Prospect Park (Brooklyn) in New York City

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Prospect Park is a 585-acre (2.37 km2) (237 ha) public park in the New York City borough of Brooklyn located between Park Slope, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, Kensington, Windsor Terrace and Flatbush Avenue, Grand Army Plaza and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It is run and operated by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and is part of the Brooklyn-Queens Greenway.

The park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux after they completed Manhattan's Central Park. Attractions include the Long Meadow, a 90-acre (36 ha) meadow, the Picnic House, which houses offices and a hall that can accommodate parties with up to 175 guests; Litchfield Villa, the pre-existing home of Edwin Clark Litchfield, an early developer of the neighborhood and a former owner of a southern section of the Park; Prospect Park Zoo; a large nature conservancy managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society; The Boathouse, housing a visitors center and the first urban Audubon Center; Brooklyn's only lake, covering 60 acre; the Prospect Park Bandshell that hosts free outdoor concerts in the summertime. The park also has sports facilities including seven baseball fields in the Long Meadow, and the Prospect Park Tennis Center, basketball courts, baseball fields, soccer fields, and the New York Pétanque Club in the Parade Ground. There is also a private Society of Friends cemetery on Quaker Hill near the ball fields, where actor Montgomery Clift is interred.


Approximately 17,000 years ago the terminal moraine of the receding Wisconsin Glacier that formed Long Island established a string of hills and kettles in the northern part of the park and a lower lying outwash plain in the southern part. Mount Prospect, or Prospect Hill, near the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Eastern Parkway, rises 200 feet (61 m) above sea level and is the highest among a string of hills that extends into the park, including Sullivan, Breeze, and Lookout hills. The area was originally forested, but became open pasture after two centuries of European colonization. Significant stands of trees remained only in the peat bogs centered south of Ninth Street and Flatbush Avenues, and in a large bog north of Ninth Avenue and contained chestnut, white poplar, and oak. Some of these stands were preserved in the Park's Ravine and have been popularized as 'The Last Forest of Brooklyn.'

During the American Revolution the Park was a site of the Battle of Long Island. American forces attempted to hold Battle Pass, an opening in the terminal moraine where the old Flatbush Road passed from Brooklyn to Flatbush. It fell after some of the heaviest fighting in the engagement, and its loss contributed to George Washington's decision to retreat. Even though the Continental Army lost the battle, they were able to hold the British back long enough for Washington's army to escape to New Jersey. There are plaques north of the zoo that honor this event. The City of Brooklyn built a reservoir on Prospect Hill in 1856. Preserving the Battle Pass area and keeping the lots around the reservoir free of buildings were two reasons for establishing a large park in the area. Vaux found the division of the park by Flatbush Avenue problematic, thought that the park should have a lake, and urged for southward expansion beyond the city limits and into the then independent town of Flatbush.

Vaux's February 1865 proposal reflected the present day layout of the park: three distinctive regions, meadow in the north and west, a wooded ravine in the east, and a lake in the south, without the division by Flatbush Avenue. Vaux included an oval plaza at the northern end of the park: the prototype for Grand Army Plaza. The revised plan called for purchase of additional parcels to the south and west to accommodate Prospect Lake, but it left outside of park boundaries parcels already purchased east of Flatbush Avenue, including Prospect Hill itself. It would be incorporated as Mount Prospect Park in 1940.

