Park Slope and the Story of Brownstone Brooklyn

PODCAST  Park Slope – or simply the park slope, as they used to say – is best known for its spectacular Victorian-era mansions and brownstones, one of the most romantic neighborhoods in all of Brooklyn. It’s also a leading example of the gentrifying forces that are currently changing the make-up of the borough of Brooklyn to this day.

During the 18th century this sloping land was subject to one of the most demoralizing battles of the Revolutionary War, embodied today by the Old Stone House, an anchor of this changing neighborhood. In the 1850s, the railroad baron Edwin Clark Litchfield brought the first real estate development to this area in the form of his fabulous villa on the hill. By the 1890s the blocks were stacked with charming house, mostly for occupancy by wealthy families.

Circumstances during the Great Depression and World War II reconfigured most of these old (and old fashioned) homes into boarding houses and working-class housing. Then a funny thing happens, something of a surprising development in the 1960s: the arrival of the brownstoners, self-proclaimed ‘pioneers’ who refurbished deteriorating homes.

The revitalization of Park Slope has been a mixed blessing as later waves of gentrification and rising prices threaten to push out both older residents and original gentrifiers alike.

PLUS: The terrifying details of one of the worst plane crashes in American history, a disaster that almost took out one of the oldest corners of the neighborhood.

And a special thanks to our guests on this show — Kim Maier from the Old Stone House;  Julie Golia, Director of Public History, Brooklyn Historical Society; and  John Casson and Michael Cairl, both of Park Slope Civic Council.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and Player FM from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #181: Park Slope and the Story of Brownstone Brooklyn

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The Vechte Cortelyou House (aka the Old Stone House) depicted as it looked in 1699 (from a hand colored lithograph by the firm of Nathaniel Currier, MCNY)

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A collection of classified ads from the December 1, 1912 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, offering several living options in the park slope area.

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The stark Fourteenth Street Armory, located in the South Slope, depicted here as it looked in 1906 —  “a pretty place” (MCNY)
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Congregation Beth Elohim, pictured here on September 16, 1929, located at Garfield Place and 8th Avenue. (MCNY)

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The horrific place crash of December 16, 1960 — United Airlines Flight 826, bound for Idlewild Airport, colliding with Trans World Airlines Flight 266, heading to LaGuardia Airport. 128 passengers were killed, along with six people on the ground. (Top picture courtesy New York Daily News; the two after are from the New York Fire Deparment. You can find further images here)

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Some images from 1961 by John Morrell from the archives of the Brooklyn Historical Society:

A view along Prospect Park West at and 16th Street and Windsor Place.

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View of east side of 8th Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets looking north. n.e. cor. 16th Street (right) & 8th Avenue.

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Prospect Park West looking south toward Prospect Park/branch, U.S. Post Office (at northeast corner of Prospect Park W. & 16th Street).

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By the 1970s so mansions and brownstones close to the park were getting renovated by ‘pioneers’ with the means to restore these homes to their original splendor .

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In 1969, New York Magazine touted the ‘radical’ alternative of moving to Brooklyn in an article by Pete Hamill:

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TOP PHOTOGRAPH by Luci West from Moving Postcard

Brooklyn’s Forgotten Lake: Pictures of Mount Prospect Reservoir

As you can see, the Bowery Boys: New York City  History blog has gone through some major changes this week.  We have a new URL (boweryboyshistory.com) and a dynamic new layout which will present articles, photographs and podcast audio is a more user-friendly way.  There’s still some backlogged clean up to do so thank you for your patience.  But we think this new format is more reader friendly and makes these old photographs look so much more amazing.

And so, on that note, I thought I’d test out the expanded-image waters here by presenting a few views of one of the most enchanting places from the 19th century, a place that no longer exists — the Mount Prospect Reservoir.

Photographed by Robert Bracklow, courtesy the Museum of the City of New York
Photographed by Robert Bracklow, courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

 

Back when it was an independent city, Brooklyn received most of its drinking water from Long Island, pumped into to a large receiving reservoir in Ridgewood.  Some of that was then send southward to a reservoir built in the late 1850s at the second highest point in Brooklyn — Mount Prospect — rising 200 feet above sea level.

