A blog about architectural tiles, terra cotta and other ceramic surfaces, architectural glass and ornamentation in and around New York.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Inside Prospect Park: The park's Rustic, Classical and other internal architecture

Brooklyn's Prospect Park is not just a masterpiece of landscape architecture created by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Olmsted and Vaux designed Prospect Park in the 1860s after the Civil War, but many others helped create, over time, the architectural elements that now make up the whole of the park. Olmsted and Vaux's interior rustic architectural elements, their "artificial constructions", were supplemented by Stanford White's and Helmle & Huberty's neo-Classical, Beaux Arts structures and Aymar Embury's Art Deco zoo buildings, among others.

Prior to building the 585 acre park, Olmsted and Vaux submitted a plan to the Brooklyn Board of Commissioners, which was accepted in 1866. The Board summarized the plan for the Brooklyn Common Council as follows:

"The ground features of the plan are simple and easily comprehended; but the Commissioners wish to direct attention particularly to three regions of distinct character embodied in it, in each of which, it will be observed, the suggestions of the natural condition of the land are proposed to be developed. They are, first, a region of open meadow, with large trees singly and in groups; second, a hilly district, with groves and shrubbery; and third, a lake district, containing a fine sheet of water, with picturesque shores and islands. These being the landscape characteristics, the first gives room for extensive play grounds, the second offers shaded rambles and broad views, and the third presents good opportunities for skating and rowing.

"Besides these, there are minor intermediate and exterior portions of the grounds which are devoted to zoological gardens and other special purposes. The different parts are connected with each other, and are brought advantageously into use and under observation by a carefully adjusted system of rides, drives and rambles. The existing natural features of the charming locality are everywhere accepted and made available, and the artificial constructions necessary for the convenient accommodation of the public, are as inconspicuous and inexpensive as possible, consistently with permanency and good taste." (http://www.nyc-architecture.com/BKN/BKN006.htm)

Prospect Park (Map courtesy of Google Maps)

In the 1850s Edwin Litchfield purchased the land that runs west and down-slope from what is now Prospect Park West (Ninth Avenue) to the Gowanus Canal near Third Avenue--the area in Brooklyn now known as Park Slope. Litchfield also built an Italianate mansion for his family on a small hill at what is now Fifth Street and Prospect Park West (95 Prospect Park West). The Litchfield Villa, now part of Prospect Park, serves as the administrative headquarters for the Parks Department in Brooklyn.

The Litchfield Villa. (Color photos courtesy of Michael Padwee unless otherwise noted)

According to Christopher Gray, “Litchfield hired the architect A[lexander] J[ackson] Davis [1803-1892], who designed an asymmetrical, Italian-style villa with a variety of towers, bays and porches. A circular reception hall - with a floor of multicolored tiles - was surrounded by a second-floor gallery and illuminated by a skylit dome. The house received unusual decoration - columns modeled after bamboo stalks, an elaborate ceiling mural and column capitals on the porch in the form of corn cobs and wheat stalks.

“The house has rotated [S-curve] brackets typical of Anglo designs, as well as a highly refined acanthus leaf frieze and full classical entablature on the porches and windows. Most startling is the use of corn and wheat capitals instead of the traditional acanthus Corinthian capital, a very uncommon stylistic quirk that was part of the attempt to Americanize classical forms.” (Josh F, The Picturesque Style: Italianate Architecture: A blog devoted to American Italianate architecture of the 19th century, “'Ridgewood' the Edwin Litchfield House, Brooklyn, NY”; http://picturesqueitalianatearchitecture.blogspot.com/2015/01/ridgewood-edwin-litchfield-house.html)

"The exterior was built of plain, unglazed bricks, which casual passers-by now think are original but which were actually [originally] coated with stucco in imitation of stone.” (Christopher Gray, “Streetscapes: The Litchfield Villa...”, The New York Times, March 12, 1989; http://www.nytimes.com/1989/03/12/realestate/streetscapes-litchfield-villa-back-past-for-landmark-prospect-park.html)  

The Litchfield Villa c. 1925. (Picture postcard from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York; http://collections.mcny.org/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&VBID= 24UAYWREYRP0Z&SMLS=1&RW=1305&RH=657)

An Annex to the main building was designed by Helmle & Huberty, who also designed the Tennis House [in 1911] and the Boat House, in 1913. (http://www.nyc-architecture.com/PS/PS025.htm)

The Minton tile “rug” in the entry hall/vestibule. of the Litchfield Villa.
Detailed views of the tiled floor.