The change in plans was not without consequences. Land speculation was under way, and the stretch along Ninth Avenue (now Prospect Park West) was held by real estate developer Edwin Clarke Litchfield who in 1857 had erected his home, Litchfield Manor, on the east side of the avenue. The 1868 purchase of his holdings, the lots between Ninth and Tenth Avenues and from 3rd to 15th streets, including his manor, cost the Parks Commission $1.7 million USD, forty two percent of the overall expenditure for land. The lots, however, constitute just over five percent of the park's acreage. Ironically, much of this very expensive acreage presently houses the maintenance yards and is rarely seen by the public. By contrast, the Quaker cemetery was accommodated by an agreement under which the Society of Friends deeded their unused acreage on very favorable terms so as to retain the 10-acre remainder as their private cemetery in perpetuity; it is still active today, with the public occasionally invited to visit. Despite the repercussions of Vaux's revisions, Stranahan championed the plan. Vaux recruited Olmsted and formally presented their proposal in January, 1866 and it was accepted in May, Work continued for another six years until it was substantially complete in 1873, though certain facets of the original design were never undertaken. With the financial panic of 1873, Olmsted and Vaux ceased significant operations in the park and dissolved their partnership. Overall, the cost of acquiring the Park land by the City of Brooklyn was upwards of $4 million. The actual cost of construction of the Park amounted to more than $5 million. securing funding to build the park, and, after its completion, defending its design against unwanted changes, leaving Brooklyn perhaps its greatest legacy. His appears just inside the Grand Army Plaza entrance, sculpted by Frederick MacMonnies and presented to Stranahan in June, 1891.

Neoclassical phase

In 1882, Brooklyn mayor Seth Low did not reappoint Stranahan or the other commissioners, a change that neither Stranahan nor the other commissioners actively opposed. Stranahan, for his part, was becoming more engaged in other Brooklyn concerns. The action, however, did signal a change in the style of park management, which grew to embrace neoclassicism. Granite fencing with decorative bronze urns replaced simple wooden fencing, and polygonal granite pavilions on the east and west corners of the park supplanted earlier rustic shelters. All the major entrances of the park gained similar neoclassical treatments. By the turn of the twentieth century, sculptures by Frederick MacMonnies graced the Arch and works by MacMonnies and Alexander Proctor graced many of the entrances.

The city of Brooklyn's merger with New York City in 1898 aligned the fortunes of Prospect Park with a larger park system. From World War I to the administration of Fiorello La Guardia, investment in park infrastructure declined. New structures were limited to the Picnic House, (1927) which replaced an earlier rustic structure that had burned down in 1926, and a small comfort station at the Ocean Avenue entrance (1930), both designed by J. Sarsfield Kennedy.

New memorials were limited to the 9th Street memorial to Marquis de la Fayette (1917) and the Honor Roll Memorial (1920), near the present day skating rink. Prospect Park was in stasis, and it was run, year after year, with declining budgets, a malaise affecting all city parks. "By the 1930s," the New York Times observed, "generations of Parks Department officials had lived well and got rich by diverting maintenance funds, and the park showed the result of a half century of abuse and neglect."

Robert Moses and Prospect Park

In January 1934, newly elected Mayor Fiorello La Guardia appointed Robert Moses commissioner of a unified parks department, a new organization that eliminated borough park commissioners. Moses would remain Park Commissioner for the next twenty-six years, leaving distinctive and controversial marks on all the city parks. Moses readily tapped federal monies made available to relieve Depression era unemployment. He assembled 1,800 designers and engineers centered at the Arsenal in Central Park. In addition, 3,900 construction supervisors in the field oversaw the work of 70,000 relief workers. In the years up to World War II Moses built the half million dollar Prospect Park Zoo (1935), the Prospect Park Bandshell (1939)

Peacetime improvements resumed at a slower pace after World War II. In 1959, the southern third of the Long Meadow was graded and fenced off for ballfields, while in the following year the Kate Wollman Skating Rink was built in a land-filled portion of Prospect Lake. For the first time, the Wollman rink furnished a consistently reliable setting for ice skating, replacing the customary Lullwater venue which had always been subject to seasonal fluctuations in ice thickness. The playgrounds, ballfields, and the skating rink reflected Moses' commitment to modernity and athletic recreation, coupled with only a limited appreciation of the park as a work of landscape architecture. In furnishing a reliable skating venue, the Wollman Rink caused the removal of Music Island and the panoramic view of the lake which had once been visible from Concert Grove. At the time the structure was underutilized; the boat concession only operated on weekends and the Boathouse was visited by fewer than ten people an hour, even on the busiest summer weekends.