The reservoir was 3 1/2 acres, holding 20 million gallons of water at a depth of 20 feet. Or, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “containing just about enough water to cook the breakfast of the people of Brooklyn for a week

The elevation was not included in the original design of Prospect Park, conceived in the 1860s as Brooklyn’s own Central Park. ** Especially odd when you consider that Prospect Park takes its name from the hill where the reservoir resided.

Pump house at the old reservoir on the East Side Lands, with Flatbush Avenue behind it, and Prospect Park in the background.
Pump house at the old reservoir on the East Side Lands, with Flatbush Avenue behind it, and Prospect Park in the background. [Courtesy Museum of the City of New York]
 Standing besides the man made lake was a pumping station and a grand Gothic tower, 30 feet tall. The world could be seen from here. “From the top of the tower … could be afforded a grand view overlooking the Park and City of Brooklyn; south may be seen the Atlantic Ocean; west, Staten Island and New Jersey; north, the Bay and the City of New York; east, the Navy Yard, Williamsburgh and the East River, altogether affording one of the grandest views imaginable.” [source]

Below: Circa 1900, looking north from the reservoir over Eastern Parkway into what is today’s Prospect Heights neighborhood.  Below that, looking out over Grand Army Plaza. Photos by George Hall and Sons. Courtesy Museum of City of New York

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When Brooklyn was incorporated into the consolidated Greater New York, they also were brought into New  York’s central water system (i.e. the Croton Aqueduct, later blended with the waters of the Delaware and the Catskills).  The Mount Prospect Reservoir was dismantled in 1940 and turned into a park. And the tower was torn down as well when the central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library was constructed.

According to BPL’s blog,  “The wrecking company in charge of tearing it down announced in the Eagle that the Connecticut pink granite used to build the tower would be made freely available to anyone who wanted it.”  So there may be pieces of the old tower incorporated into buildings all across the borough!

Looking over Brooklyn and Manhattan
Looking over Brooklyn and Manhattan (Library of Congress)

 

 

Unsurprisingly, the reservoir was a bit of a tourist attraction as evidenced by this postcard. (Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York)
Unsurprisingly, the reservoir was a bit of a tourist attraction as evidenced by this postcard. (Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York)

 

Viewing the entrance to Prospect Park with the reservoir and tower behind it. From this vantage you can see the Brooklyn Museum and the Mount Prospect Laboratory.

 

** See Matthew’s comment below about Mount Prospect’s appearance in the original Prospect Park plan.

Bicycle Mania! The story of New York on two wheels, from velocipedes to ten-speeds — with women’s liberation in tow


Alice Austen’s iconic photograph of a telegram bike messenger in 1896, a year where many New Yorkers were wild about bikes. Austen even rode one around with her camera. 

PODCAST The bicycle has always seemed like a slightly awkward form of transportation in big cities, but in fact, it’s reliable, convenient, clean and — believe it or not — popular in New York City for almost 200 years.

 The original two-wheeled conveyance was the velocipede or dandy horse which debuted in New York in 1819. After the Civil War, an improved velocipede dazzled the likes of Henry Ward Beecher and became a frequent companion of carriages and streetcars on the streets of New York. Sporting men, meanwhile, took to the expensive high-wheeler.

But it was during the 1890s when New Yorkers really pined for the bicycle. It liberated women, inspired music and questioned Victorian morality. Casual riders made Central Park and Riverside Drive their home, while professionals took to the velodrome of Madison Square Garden. And in Brooklyn, riders delighted in New York’s first bike path, built in 1894 to bring people out to Coney Island.

FEATURING:  Robert Moses, Charles Willson Peale, Ed Koch, and New York’s bike thief in bloomers!

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, subscribe to our RSS feed or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and Player FM from your mobile devices.

Or listen to straight from here:
The Bowery Boys: Bicycle Mania! From Velocipede to Ten-Speed

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The early velocipede went by several names — the hobby horse, the dandy horse, the draisine. This device made a big splash in 1819 before they were effectively banned from the city. [NYPL]



With the velocipede craze of the late 1860s, women attempted to conform to Victorian ideals of fashion with a host of bizarre products to maintain a ladylike presentation. By the 1890s, women riders chucked most of those conformities out the window, introducing more comfortable clothing and embracing the independence offered by the bicycle.