“The house's interiors are quite stunning. A series of interior pictures can be seen here as well as a period image [...with the stuccoed facade]. The floors feature beautiful Minton tilework, elaborately carved Rococo Revival fireplaces, pilasters, columns, and an interior rotunda.” (Josh F, The Picturesque Style: Italianate Architecture: A blog devoted to American Italianate architecture of the 19th century, “'Ridgewood' the Edwin Litchfield House, Brooklyn, NY”; http://picturesqueitalianatearchitecture.blogspot.com/2015/01/ridgewood-edwin-litchfield-house.html)

In 2008 the Minton tile floor, which had been poorly maintained, was restored. Francis Morrone wrote: “Inside, in work completed earlier this year, [...the team of architect Ralph Carmosino] revived the villa's lost or sullied features. And the gorgeous Minton tile floor was beautifully restored. In encaustic tiles, color and pattern are embedded in the clay, rather than applied to the surface, thus answering to moralistic Victorian architects' ‘truth to materials’ philosophy, which — what with stuccoed façades and marbleized wood — hardly informed Litchfield Villa, where the tiles were used solely for their beauty, not their morality.” (Francis Morrone, “New Life for Litchfield Villa in Prospect Park”, The New York Sun, May 19, 2008; http://www.nysun.com/arts/new-life-for-litchfield-villa-in-prospect-park/76619/) The Minton tiles were restored by David Malkin of Tile Source, Inc. The original Minton tiles were chosen for the Litchfield Mansion from Minton design books, which were available in New York. “These [tiles] are identical to some of the floors in the U.S. Capitol. Similar tiles can also be found at the Crocker Art Gallery in Sacramento, California,...and in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.” (Leaflet: “A Little News from the Friends of Central, Prospect, Cadwalader, Fort Greene, Druid Hill and Branch Brook Parks”, Summer 2001 edition)  Malkin not only restored the original Minton tiles, but made encaustic tile replicas of the originals to replace any damaged tiles.

The Grand Army Plaza entrance to Prospect Park. (Courtesy of Google Maps)

The main entrance to the park is North of the Litchfield Villa at the Grand Army of the Republic Plaza (i.e., Grand Army Plaza), a vehicular circle that includes the Bailey Fountain, the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial, and the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. 

The Bailey Fountain: Edgerton Swarthout, architect, Eugene Savage, sculptor, H. Craig Severance, assisting architect. A bronze group of three standing figures (heroic scale) on a pedestal adorned with three reclining figures (heroic scale), in a basin with rockwork coping. The height is approximately twenty-five feet. (http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/grand-army-plaza/monuments/70)

The Bailey Fountain replaced the Darlington Fountain in 1932, itself the replacement of the original 1873 Plaza Fountain. “Named after Brooklyn-based financier and philanthropist Frank Bailey (1865-1953) and his wife Mary Louise Bailey, this elaborate sculptural waterwork is one of several which have occupied a central place in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza.

“Between 1865 and 1866, British-born architect Calvert Vaux (1824-1895) designed the oval plaza as a transitional element between the confluence of major streets and Prospect Park. He positioned a fountain at its center, which functioned by the early 1870s. The thrilling spectacle of numerous water jets illuminated at night by gas lamps attracted many viewers.

“In 1897, five years after the erection in 1892 of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch in the plaza, the original fountain--eroded and often inoperative--was removed, and a new 'electric' fountain designed by F.W. Darlington was installed. However, the replacement fountain was dismantled in 1915 to allow for the construction of the subway lines beneath the plaza.

“In the late 1920s, Bailey and his wife gave $125,000 for construction of a new fountain, whose designers, architect Edgerton Swarthout and sculptor Eugene Savage, were selected through a design competition. Work on the fountain began in 1929 and was completed in 1932. The central bronze sculptures include male and female figures atop the prow of a ship, representing Wisdom and Felicity, surrounded by Neptune, his attendant Triton, and a boy holding a cornucopia. The base is made of large stones imbedded in the foundation, and additional decorative elements with sea motifs adorn the pedestal.” (http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/grand-army-plaza/monuments/70)

The 1873 Plaza Fountain was 113 feet in diameter and was constructed entirely of béton coignet.

Prospect Park Fountain made with béton coignet in 1873. (Photo is from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York and was taken between 1892 and 1897)

In 1873 it was reported that “The new fountain at the entrance of the plaza at Prospect Park is now very nearly complete. The dome for this fountain, of which Mr. Calvert Vaux is the architect, is made by the New York and Long Island Coignet Stone Company of Brooklyn, and is of beton-coignet—an artificial stone of great strength and beauty. The design and workmanship is said to be finer than any work of similar character in the United States. The whole dome is elaborately ornamented with appropriate designs; is so carefully put together, and so ingeniously constructed, that no joints are visible and the whole mass is firmly bound together. The open spaces on the dome are to be covered with colored glass. Inside of this gas jets, lighted by electricity, will during the night give a most beautiful effect. The water cone plays from the dome and falls back into the fountain through a hundred jets.” (Beton-Coignet: Description of the Material and Its Uses in France and America, Pub. by John C. Goodrich, Jr., N.Y. & L.I. Coignet Stone Co., 1874, p. 47) 

