Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park — Home to Two Stanford White-designed structures

I went by Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn over the weekend. The Urban Park Rangers in the Fort Greene Park Visitors Center told me a bit of the park’s history. They informed me that Stanford White, principal of McKim, Mead & White (noted NYC architects in the early 20th century) and renowned architect of the Washington Square Park Arch (and Judson Church, among others), was also the designer of the park’s Prison Ship Martyrs Monument (pictured) and the Visitor Center/Rest Rooms, a building the American Institute of Architecture apparently refers to as “the most elegant outhouse in the world.”

Fort Greene Park is quite a treasure and a well-utilized park. Nothing too bohemian or out of the ordinary happens there but it has its purpose as a place you go to just … be. (Or play basketball or tennis!) It’s pure park vs. a more “public space” like Washington Square where things … happen in public. (No performances or protest appear to occur regularly at Fort Greene Park.) And while Washington Square Park is just (under) 10 acres, Fort Greene Park is a bit over 30.

The only unfortunate thing about Fort Greene Park is that it appears entirely ruled by the private Fort Greene Conservancy, to the point where you’d (almost) never know it was part of the New York City Park System!

Some background on the Park from the Parks Department: During the battle of Long Island, in the late 1700’s, “the British held thousands of captives on prison ships anchored in the East River. Over 11,500 men and women died of overcrowding, contaminated water, starvation, and disease aboard the ships, and their bodies were hastily buried along the shore. These brave patriots represented all thirteen colonies and at least thirteen different nationalities. In 1808 the remains of the prison ship martyrs were buried in a tomb on Jackson Street (now Hudson Avenue), near the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The Brooklyn fort was renamed for General [Nathanael] Greene and rebuilt for the War of 1812. When the threat of war passed, locals enjoyed visiting the grounds of the old fort for recreation and relaxation. The City of Brooklyn designated the site for use as a public park in 1845, and [Brooklyn Daily Eagle] newspaper editor Walt Whitman rallied popular support for the project. In 1847 the legislature approved an act to secure land for Washington Park on the site of the old fort.”

The Monument for the prison ship martyrs (there is a crypt underneath with their bodies), erected in 1908, was the last building Stanford White designed. He did not live to see it built. He was shot to death in 1906 by his (ex) young mistresses’ husband on the roof of Madison Square Garden, a building he also designed (a previous version, not the one standing now).

Fort Greene Park was first named Washington Park; the original master plan was designed by Frederick Olmsted and Calvert Vaux (architects behind Central Park and Prospect Park among many notable works) in 1864.

Photos: Cat

“Bidding adieu to BIDS” — on the Business Improvement Districts in New York City

The Brooklyn Paper takes a look this week in an editorial, “Bidding Adieu to BIDS,” at the formation in the ’70’s of the Business Improvement District, an entity which has become increasingly popular in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York. According to the weekly, there are 60 “quasi public” BIDS, as they are called, throughout the five boroughs.

As I’ve written here before, these organizations play a complex role in neighborhoods, taking over services the City itself should be providing, while spreading their tentacles outward in ways that are never quite as harmless as they may seem.

One newly formed BID — which is experiencing a mini-revolt amidst local business owners — is along Fulton Street in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill in Brooklyn. The businesses are being asked to pay a second “new city tax that would fund enhanced sanitation, policing and other basic services.” From the Brooklyn Paper editorial:

Taxes on business owners within the so-called “BIDs” raise $80 million — on top of the taxes already taking a bite out of Mom and Pop.

We’re not naive as to why BIDs were created two decades ago. The city was not — and, indeed, is still not — doing a good enough job providing sanitation and security along some of our busiest commercial strips. With the city abrogating these most basic of services, business owners jumped into the breach, taxing themselves to make up for the failure of our elected leaders to ensure clean and safe streets.

In the case of Fulton Street, another issue is arising in the debate. The anti-BID merchants argue that a BID’s cleaner and safer streets actually speed the gentrification process. … In a sense, the business owners forming a BID would actually be paying to speed their own demise.

… We agree with the BID renegades on the issue of who should pay to keep our neighborhoods clean, safe and vibrant. To us, this is solely a city responsibility.

Although the Brooklyn Paper almost comes out in favor of gentrification in their Editorial, claiming it’s all about “change,” the rest of the information is on point.

For more on the Business Improvement Districts and their negative consequences, see previous WSP blog post: Parks for Sale and the Privatization of our Public Spaces by Robert Lederman which looks at the Business Improvement District, the (purposefully) mildly named Union Square Partnership, which oversees – and has total control over – Union Square Park.

For more on the Business Improvement District around Washington Square, the also benignly named Village Alliance (formerly the 8th Street BID), see recent WSP Blog post here.

What we need are COMMUNITY Improvement Districts!