While technically not a part of historical “South Brooklyn”, Park Slope is a large and diverse family neighborhood that is close enough we felt it should be included.
The 526-acre Prospect Park stands as one of the true jewels of New York City.
Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the same men responsible for Manhattan’s Central Park, many consider Prospect Park their greatest achievement. With several unique features including the Quaker Cemetery that contains the grave of actor Montgomery Clift, a carousel created from two Coney Island carousels designed by Charles Carmel dating from the 1910’s (one of only 12 Carmel carousels remaining), and the Prospect Park Wildlife Conservation Center, the park is one of Brooklyn’s greatest outdoor playgrounds.
Grand Army Plaza, the northern entrance to Prospect Park, is of special interest to Civil War enthusiasts. At its center, facing the entrance to the park, is the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch, a colossal granite Arc de Triomphe designed by John H. Duncan, architect of Grant’s Tomb.
General W. T. Sherman laid the monument’s cornerstone in 1889. Completed in 1892, the Arch is 80 feet high and 80 feet wide. It has an aperture 50 feet high and a span of 35 feet.
Designed in the style of a Roman triumphal arch, it has at its top the Victory Quadriga — a rider and chariot with two heralds installed in 1898. The two groups on the south pedestals represent the Army and Navy, added in 1901. Its inner faces are graced with President Abraham Lincoln and General U.S. Grant on horseback in high relief (the work of W. R. O’Donovan and Thomas Eakins). The Lincoln sculpture is said to be the only known portrait of Lincoln on horseback.
The Plaza also features a larger than life size Bronze figure of Major General Gouverneur Kemble Warren, who realized the importance that a position known as Little Round Top would be during the Battle of Gettysburg. His decision to take the high ground gave the Union Army a decisive advantage. Hidden among the trees, General Henry Slocum sits on horseback with sabre raised. On September 2, 1864, Slocum and his corps were the first to enter the city of Atlanta after it fell. He went on to become a prominent New Yorker.
For Revolutionary War aficionados, Prospect Park and Park Slope are of historical significance.
On August 27, 1776, American soldiers took the field against a superior British force at Battle Pass, located within the boundaries of the park. In a heated battle, 250 men of the Maryland Regiment launched a counter attack on the British holding the Cortelyou House (called by many of the troops, the old stone house), cutting the line of retreat to Brooklyn Heights through the Gowanus Salt Marsh. In six attacks on the house, all but 10 of the men were killed. Recent discoveries have led historians and archaeologists to now believe their grave is within Prospect Park.
A recreation of the Old Stone House sits in Washington Park on Third Avenue and Third Street near where the original house and battle took place. The Old Stone House today is both a museum and cultural center, sponsoring the annual Battle of Brooklyn commemorations and regular music and art events.
At the Ninth Street entrance to Prospect Park is the Memorial by Daniel Chester French depicting the Marquis de Lafayette as a general in the Continental Army. French would also create one of the most iconic statues in US history, Abraham Lincoln seated in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.
The neighborhood of Park Slope is nestled within the downward slope from Prospect Park to the Gowanus Canal. Throughout the late 1800s, the area swelled with mansions and private clubs. Grand architecture remains throughout the neighborhood.
One of our favorites is the Montauk Club, located at 25 Eighth Avenue, and a prime example of the opulent styles of the age. Designed by architect Francis H. Kimball, the structure is Venetian Gothic, patterned after the Ca d’Oro on Venice’s Grand Canal. The dark wood interiors of the club include the Venetian Lounge on the second floor with a large bay of stained glass windows overlooking Plaza Street and the Card Room decorated in 1960s green landscape wall paper. Famed director Martin Scorsese chose the club as a major set for scenes in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, starring Park Slope resident Steve Buscemi.
Directly across from Prospect Park, mansions line Prospect Park West, with a much different feel from Manhattan’s Central Park West and its high rise living. One of the most opulent was constructed by Henry Hulbert in 1892. Hulbert was a industrialist, making millions as a dealer in paper manufacturer’s supplies. Built from white limestone, the home now serves as the home to Poly Prep Lower School, and was the first LEED certified “Green” school buildings in New York City.
No history of Park Slope is complete without a few words on its decline following the Great Depression and into the 1960s. A disaster then caused a renewal both in construction and activism that remains today.
On December 16, 1960, a United Airlines DC-8 crashed into the heart of the neighborhood, its right wing clipping a brownstone at 126 Sterling Place before the fuselage slammed into the Pillar of Fire Church. Involved in a mid-air collision over Staten Island, the crippled jet was desperately trying to make LaGaurdia Airport. TWA flight 266 plummeted straight down, killing its 44 passengers, on Staten Island. United’s flight 826, carrying 130 souls, also killed five residents of Park Slope outside their homes.
The crash and fire destroyed or damaged nearly 200 homes, bringing forth an opportunity for developers to radically change the face of the neighborhood forever. When proposals were brought forth to build a housing project on the devastated area, neighbors came together to form civic organizations such as the Park Slope Civic Council, the Brownstone Revival Coalition and the Park Slope Betterment Committee.
In 1973, with the designation of the Park Slope Historic District, the threat of major change to the neighborhood’s character was ended. Park Slope today retains much of its 19th century character and architecture.
Sites of Interest in Park Slope:
The Old Stone House: The Old Stone House, a Historic House Trust of New York City site, commemorates the Vechte-Cortelyou House’s unique place in Brooklyn and American history. Open to the public year-round, OSH features a historic interpretive center with a permanent exhibit about the Battle of Brooklyn. We also host original exhibits connected to Brooklyn’s past and present in our second floor Great Room. Each year, 6,000 students visit the Old Stone House to learn about the Battle of Brooklyn and colonial life. The Old Stone House is situated at the center of Washington Park/JJ Byrne Playground, a 3.5 acre recreation site.
All photos are available on markdphillips.com for framed artwork, website usage, and licensing. Or you can contact Mark directly by email: mark (AT) south brooklyn.net