The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial opposite the Grand Army Plaza entrance to Prospect Park. The sculpture at the top of the arch is Quadriga or The Triumphal Progress of Columbia by Frederick William MacMonnies (1863-1937). "Columbia, a standing female figure, holds a billowing banner and rides in a quadriga, that is, a chariot pulled by four horses standing abreast of one another. Two female heralds, the usual personifications of fame, walk one on each side of the team and announce Columbia's progress by blowing trumpets." (Elmer Sprague, Brooklyn Public Monuments: Sculpture for Civic Memory and Urban Pride, Dog Ear Publishing, Indianapolis, IN, 2008, p. 76)

By the late 1890s, McKim, Mead and White were engaged to develop neoclassical entrances to Prospect Park. “With construction of the Memorial Arch at Grand Army Plaza, the park commissioners engaged McKim, Mead, and White to redesign the Plaza in a complementary, neo-classical way.

(Picture postcard from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York, c. 1910)

One of four “eagle” columns at the Grand Army Plaza entrance to Prospect Park (the Brooklyn Public Library’s main branch is in the background).

"By 1896, Grand Army Plaza sported four towering granite columns adorned with carved fasces and eagles at the base. Granite fencing with decorative bronze urns replaced simple wooden fencing,

Granite fencing and a bronze urn with snakes for handles beside one of two dodecahedral shelters.

The Guastavino-tiled dome of the pavilion/shelter.

“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.”
(Montrose Morris, “Building of the Day: The Meadowport Arch in Prospect Park”, The Brownstoner; http://www.brownstoner.com/blog/2015/05/building-of-the-day-the-meadowport-arch-in-prospect-park/)

As you enter the park and walk towards the Long Meadow on either the East or West Drives--the main “circular” drive just within the park, there are a pair of bridges--the Meadowport and Endale Arches--which also have interesting architectural elements. These two bridge arches on the pedestrian paths under the East and West Drives open onto the Park’s 90 acre Long Meadow.                       http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/realestate/the-fate-of-prospect-parks-five-arches.html)

Meadowport Arch

Meadowport Arch was built from 1868-1870 by Olmsted and Vaux in a Victorian Orientalist style. “The Meadowport Arch is made of limestone, and has a unique double opening onto the Long Meadow, giving the traveler a choice of which way to go in his/her journey through the park. The 100-foot tunnel has benches built on both sides, which still serve as rest stops and shelter from bad weather. 

"Another unique feature of the tunnel is a cedar sheathed ceiling, with paneling covering the entire surface.” (Montrose Morris, “Building of the Day: The Meadowport Arch in Prospect Park”, The Brownstoner;  http://www.brownstoner.com/blog/2015/05/building-of-the-day-the-meadowport-arch-in-prospect-park/)

The wooden ceiling and benches of Meadowport Arch.

The ceiling of Endale Arch was lined “with zebralike alternating stripes of black walnut and yellow pine, ‘to avoid the drip which would occur from the condensation of moisture,’ according to the 1870 Annual Report of the Brooklyn Park Commissioners.” (Christopher Gray, “Streetscapes: The Fate of Prospect Park’s Five Arches”, The New York Times, June 23, 2011;  

Endale Arch.

The five unique arches in Prospect Park--Meadowport, Endale, Eastwood, Nethermead and Cleft Ridge--”were conceived as rooms, and had seats, out of the sun, ‘where weariness may be lounged off,’ as The New York Times put it in 1869.” (Christopher Gray, “Streetscapes: The Fate of Prospect Park’s Five Arches”, The New York Times, June 23, 2011http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/realestate/the-fate-of-prospect-parks-five-arches.html)

The other three spans can be found further into the park as you walk towards the lake.

(Clockwise from UL) Cleft Ridge Arch, Eastwood Arch, a cross-section of the triple-span Nethermead Arch showing the stone benches, and one span of the Nethermead Arch. Part of the Prospect Park waterway flows through the center span of this arch. The Cleft Ridge Arch was built with béton coignet cement, and the photo is courtesy of Dave Smith. 

Structures in Prospect Park along Prospect Park West from 5th Street to Bartel-Pritchard Square at 15th Street: the Litchfield Villa (95 Prospect Park West); the Picnic House (about 30 West Drive); the Forestry Building, Workshops and Garage (44-48 West Drive); the Tennis House (about 56 West Drive); the Bandshell (62 West Drive); the Columbus Columns (at the 15th Street park entrance/Bartel-Pritchard Square).