At top: An ad for a hair product, 1869. (LOC) Below: A radical change of costume in a photo illustration from 1890s (courtesy Brain Pickings, accompanying an amusing article of women’s bicycle do’s and don’ts from 1895)

The bicycle didn’t just provide transportation and recreation in the 1890s. It influenced entertainment as well, through the songs of Tin Pan Alley. Below: A ‘comic play’ and a two-steph, both from 1896, and both inspired by the Coney Island Bike Path. (LOC)

The Coney Island Bike Path in 1896, running up Ocean Parkway to Prospect Park. I believe this illustrates the opening of the return path, as the original path opened in 1894

I have absolutely no context for this image, but I love it. Taken sometime between 1894-1901 [NYPL]

Ten unusual views of Prospect Park and Grand Army Plaza

When park designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux regrouped after the success of Central Park to design another great park for Brooklyn — encompassing Prospect Hill and the Revolutionary War site Battle Pass — they preserved a greater amount of natural topography than they had in Manhattan. But that doesn’t mean that Prospect Park hasn’t gone through a few radical changes of its own since it opened between the years 1867 and 1873.

Their Grand Army Plaza has experienced few changes since it opened in those years, but the structures around it have certainly changed, presenting some surprising views at the mighty war monuments.

1. Women of the Wellhouse
The caption for this stereoscopic view (taken sometime in the 1870s-80s) calls this a ‘well house’, although it may have also been a a coal storage shed or even an outhouse! Brooklyn’s main reservoir was on Prospect Hill, and the park was constructed partially to protect the water source from encroaching developers.

 

2. Prospect Park Dairy
As they had done in Central Park, Olmsted and Vaux infused the landscape with various romantic, fairytale-like structures, including this dairy house, providing guests with milk straight from the cow. Central Park still has a version of their dairy, but Prospect Park’s was regrettably torn down in the 1930s to make way for the Prospect Park Zoo. (NYPL)

3. Brooklyn Sheep

 Sure, you many know Sheep Meadow in Central Park once had actual sheep grazing — they were considered a rustic design ornament and a natural landscaper — but what happened to the animals after Robert Moses kicked them out in 1934? Like so many trendy things, they moved to Brooklyn! They joined Prospect Park’s already thriving sheep colony (pictured below, from 1903) before moving on to other pastures. (Courtesy LOC)

4. Floral Steps, 1904
The manicured flora that grace these steps predates the Brooklyn Botanic Garden by several years. The stairs are still there today, of course, though unadorned.

5. Drinking Fountains
With water aplenty, Prospect Park has been dotted with drinking fountains since its inception. This rather unusual fountain, from 1938, may still be around, but I doubt you’ll see anybody drinking from it. (Courtesy Dept of Records)

6. Deer Paddock
The zoo also replaced the rather extraordinary Deer Paddock, where the sometimes docile creatures were allowed to wander around. This despite some of them occasionally escaping and running into the surrounding neighborhood (as one adventurous buck did in 1906).

7. Stately Reservoir Tower
High atop Brooklyn’s second highest point on Mount Prospect sits the reservoir tower, only a couple decades old (1893) but looking like a medieval ruin in this image. Date of this picture is unknown, although the ground for the Brooklyn Public Library main branch building was broken in 1912, so it was clearly sometime before then. The Brooklyn Museum is in the distance. [NYPL]

8. And, yes, the Reservoir itself
The reservoir was built here in 1856 and was meant to be included within the park designs. With Flatbush Avenue ultimately cleaving the hill from the rest of the proposal, Olmsted and Vaux left it out. This picture is from between 1910-1920. [LOC]

9. From high above
This bird’s eye view from 1951 illustrates the plaza’s similarities to that of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

10. Library vista
And this view is from two weeks ago! During the Partners In Preservation Open House, the staff at the Brooklyn Public Library main branch led guided tours to the rooftop, offering a very particular take on the plaza. And if my camera had been better, you would see off in the distance the Statue of Liberty, situated several miles away.

Top photo courtesy NYPL

Yosemite’s loss: Olmstead between the parks

Hopefully some of you are watching the Ken Burns multi-hour epic documentary The National Parks: America’s Great Idea, a fascinating but rather languid celebration of American preservation of its greatest natural treasures.

I’m assuming that by Wednesday, Burns should get here to New York with discussion of two national monuments (the Statue of Liberty and Castle Clinton) protected through Theodore Roosevelt’s Antiquities Act. And later with the 1966 establishment of the National Register of Historic Places, as well as the 1972 formation of the Gateway National Recreational Area, scattered through Queens, Staten Island and New Jersey.

