P is for Park

Located at Brooklyn, New York City, main entrance at Grand Army Plaza
Park Website:  https://www.prospectpark.org/

Prospect Park

Prospect Park is an urban park in Brooklyn, New York City. The 585-acre park is one of the nation’s premier public parks. In 2017, Prospect Park celebrated its 150th anniversary.

The park has a long history. In the 18th century, Brooklyn was one of six villages located at the western end of Long Island. By the second half of the 19th century, Brooklyn had grown to be the third most populous city in the country, after only New York and Philadelphia. The erstwhile farming community had quickly turned into a commuter suburb with row homes and street grids.

The growth of urban concepts coincided with this growth. Following the setting up of Central Park in Manhattan, by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux starting 1858, a movement grew in Brooklyn for a landscaped park of its own. 

James S.T. Stranahan, a business and civic leader with real estate interests in Brooklyn argued for a park not only as a public nicety, but also as a way to lure wealthy residents to the town. In 1865, Calvert Vaux sketched Prospect Park’s present layout at Stranahan’s request. This induced the Brooklyn commissioners to authorize the full purchase of the land for Prospect Park.

A comprehensive plan for the development of Prospect Park was submitted by the Olmsted and Vaux team in 1866, envisioning a tranquil, rural landscape where people could recuperate from the incessant pace of city life. They 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, meandering carriage drives, high elevation scenic lookouts, woodland waterfalls and springs, and a rich forest. 

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 public was welcomed to the park for the first time on October 19, 1867, long before the Park was complete. Construction continued for another seven years. In the year 1868, 2 million people came to enjoy what would come to be known as ‘Brooklyn’s Jewel’.

Over the years, the park was improved by activities like the creation of the Prospect Park Zoo in 1935, new playgrounds around the Park’s perimeter, the extensive renovation of the Park drives in the 1950s, and the construction of the Bandshell. 

The park has undergone many ups and downs in its lifetime. By 1979, the number of the visitors had dwindled to just 2 million a year, the lowest in the Park’s history. In 1980 was started long term restoration efforts to bring back the glory of the park.

The 146-acre section in the center of the park, known as the Ravine, is also Brooklyn’s only forest. The Ravine’s stream and steep gorge is a recreation of the Adirondack Mountains, created by the original design team of Olmsted and Vaux. The Ravine has a variety of trees growing there from black oak to hickory to tulip trees.

Prospect Park originally included several arched bridges to provide grade-separated crossings for pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Today the main surviving arches are the Endale Arch, East Wood Arch, Meadowport Arch, and Cleft Ridge Span.

The Music Pagoda, used for concerts until it burned down in 1968, was rebuilt on the site in 1971.

The Camperdown Elm is a species of elm trees with drooping branches usually called ‘weeping elm’. The Camperdown Elm in Prospect Park, nicknamed ‘the crowning curio’ of the park was planted in 1872. It still survives in the park, though it was almost dead once.

The Prospect Park Boathouse is set in the most idyllic scene, with its beauty reflected in the waters. When the Parks Department proposed demolishing the boathouse in 1964, the local preservation group Friends of Prospect Park built public awareness over the park’s disappearing historical structures. The public pressure became so strong that the park commissioner halted plans for demolition.

In 1987, a group of private citizens working with the Parks Commissioner founded a new nonprofit organization to work with the City in leading Prospect Park’s transformation called the Prospect Park Alliance. More than a decade of intensive restoration efforts followed with focus on restoring the Ravine, a radical redesign of the skating rink and the lakeside, and restoration of the historic Baier Music Island.

The LeFrak Center, a year-round skating and recreational facility, was opened In 2013, in the final phase of the restoration and redesign of the Lakeside section.

A restoration project, focusing on an 8-acre section of the Vale, is being planned to start in 2024. The Vale is a 26-acre portion of Prospect Park in its northeast corner. The plan is to restore two landscape features in this area: the historic Children’s pool and the former Rose Garden.

The Grand Army Plaza, which was constructed along with the park during the late 1860s, is the park’s main entrance, though there are 17 other entrances to the park.

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