Just behind the Litchfield Villa and across West Drive is The Picnic House. "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." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prospect_Park_(Brooklyn))

The Picnic House, designed by James Sarsfield Kennedy, who also designed Brooklyn's iconic "Gingerbread House" in Bay Ridge in 1917. (Photo: https://www.theknot.com/marketplace/prospect-park-picnic-house-brooklyn-ny-546440)

The Tennis House (about 56 West Drive) was designed by the architectural firm of Helmle & Huberty and erected in 1911. “Frank Helmle and Ulrich Huberty were among Brooklyn’s finest architects, both producing excellent work, mostly in the White Cities, City Beautiful, Beaux Arts style of the early 20th century. Frank Helmle worked in the offices of McKim, Mead & White, who were masters of the style, where he obviously paid attention. He landed a lot of city contracts as Superintendent of Public Buildings in Brooklyn, a post he held from 1902 until at least 1913.” (Montrose Morris, “Building of the Day: 101 East Drive”, The Brownstoner; http://www.brownstoner.com/blog/2014/10/building-of-the-day-101-east-drive/)

The Tennis House ceilings were tiled by the R. Guastavino Company of New York.

"The...Tennis House...provided lockers for participants in the growing sport of lawn tennis, earlier using the basement of the 1885 carousel in Picnic Woods. Built of limestone and yellow brick, on granite foundations, and with terra-cotta vaults and a red tile roof, the Tennis House, like the Boathouse, is classic in style and achieves an intimacy with the park through being predominantly open. The characteristic motif is the triple void, the centermost arched, a favorite with the influential sixteenth century Italian architect, Andrea Palladio, whose name it bears. 

Palladian Bridge, Prior Park, Bath, England. (Photo credit: Matt Northam, http://www.mattnortham.com)

"The casino quality of the Tennis House is not unlike that of the elegant mid-eighteenth-century Palladian [Bridge] in Prior Park at Bath, England, an entirely fitting accent for a natural landscape, according to high British taste of the period." (http://www.nyc-architecture.com/BKN/BKN006.htm)

The Tennis House is now mainly used for maintenance purposes.

The Bandshell being prepared for winter.

Between Ninth and Eleventh Streets, just inside the park, is the bandshell. "Aymar Embury, II[, 1880-1966,...]designed the Band Shell... . It was built in 1939, and consists of a platform projecting in front of an arching sounding shell of concrete, with lower walls of well laid Flemish-bond red brick, relieved only by copings of cast stone, extending out symmetrically and having shallow recesses to each plane. A half-round paved play-dance area of 125-foot radius forms a forecourt to the building, which is 88 feet across. It contains lockers, dressing and rest rooms for the musicians or performers, public lavatories, park maintenance and supply rooms, and chair storage space under the stage." (http://www.nyc-architecture.com/BKN/BKN006.htm)

"Born in New York City, Embury graduated from Princeton University in 1900 with a bachelor's degree in engineering. He earned a master's degree the same subject in 1901, and began practicing architecture in New York City that same year. Embury taught architecture at Princeton while also working for various firms in New York City, including Cass Gilbert, George B. Post, Howells & Stokes, and Palmer and Hornbostel. During the First World War he served as a captain with the 40th Engineers of the United States Army, and designed the Distinguished Service Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal (Army). Embury's specialties were college buildings, urban and country houses, hotels, library buildings, banks, clubs and community buildings. He was the architect for college buildings at Princeton University, Kalamazoo College, and Hofstra College and created two housing developments. His most significant efforts, however, were in connection with Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, with whom he worked as architect and supervisor of a design and construction team that executed more than six hundred projects for the city of New York, including the Triborough Bridge, the Lincoln Tunnel, the Henry Hudson Memorial Bridge, the Whitestone Bridge, the Rainbow Bridge, the Jamaica Bay Bridge and The Port of New York Authority Terminal Building. Embury was also the architect for the New York City and Argentine Pavilions at the 1939 World's Fair held in New York City." (https://library.syr.edu/digital/guides/e/embury_a.htm)

Another classic monument is located on the west perimeter of the park at the park's southern entrance on Bartel-Pritchard Square. “It consists of a pair of giant pillars of such uniqueness as to be a noteworthy landmark. The source of inspiration was the little-known Acanthus Column of Delphi, a votive shaft dating from the beginning of the fourth century B.C. 

The Acanthus column of Delphi reconstructed by Theóphile Homolle (1848-1925), a French archaeologist. “From 1877 to 1880 and from 1885 to 1888, Homolle headed excavations on the island of Delos, where remains of the Temple of Apollo and other cultic buildings were discovered. Many ancient sculptures and inscriptions were also uncovered. From 1892 to 1903, Homolle excavated at Delphi, and his results were published in Les Fouilles de Delphes (The Excavations at Delphi; vols. 1–5, 1907–55). Homolle is the author of many studies on ancient inscriptions, published for the most part in the Bulletin de correspondance héllénique.” (Theophile Homolle. (n.d.) The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition. (1970-1979). Retrieved May 25 2015 from http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Theophile+Homolle)

"In using [the Acanthus Column of Delphi] for a model, Stanford White made the most of its best features and improved its proportions, achieving a more substantial foundation and a less top heavy summit. The result is an exquisite form, which, if one did not know of its antique archetype, one would attribute it to a stroke of genius on the part of a designer of the classic-eclectic period. 