I was pleasantly pleased to hear the name Frederick Law Olmsted dropped during the first episode. Olmsted was a commissioner for the State of California in 1865, assigned to formulate a plan for Yosemite Valley, America’s first natural area granted money by the United States government.

From our perspective, Olmsted was between his two great New York masterpieces. The creation of Central Park had begun in 1857, but by 1960, Olmsted’s rocky relationship with the city and Tammany Hall got him replaced as superintendent. He fled to Civil War battlefields as secretary of the U.S. Sanitation Commission (prototype of the Red Cross) and eventually made his way to California as the operator of an unsuccessful mining company.

His attempts in Yosemite were not well received. His report to the state of California in 1865 is seen today as a far-sighted explication of the responsibility of government to preserve their natural gifts for the health and well-being of its citizenry. (You can read the entire proposal here.)

California just shrugged. It was their loss, frankly. Faced with this rejection and the failure of his mining practice, Olmsted came back to New York to work once again with his partner Calvert Vaux. A year after Olmsted’s Yosemite rejection, work was underway on their second masterpiece — Prospect Park.

Prospect Park: suicide hot spot in the 19th century?


Cue the organ: Prospect Park can be a lonely place at times

As I was doing my research for this week’s podcast, I happen to come across a alarming number of news articles reporting grim and often grisly suicides that occurred in Prospect Park during the late 19th century.

What about Prospect Park made it such a magnet for numbers of suicides throughout the late 19 century? In the decades following the opening of the park, people came here to shoot, stab, hang, drown and generally do vicious harm to themselves, due to depression and despair brought on by illness, heartbreak or unemployment.

The reasoning is actually less suspicious. Parks were often the only place people could go in the 19th century to be alone and would have provided a peaceful respite for a troubled soul. Central Park probably has equally macabre statistics.

What I particularly loved about these early New York Times newspaper accounts is the sense of drama the writers give the stories, as if writing a mystery novel, not a news article.  The brief descriptions behind each death, however, give you enough of a window into each of these people’s life to feel empathy for their depressing situations. This, sadly, is only a sampling from that era:

1877 Polish journalist Edward Kulikowsky, editor of a weekly Brooklyn paper and a “finely educated man,” was found “lying sick in the grass,” the victim of self administered poison. “A note was also found in his pocket setting forth that he had taken poison one hour previous, that he has smoked his pipe since then with the greatest satisfaction, that if the poison did not kill him he would take another poison.”

1878 A man was found shot in the head one warm May evening at the 3rd Street entrance of Prospect. The victim still had the gun clutched in his still-warm fingers. “In his pockets were found 67 cents, a package of cigarettes and a copy of the morning newspaper of yesterday’s date. On the margin of the paper were written the words, “I know I have to die, and I shoot myself.”

1878 It’s believed that distraught German immigrant Ludvig Von Stein eventually died from his gunshot suicide attempt at Prospect’s Lookout Hill, his reason for ending it all being “that he had been unable to procure work and could not bear the complaints made by his wife on that account.”

1878 Yet another “unknown man of respectable appearance” tried offing himself this year, only this time with a razor. Found with his arm and throat cut, he also had a box of rat poison in his pocket.

1883 An unknown man was found hanging from a tree at the southeast entrance of the park, “with a gray beard, a deeply-pockmarked face, and dressed in a blue flannel coat and brown trousers and vest.” His body had been hanging from the tree for a couple days before found.

1883 A “young and respectably dressed woman” was seen wandering aimlessly around the park on December 11. Hours later her body was found floating in Prospect Park lake. On the bank nearby lay a “pocket-knife, covered in blood.” Officers on the scene believe she tried to cut her wrists first, then more expeditioiusly tried to drown herself. Her identity remains unknown. The article takes note to point out, “she had no money, but in a pocket of her dress was found a lady’s open-faced gold watch bearing the number 16,636.”

1889 Another young man shoots himself in the head, this time in the East Dale Shelter. I find it interesting that the news report included this information: “His linen was clean and new, and his underclothes of the best quality. On the sweatband of his hat was the name Peaslie.

1889 young David Moody follows that grisly example, a single gunshot, “sickly from childhood…suffered from an affection of the ear which at times made him almost crazy.”

1893 That now frequent sound of gunfire echoes once again, as an unemployed truck driver and Prospect Park neighbor kills himself one summer day, ‘despondent’ over his lack of employment.

