Brooklyn Bridge plaza to be named after Emily Roebling

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A rendering of Brooklyn Bridge Plaza and a portrait of Emily Warren Roebling from 1896.
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates/Charles-Émile-Auguste Carolus-Duran

She’s finally getting her plaza in history!

A planned civic square beneath Brooklyn Bridge that will mark the final section of Brooklyn Bridge Park will be named after Emily Roebling, who oversaw the completion of the borough’s iconic namesake span, local greenspace stewards announced Wednesday.

“We are proud to announce that we will be naming this final section of the park officially as Emily Roebling Plaza,” said Brooklyn Bridge Park president Eric Landau at a groundbreaking ceremony at Water and New Dock streets on Dec. 9.

The two-acre plaza will open in Dec. 2021 and honor Roebling, who took over the helm of the bridge’s construction after her husband Washington Roebling became bedridden with caisson disease, also known as the bends, and one of the 19th-century pioneer’s living descendants said she paved the way for women across the nation.

“It changed a lot of people’s minds in America at that time to see a woman in such an unprecedented position of responsibility on what was unquestionably the most ambitious architectural feat of its time,” said Emily’s great-great grandson Kriss Roebling at the event.

Emily Roebling’s great-great grandson Kriss speaks at a ground breaking ceremony for Emily Roebling Plaza on Dec. 9.Photo by Kevin Duggan

The move follows a push by local preservationists earlier this year to name the plaza after Roebling rather than the previous title “Brooklyn Bridge Plaza.”

The 19th-century Brooklynite was the first person to cross the bridge following its completion — reportedly riding inside a horse-drawn carriage with a rooster, symbolic of victory, on her lap.

But despite her contribution to one of the world’s greatest structures, she was often overshadowed in the history books by her husband and father-in-law, John Roebling, a German-American suspension bridge engineer who designed the monument.

Emily would commute from her Brooklyn Heights home down to the construction site, traversing the square and climbing up the spiral staircase at the Brooklyn tower, and her living relative said her former workplace will be a fitting tribute to the trailblazer.

“This was undoubtedly a loud, smelly, frenetic construction site for the over 10 years that she was actually on site bossing around the other engineers,” Roebling said. “So it was her place of work and I think that she would just be so delighted by the fact that this place that she dedicated so much of her life to, that it will become this beautiful part of this park and in her honor.”

In the family: Emily Roebling’s great-great-grandson Kriss (second from right), with his wife Meg, and children Chace, 11, and August, 14, on Dec. 9.Photo by Kevin Duggan

The $8 million overhaul of the fenced-off lot into a new public square marks the final portion of the decade-and-a-half redevelopment of Brooklyn Bridge Park, from a former industrial waterfront into the sprawling 1.3-mile long lawn it is today.

The lot will be transformed into a public space aimed at better connecting Brooklyn’s Front Yard between the Dumbo section and the southern piers.

The space will have an asphalt plaza with so-called concrete unit pavers in a striped pattern mirroring the bridge above, along with a revamped Fulton Ferry Lawn.

A birds-eye view of the new layout of the plaza and Fulton Ferry Lawn.Brooklyn Bridge Park

Mayor Bill de Blasio also attended the ceremony, where he said the plaza was a great way to wrap up the park’s development with one of Brooklyn’s proudest daughters.

“Here American history changed because Emily Roebling showed something that people needed to see about the power and talent and ability of women,” Hizzoner said. “This park, this section right here, is going to help us understand how we progressed in yesteryear, but we have to progress again now in this time.”