"Set on a high square plinth, each shaft is banded at the base, above which is a campaniform carved with a frieze of Greek anthemion. Four girdles of acanthus leaves alternate with four fluted drums and the whole is crowned by a flaring acanthus capital. A bronze tripod of utmost simplicity is atop the shaft; the sculptured caryatids supporting the urns in the original are eliminated without any suggestion of incompleteness. Stanford White conceived the pillars in 1906, the year he was killed... .” (http://www.nyc-architecture.com/BKN/BKN006.htmThe columns were installed in 1911, however a proposed fountain at this entrance was never built.

McKim, Mead and White proposed a fountain be built between the two columns at the 15th Street entrance to Prospect Park. (From the collection of the Museum of the City of New York, marked c. 1900)

Bartel-Pritchard Square, actually a circle, was named for two local residents, young American soldiers, Emil Bartel and William Pritchard, who were killed in France in 1918 during World War I combat.” (Kevin Walsh, “ForgottenTour 36, Secrets of Prospect Park, Brooklyn”, Forgotten New York blog, Oct. 26, 2008;  http://forgotten-ny.com/2008/10/forgottentour-36-secrets-of-prospect-park-brooklyn/)

Prospect Park from Bartel-Pritchard Square (UL), along Prospect Park Southwest to the Prospect Park Wellhouse on Wellhouse Drive at the western shore of Prospect Park Lake. (Courtesy of Google Maps)

If you walk along the West Drive inside the park from Bartel-Pritchard Square to Park Circle, the park entrance in the Southwest, there are two roadways that turn into the park: Center Drive and Wellhouse Drive. If you walk a short distance along Center Drive, you'll pass a gate to the Quaker Burial Ground on the left. "Situated on one of the highest points in Brooklyn, the Quaker Burial Ground, 160 years old, began in 1849 (before Prospect Park was created) when nine acres of undeveloped farmland were purchased [...from four non-Quaker landowners.]" The cemetery is located on what was the border between the city of Brooklyn and the town of Flatbush. In the next several years, additional land was purchased, resulting in roughly 12 acres, although the original size may have been larger. (http://www.nyqm.org/cemetery/friendscemetery.html#history)

If you turn “...west on Wellhouse Drive you are soon within view of Prospect Park Lake, but note the small stone-and brick structure on your right. It is the Prospect Park Well House, built in 1869, that once housed engines and machinery that once pumped 750,000 gallons of water a day into a reservoir that fed the park’s gullies, springs and lakes. 

The Wellhouse. ("Composting Poop Potties for Prospect Park", inhabitat New York Cityhttp://inhabitat.com/nyc/composting-poop-potties-planned-for-prospect-park/bathroom18n-9-web/)

"The water source was a well some 70 feet deep and 50 feet in diameter directly under where you are standing, if you are facing the wellhouse. A smokestack 60 feet tall was affixed to the back of the building. After city water entered the park, the reservoir and smokestack were torn down in the 1930s, and the well was covered over, though it’s still down there.” (http://forgotten-ny.com/2005/05/secrets-of-prospect-park/

1870 sketch of the Well House. (http://www.nyc-architecture.com/BKN/BKN006.htm)

The Well House is being re-purposed into an eco-friendly, almost waterless toilet for park visitors. “NYC has plans to build a $1.8 million composting green latrine in the park’s historic Well House building that will look much like a regular bathroom except it will use “eco-friendly foam” and very little water.” (Sherrell Dorsey, “Composting Poop Potties Planned for Prospect Park”, inhabitat New York City, 3/20/13; http://inhabitat.com/nyc/composting-poop-potties-planned-for-prospect-park/)

"The second most important portal to Prospect Park is on Park Circle, at the south corner, nearest the Lake. The principal motif here is a pair of bronze lifesize equestrian groups, each composed of two horses and a male nude rider, by [Frederick] MacMonnies. Called The Horse Tamers, we are reminded of Coustou's Horses of Marly, the eighteenth century sculptures in the Place de la Concorde, Paris. 

"The horses in Brooklyn are wilder; their ruthless spirit challenges the tamers to remain mounted without benefit of saddles, and the tortured outlines of the forms approach the chaotic. Like the Grand Army Plaza figures, these pieces were modeled in Paris and cast at the LeBlanc-Barbedienne Foundry

One-half of the pedestrian entrance to Prospect Park at Park Circle.

"The architectural setting on Park Circle again is by McKim, Mead and White, consisting of 19-foot granite pedestals embellished with reliefs in both stone and bronze, walls concentric to the circle interrupted by pedestrian entrances flanked by broad urns, and square end pavilions with corner piers and distyle Greek Ionic columns in antis in each side, covered by low pyramid roofs." (http://www.nyc-architecture.com/BKN/BKN006.htm)

The Park Circle entrance to Prospect Park, c. 1902. (From the collection of the Museum of the City of New York)

(Courtesy of Google Maps

West Drive becomes East Drive at Park Circle and Parkside Avenue. On the East Drive parallel to Parkside Avenue is a white marble shelter, “seventy-three feet long and twenty-seven feet wide, in the design of a Greek temple, the balustraded roof supported by sixteen Corinthian columns.” (“American Park Systems”, The Architectural Record, Vol. XVIII, No. 6, December 1905, p. 476)

The Peristyle, also known as the Croquet Shelter or the Grecian Shelter.