It was not unusual in the Moses years and the decade after his departure, to quietly remove underutilized or redundant structures; it was regarded as economical and prudent management. In the previous decade, the greenhouses on the western edge of the park were considered redundant, given the nearby Brooklyn Botanical Garden, and were demolished without much protest. Much the same had been the case in previous decades. With the opening of the new zoo in 1935, The Dairy Farmhouse had been demolished along with the rest of the Menagerie, though it had predated the original zoo. The Concert Grove House had been demolished in 1949. Once the park's restaurant, it was replaced with a snack bar under the Oriental Pavilion. But the late 1963 demolition of Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan had spawned a nascent historic preservation movement, and the 1905 Boathouse shared many features with the famous station. A preservation group, The Friends of Prospect Park, including in its membership, poet Marianne Moore, built public awareness over disappearing historical structures and threatened flora within the park. Public pressure induced Park Commissioner Newbold Morris to rescind the decision to demolish the Boathouse in December, 1964.

The Koch administration formed plans in 1980 to turn over the administration of the troubled Prospect Park Zoo to the Wildlife Conservation Society. In the 1980s the Parks Department began entering into restoration projects with the Prospect Park Alliance, a local non-profit organization. In 1987, this organization secured funding for and oversaw the restoration of the 1952 Carousel. Through the 1990s, the Alliance oversaw the restoration of the Ravine, the 150 acre region which contains the headwaters of the park water system.

The Alliance remains active in restoration projects and takes a balanced approach between historical preservation and patterns of modern use. Though disliked by some preservationists, Moses era playgrounds and the Bandshell are being retained because their venues are popular. Original rustic summer houses have been restored or recreated on the shores of Prospect Park Lake, along the Lullwater and in the Ravine. The Kate Wollman skating rink, unpopular with park preservationists but enjoyed by the public at large, will be replaced by two rinks in the proposed Lakeside Center, slated for construction in the nearby Concourse beginning in 2008. These plans include restoring Music Island and the original shoreline, both obliterated by the construction of the original rink in 1960. The Alliance managed a $9.8 million USD budget in 2007, with financial support largely coming from foundations, sales, rentals and fees, corporate and individual donations. Over 80% of the Alliance's expenditures were in support of park development projects.

Large sections of the park remain in disrepair, but the downward decline has been checked. From a 1979 nadir, when only an estimated two million people visited the park, now over seven million visits occur annually. Yet additional funding, and time, will be needed before the park again fulfills the design set forth by Olmsted and Vaux.

Olmsted and Vaux's vision

As a work of engineering and landscaping Prospect Park was so revolutionary in its time that many considered the Park a work of art in itself. Others were critical of the idea of building a single, large park in the wealthiest section of Brooklyn rather than several smaller parks at different locations to serve a wider public. The idea of a single, large park won out, and its backers overcame their opponents in Brooklyn politics by having the park built by a state-appointed commission.

Olmsted and Vaux engineered the Park to recreate in real space the pastoral, picturesque, and aesthetic ideals expressed in hundreds of paintings. Breaking ground in June, 1866, Unfortunately, safety concerns have ended skating on the lake, perhaps forever. The venue moved to the Kate Wollman rink in 1960, and will move again to the Lakeside Center around 2010.<ref name="Lakeside" />

This trip along the watercourse demonstrates the revolutionary approach of Olmsted and Vaux in their re-creation of various types of natural water formations; not only did they plant a variety of trees, bushes and other plants, but they moved rocks, boulders and earth to simulate a variety of natural environments for the pleasure and stimulation of Brooklyn’s nineteenth century urban dwellers.

The Ravine District

With the watercourse moving through it, a 146 acre section of the Park's interior at the center of Brooklyn's only forest is known as the Ravine District. Olmsted and Vaux saw the Ravine as the heart of Prospect Park and the centerpiece of mountainous tableaux similar to the Adirondack Mountains. The perimeter of the area is a steep, narrow 100 foot (30 m) gorge. The watercourse goes through the Ravine en route to the Boathouse. Still recovering from decades of overuse that caused soil compaction and erosion, the Ravine and surrounding woodlands have been undergoing restoration since 1996. As of 2003 the Ravine has been partially restored; the restored section is open to the public.