1895 One hot July evening, novelist George C. Kelly dramatically cut his throat and jumped into Prospect Park lake. The depressed writer wrote under the pen name Harold Payne and had recently published a story.

1897 H.W. Tobias took his life March 1897 under a tree at the archery grounds near Prospect’s 9th Street entrance. He also held a suicide note in his pocket, declaring “he did not want to live any longer, as he was subject to too frequent and too severe attacks of rheumatism.”

1899 Hanging, shooting, drowning. What next? Poor Emily Goodison came to Prospect Park and took her life by drinking a container of carbolic acid. Passerby “Morris B. Roy….found her dying on a knoll in the park.” Her pocket also contained familiar souvenirs of grief: “two poems, clipped from the newspaper, both of which were in a melancholy strain.”

Is this rather grim feature of Prospect Park’s history making a comeback? Perhaps.

Just this February, a model hung himself in the playground of Mount Prospect Park, right next to Prospect Park. (The hill of Mount Prospect Park was originally within the proposed park grounds before Olmsted and Vaux got ahold of it.) Instead of a scrawled note along a newspaper found in his pocket, this unfortunate soul left his suicide note in the most 21st century of places: his Facebook page.

Prospect Park: Montgomery Clift’s final resting place


One curious fact we mentioned in our Prospect Park podcast is that classic film actor Montgomery Clift is actually buried here, in a quiet Quaker cemetery near the southwest entrance of the park. As far as I’m aware, entrance to the tombstones is locked, and its so cloistered away in the woods that it’s difficult to find.

So why would a movie star be buried here of all places? The handsome Nebraska-born actor came to prominence in such searing Hollywood films as A Place In The Sun and From Here To Eternity. In 1956, Clift crashed into a tree while leaving the home of Elizabeth Taylor. (Hollywood lore famously suggests Liz raced to the accident scene and fished out broken teeth that were lodged in his throat.) His career was never the same after reconstructive plastic surgery.

Hooked on pain medication and driven to drink, Clift was found dead in his Manhattan townhouse at 217 East 61st Street on July 22, 1966. Clift was allowed to be buried here, quietly and with little fanfare, because his mother Sunny was a practicing Quaker. Still, these were the film actors; actress Nancy Walker planted two hundred crocuses around his tiny tombstone, reportedly designed by the same man who made John F. Kennedy’s marker at Arlington Cemetery.

The hidden cemetery of almost 2,000 graves, on this land long before Prospect Park, used to be larger. The city acquired only part of it however, and thus the graveyard remains the only patch of private land in the park.

Look here for a map of the area.

Prospect Park and the return of Olmsted and Vaux

Prospect Park, Brooklyn’s biggest public space and home to the borough’s only natural forest, was a sequel for Olmsted and Vaux after their revolutionary creation Central Park. But can these two landscape architects still work together or will their egos get in the way? And what happens to their dream when McKim, Mead and White and Robert Moses get to it?

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The area of Prospect Park in 1776. This spot, called Flatbush Pass (and later Battle Pass), was the scene of a violent clash between Continental Army soldiers and Hessians employed by the British army. Part of the reason the park was located here was to preserve this hallowed historical war spot.

Egbert Viele’s proposed ‘Mount Prospect Park’ blossomed around Flatbush Avenue, which would be arched with pedestrian bridges. This plan would have retained Mount Prospect. But what kind of a park has a major thoroughfare cutting right through it.

Olmstead and Vaux, meanwhile, opted to eliminate one side of Viele’s plan entirely, expanding it south and west with newly acquired land.

The home of Edwin Litchfield, as it looked back in the day…

An artist’s depiction of Prospect’s tableaux-style natural foliage. The landscape architects wanted to ‘augment’ the natural beauty of the area. That augmentation included over 70,000 new trees and shrubs.

Arches, bridges and overpasses weave throughout the park, often creating fairytale like settings. Photo, taken in 1887 by Wallace G. Levison

Grand Army Plaza in 1894. More would be added to the plaza, giving it that ornate, triumphal feel — not exactly what Olmsted and Vaux had really intended.

Young adults hangin’ around the park, circa the 1910s

One of Robert Moses’ more beneficial additions: the Prospect Park Zoo (as it looked in 1943)

The old Leffert’s homestead did not start out in Prospect Park. It moved there when it was sold to the city in 1918

A current map of the park.