"The official name of this building is the Prospect Park Peristyle, although to most, it’s called the Grecian Shelter, or the less well-known name; the Croquet Shelter. Peristyle is a Greek word meaning an architectural space, such as a court or porch that is surrounded, or edged by columns. This building is regarded in architectural circles as the finest Neo-classical peristyle in New York City. The scale is perfect, the spacing is perfect, the details are perfect, and the vaulting exquisite... . 

(1906 Photo: Architectural League of New York)

"The shelter is a platform with marble Corinthian capitals atop limestone columns. Everything above the capitals is terra-cotta, including the frieze, the balustrade and the vaulted Guastavino tiled ceiling. The floor is glazed beveled brick. White was a master of scale and detail, and this building was situated in such a way that the raised platform, at the top of the rise, gave those within an excellent view of both the Prospect Park lake, or the goings on at the Parade Grounds just across Parkside Avenue." (Suzanne Spellen, "Building of the Day: Prospect Park Peristyle", The Brownstoner; http://www.brownstoner.com/blog/2012/06/building-of-the-day-prospect-park-peristyle/)

The Guastavino-tiled ceiling, the Corinthian capital, terra cotta frieze and balustrade--all of which are in need of repair.

The entrance to the park at the junction of Parkside and Ocean Avenues is another designed by McKim, Mead and White.

(Courtesy of Google Maps)

The pedestrian entrance is a 1904 Classical portico with redwood trellises. 

Across the East Drive, beside the lake is "...a landing shelter. This is a 1971 reproduction of the original (1870, Calvert Vaux), the sole survivor of many rustic log-braced shelters that bordered the lake, creating a kind of mini-Adirondaks image."
(Norval White, Elliot Willensky and Fran Leadon, AIA Guide to New York City, Fifth Edition, Oxford University Press, 2010)

The remaining rustic structure by the park lake is a 1971 reproduction of Calvert Vaux's 1870 original.

"The most appropriate structures in Prospect Park, for tying in with the landscape, were the rustic shelters, those with posts and lattice railing of rough tree trunks, and shingled or thatched roofs. These were of various oblong and polygonal shapes. 

Two of the rustic structures along the park lake, circa 1908. (Collection of the New York Public Library, Image ID #70039, http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47da-3577-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

"Four were spaced along the east shore of the Lake, of which only one survives, the rectangular, hipped-roof Landing Shelter near the Carriage Concourse. These were viewing stations for western sunsets over the water. A five-sided rustic shelter stood on the spur at the south end of the Lake, nearest Park Circle, and an octagonal example stood on a high point in the Ravine, overlooking the bridle path spanned by Boulder Arch. A rustic arbor 111 feet in length was on the east side of the Lake, and another shaded a portion of the walk north of the Children's Playground." (http://www.nyc-architecture.com/BKN/BKN006.htm)

Thatch Cottage in Prospect Park. (New York Public Library Image Collections,  Image ID, G91F174_002F; http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-e488-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99)

Just past the Landing Shelter and the Lefrak Center with its ice skating rink stand the Oriental Pavilion and Concert Grove,  "...two of Prospect Park’s original music venues... . 

"The Pavilion was completed in 1874 and consists of eight cast iron posts, painted colorfully in a vague Middle Eastern pattern, supporting a complex roof that flares outward on the edges, creating a large shady area." (http://forgotten-ny.com/2008/10/forgottentour-36-secrets-of-prospect-park-brooklyn/) 

"Olmsted felt a park should provide a rural respite from the demands of city life. Among the many sites designed for the park was the Concert Grove House and Pavilion (sometimes referred to as the Oriental Pavilion,...built adjacent to the Lake so Park visitors could enjoy music in a pastoral setting.  One of the original features of the Concert Grove was Music Island, where live performances were held as visitors sat in an open air pavilion along the side of the lake.  

A crowd on the esplanade between Music Island and the Concert Grove in an 1890s photo. (From the NYC Parks Department Archives)

"In 1949, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses demolished the Concert Grove House, converted the Concert Pavilion to a snack bar, and constructed a skating ring in the area in between the lake and the Concert Grove." (http://blog.mcny.org/2012/06/05/the-prospect-park-concert-grove/)

The Concert Grove.