Seven baseball fields span 9th–15th Streets in the park. Two are major league-sized fields serving older age groups. The other five are slightly smaller, for younger children; typically 8–12 years old. The youngest children play on the grass.

The Prospect Park Track Club, formed in the early 1970s, organizes regular training runs and races in and around the park. (The park has a 3.38-mile or 5.44 km loop.) The Prospect Park Women's Softball League has been playing softball games on summer evenings in Prospect Park for over 23 years. Circle rules football has been played every weekend from spring through fall at the tip of the Long Meadow nearest Grand Army Plaza since 2007. Horseback riders from Kensington stables are often seen on paths in the park. Pedalboating is open to the public on the lake. In the winter, ice skating, cross-country skiing and sledding are popular pastimes. A popular sledding hill is just inside the 10th Avenue entrance, off Prospect Park Southwest. The Bandshell hosts frequent concerts, most notably the "Celebrate Brooklyn!" Performing Arts Festival, a series of summer concerts founded in 1979 that draws performing artists from around the world. The festival is produced by BRIC | Arts | Media | Bklyn.

Fellowship in the Interests of Dogs and their Owners (FIDO), founded in 1997, is an activist organization for off-leash recreation for dogs in Prospect Park.

Automobile traffic vs. recreation

A contentious debate is under way in city government concerning the role of automobile traffic in the park. One side argues that if the ability of cars to use Prospect Park as a thoroughfare were reduced, traffic on either side of the park would be increased. The other side argues that the park is designed to be a haven from the type of city stress that automobiles represent, and that having them use the park sacrifices the safety of those using the park for recreation. Current (2011) regulations state that automobile traffic is allowed to use the park only: northbound (Park Circle to Grand Army Plaza) from 7–9 a.m. and southbound (Grand Army Plaza to Park Circle) 5–7 p.m. on weekdays. While these are an increase of car-free hours from the past, they leave automobiles in the park at rush hour, the precise time when cyclists, runners, walkers and other park users would otherwise be most likely to use the park. A similar debate is underway concerning Central Park. The debates and issues involved in this type of consideration are a good example of developing a Livable City.

Parade Ground

Olmsted and Vaux set aside a 40 acre rectangular area just south of Parkside Avenue to be used for sports and military drills. It was set apart from the main section of the park in fear that the high level of activity would damage the grass and plants and disrupt the park's pastoral feel. The military no longer uses the Parade Ground, but it is still one of the most active athletic fields in the city, encompassing the Prospect Park Tennis Center, four baseball diamonds, two softball fields, a football field, a soccer field, basketball and volleyball courts, the Paul Ricard Pétanque Court and three giant multi-use fields. Many Major League Baseball stars got their start at the Parade Ground, including Joe Torre and Sandy Koufax. In 2004 the Parade Ground underwent a 12.4 million dollar restoration.

Notable incidents


  • June 1993: a 42 year-old man was shot to death while resisting a group of teenagers trying to steal his bicycle. The shooter received a maximum 25 year prison term.
  • April 2006: A 61 year-old man was found stabbed to death in a thickly wooded area of the park known as the Vale of Cashmere.
  • July 2008: A 41 year-old homeless man was found beaten to death in a wooded area near a jogging path.
  • March 2011: a 23 year-old man, Julio Locarno, was murdered after being shot four times at the Parade Ground. He had recently been jailed on charges of being an accomplice in another man's murder.


  • May 1987: Two polar bears mauled an 11 year-old boy who climbed into their enclosure after hours at the Prospect Park Zoo. Police officers shot and killed both bears. The incident contributed to the Wildlife Conservation Society's decision to redesign the zoo to emphasize species more appropriate to its small size and to visitor interactions.
  • July 2010: Federal authorities euthanized 400 Canadian geese in the park for air safety reasons following the US Airways Flight 1549 incident in January 2009.

See also

  • Lefferts Historic House

External links