"The original plan for Prospect Park...showed no specific features for this area of the park, merely the words 'Concourse for Pedestrians' and 'Music Stand.' Around 1870, during the park’s construction, Olmsted and Vaux elaborated their design to accommodate musical performances. Within an otherwise pastoral park, they set formal grounds with terraces and a radial arrangement of walkways, punctuated by lineally arranged trees, lavish floral beds, and elaborate decorative carvings in New Brunswick sandstone. Noting that, 'Promenade concerts are common in many European pleasure grounds [and were] universal in German towns, common in French, and less so in British,' they sought in the concert grove to achieve a place with this purpose in mind." (http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/prospect-park/monuments/644)

A bronze urn on an architectural base (which used to be a stone planter), and the statue of Beethoven.

"The Concert Grove possesses a rich collection of bronze sculptural portraits. Henry Baerer’s bust of Ludwig van Beethoven (1894), Augustus Mueller’s Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1897), and Chester Beach’s Carl Maria Von Weber (1909) were trophies, which members of the United German Singers of Brooklyn won in the national Saengerfest choral competitions. [A] statue of Grieg was commissioned at a cost of $2,500 and was a gift to the Borough of Brooklyn by Norwegian Societies." (http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/prospect-park/monuments/644) Other bronze busts decorate the paths in the concert grove, as does a statue of Abraham Lincoln.

(Courtesy of Google Maps)

Overlooking the Lullwater--named for its stillness--is the Prospect Park Boathouse.

The 1876 Boathouse. (http://collections.mcny.org/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&VBID=24UAYWR5ZKXH0&SMLS=1&RW=1333&RH=703)

In 1905 Helmle and Huberty's classically-inspired Boathouse replaced Olmsted and Law's 1876 Boathouse which was built on piers. "The partners based the design on the first floor of Jacopo Sansovino’s design for the Library of St. Mark, a Renaissance building in Venice. It is much simplified from the original, showing Helmle’s expertise at taking inspiration of the great buildings of the past, without slavishly copying them." (http://www.brownstoner.com/blog/2014/10/building-of-the-day-101-east-drive/)

Helmle & Huberty's 1905 Boathouse. This boathouse was built facing West to catch the sunsets on the water. (http://www.brownstoner.com/blog/2014/10/building-of-the-day-101-east-drive/; Photo: http://collections.mcny.org/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&VBID=24UAYWR5ZKXH0&SMLS=1&RW=1333&RH=703)

In the 1960s the Helmle & Huberty Boathouse was considered underutilized and superfluous, and was almost demolished in 1964. It was saved within 48 hours of demolition by poet Marianne Moore and other preservationists. The Boathouse has been restored twice since then, and it has been repurposed as the Audubon Nature Center, the first urban nature center of its kind. (http://www.brownstoner.com/blog/2014/10/building-of-the-day-101-east-drive/) 

Five views of today's boathouse.

Helmle and Huberty also used Guastavino tile vaulting for the boathouse interior.

Detail of the Boathouse interior. (Photo credit: boredinbrooklynblog.com)

Another interior view of the Boathouse. (Photo © Michael Freeman)

Near the park entrance where Empire Blvd. and Flatbush and Ocean Avenues come together, and just south of the Prospect Park Zoo, is one of the best known of Prospect Park's interior structures--the carousel.

  1. (Courtesy of Google Maps)

This was not the park's first carousel, however. "There have been three carousels in Prospect Park. The first, a 'Yacht Carousel,' dated to 1874 and was sited on the Prospect Park Lake. Images of the carousel show a circular merry-go-round contraption propelled by wind via nine large boat masts." (Carousel News & Trader, Vol. 27, No. 5, May 2011, p. 23; www.carouselnews.com) "[The second] Carousel was horse drawn and located in the Vale of Cashmere at the northeast corner of the Park, which was designed as a play area for children. It was subsequently moved to the Long Meadow after a fire in 1885, in the area that is now home to the Picnic House. [This carousel was destroyed by fire in about 1932.]

The newest Prospect Park Carousel building.

"Upon the creation of the Children’s Corner in 1952, the current Carousel was brought to the Park from Coney Island. A gem of craftsmanship, it features 53 hand-carved horses, a lion, a giraffe, a deer and two-dragon-pulled chariots created by the renowned carver Charles Carmel in 1912. Carmel was trained near the Prospect Park horse stables, which enabled him to create masterfully lifelike creatures. The Carousel is one of only 12 of his works still in existence.

"...In 1983, mechanical problems and deterioration forced the Carousel to close. Four years later [...the] mechanical components were repaired, twenty layers of paint were removed, and conservator Will Morton VIII skillfully recreated the historic design. Morton also added 60 renderings of Brooklyn and Prospect Park referenced from historic photos. The newly restored Carousel was opened to the public in October 1990." (https://www.prospectpark.org/news-events/news/archives-1912-carousel/)

Details of the restored Prospect Park Carousel.

"Charles Carmel carved animals in a shop located not far from Coney Island and sold them to manufacturers of carousels. His horses are noted for their strong bodies and legs. At first glance they suggest great power...an aggressive quality; but when you study their eyes, the power and aggression is mellowed by the gentleness found there. Carmel was generous with his trappings. An abundance of jewels, buckles, feathers, flowers, tassels, straps, and fringe offer a base for lavish use of the bright colors we all associate with carousels." (http://www.carouselmuseum.com/business.html

This general style of horse carving was known as the "Coney Island Style." "Charles Carmel carved for Charles Looff before he went out on his own. Carmel was another of the many carvers with factories in Brooklyn, New York, who carved complete carousels for [William F.] Mangels [and others]. Carmel carousel animals are highly decorated and noticeable Carmel traits include elaborate "fish scale" blankets, gorgeous armored horses, and the lolling tongue on many of his horses. Carmel's style is difficult to describe as he seems to have adopted traits from all the other carvers.

Detail of Charles Carmel's 1915 Rye Playland Carousel. (Photo courtesy of Ed Karsten; http://www.k9edk.com/carouselNYrye2014.html)

"You can see famous Carmel carousels at Rye Playland, Rye, New York, and at Knoebels Grove, Elysburg, Pennsylvania." (http://carousels.org/Carvers_Builders.html)

Separated from the park proper by fences and locked gates (at least on the day I visited), yet an integral part of the park, the Prospect Park Zoo's main entrance is on Flatbush Avenue about halfway between Grand Army Plaza and the park entrance on Empire Blvd. and Ocean Avenue. The Flatbush Avenue entrance is also not wheelchair accessible.

Aymar Embury II's Prospect Park Zoo buildings in the rear surrounding the seal pool. 

"Interest in zoological gardens flowered in the last decade of the 19th century. An informal Menagerie began to take shape within Prospect Park in May 1890 when the newly appointed president of the City of Brooklyn Parks Commission, George V. Brower, donated 'three young cinnamon bears.' State Treasurer Harry Adams followed with a donation of three white deer, establishing a pattern. It was mainly through donations of animals by rich or prominent individuals that the Menagerie grew. ...The Menagerie continued to accrue animals in the first decades of the 20th century.

Watching the animals in Prospect Park, c. 1905. (Picture post card from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York)

"[In] January 1934, New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia tapped Robert Moses to head a newly unified Parks Department. Moses soon prepared extensive plans to reconstruct the city's parks, renovate existing facilities and create new swimming pools, zoos, playgrounds and parks. [...In Prospect Park the] area between the Wild Fowl Pond and former Deer Paddock on the east side of the park, situated across the East Drive from the Menagerie, was chosen as the site for the new zoo. Architect [Aymar] Embury designed a half circle of six brick buildings centered on a seal pool. Built of red brick with limestone trim, the buildings featured bas-relief scenes from Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book.

"Five sculptors[--including Hunt Diederich, Frederick G.R. Roth and Emil Siebern--] executed a total of thirteen such scenes, not only on the front and back walls of zoo buildings, but also on all four sides of both brick entrance shelters at Flatbush Avenue." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prospect_Park_Zoo

Bas-relief by Frederick G.R. Roth, monkey house in the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn, series 832, exhibit BD, approved December 11, 1934. (https://www.flickr.com/photos/nycdesign/19957195879/in/album-72157656143506080/)

Bas relief by Frederick G.R. Roth.

Bas-relief, "Mowgli and the monkeys" by Hunt Diederich, entrance gateway to the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn. 

Bas-relief by Hunt Diederich, "Mowgli Chased by the Tiger",  entrance gateway to the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn.

"Watering Hole" by Emil Siebern. North shelter, Flatbush Avenue entrance to the Zoo.

"Pursuit" by Emil Siebern. North shelter, Flatbush Avenue entrance to the Zoo.

"Fight Against the Tiger"

Murals by Allen Saalberg, elephant house in the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn, photograph by Levy for the WPA/FAP Photographic Division, series 832, exhibit CU. (https://www.flickr.com/photos/nycdesign/20117718066/in/album-72157656143506080/)

Final mural sketch by Allen Saalberg, elephant house in the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn, series 832, exhibit CM. (https://www.flickr.com/photos/nycdesign/20143963645/in/album-72157656143506080/)

"An example of 19th century animal art, Lioness and Cubs by French sculptor Victor Peter, is located east of the sea lion pond; it was a gift from noted sculptor Frederick MacMonnies, who himself is represented with a dozen pieces in New York City parks (including Prospect Park's Horse Tamers [at the Park Circle entrance]). A white marble piece depicting a nude boy with a faithful dog called Boy and Dog (1866) is in the Education Center (a terra-cotta version, inscribed 'Protection to the Dumb,' can be seen in the Brooklyn Museum's decorative arts galleries)." (http://www.nycgovparks.org/about/history/zoos/prospect-park)

These are, of course, not all of the interior architectural structures in Prospect Park, but they are a good start for anyone interested in exploring the real thing.


  1. There's a set of photos of the Jungle Book reliefs on Flickr, although the photographer notes that he had difficulty getting good angles on some of them and one of them was obscured.

    1. I also had difficulty with some of my photo angles. These are very good photos. Thanks for sending the link.