Locals demand long-shuttered Downtown World War II memorial to reopen to public

Locals demand long-shuttered Downtown World War II memorial to reopen to public
Jack Vanasco

The city must reopen a long-shuttered World War II memorial in Cadman Plaza Park Downtown, a veteran of the conflict demanded.

The granite and limestone Brooklyn War Memorial is dedicated to the more than 300,000 Brooklynites who fought in the war and contains an inner chamber where the names of 11,500 Kings County heroes who perished in European and Pacific theaters are etched in tribute.

There’s only one problem with the grand memorial — part of the building has been closed to the general public for decades, and Brooklyn residents deserve access to the hallowed space, according to Marine Parker Jack Vanasco.

“We got a lot of guys we grew up with that we used to play ball with that are up on that wall,” said Vanasco, 92, who served alongside his three brothers as an army corporal in the Pacific from 1939 to 1947. “People don’t have to go to Washington to see the names, they’re here in Brooklyn.”

The memorial was built in 1951 under the auspices of then-Parks Commissioner Robert Moses. The city’s so-called “power broker” planned to construct similar monuments in each of the five boroughs, but only the Tillary Street structure was ever built, according to the city agency.

The building’s interior was once used for a wide variety of functions, including veteran and community meetings, school graduations, art shows, and dance performances until the early 1990s, when the city was forced to close the memorial — which lacks handicapped accessibility features — sometime after the federal Adults with Disabilities Act was signed into law, according to Toba Potosky, president of the Cadman Park Conservancy.

Closed: The interior of the Brooklyn War Memorial has a wall dedicated to the 11,500 Brooklynites who died during World War II, but has been closed to the public since the early 1990s due to not being weelchair accessible and is only open to relatives of the fallen who schedule an appointment with the Parks Department.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

Potosky has worked for years with Vanasco and his 93-year-old brother, Navy veteran Roy Vanasco, and with Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Martin Maher — himself a Gulf War veteran — to bring the war memorial back to life, including possibly turning it into an educational space, the New York Post reported back in 2012.

The chamber currently holds a collection of various kiosks with information on conflicts that have seen U.S. involvement, from the American Revolution to the War in Afghanistan, and also has a Civil War-era cannon — none of which appear to have a Brooklyn-specific connection.

However, Parks officials will not consider reopening the shrine until after they’ve built wheelchair-accessible ramps and — more substantially — an elevator, according to a spokeswoman, who said the project has been plagued by delays since it was announced in March 2017.

“The World War II Memorial at Cadman Plaza is currently undergoing capital improvements to make it more inviting and accessible,” said Anessa Hodgson. “This is among the first steps we are taking as we explore options to activate this space and make it open to the public.”

The $5.5 million accessibility project was slated to begin construction this past spring, but has been pushed back to some time in the coming months, with Hodgson claiming the city had some trouble with an elevator manufacturer.

“The ADA ramp and elevator construction project was delayed in the design phase as we worked on coordinating with the elevator manufacturer,” she said. “This project has completed procurement and we anticipate starting construction in the coming months.”

Somber: The Brooklyn War Memorial was built in 1951 under the auspices of then-Parks Commissioner Robert Moses and its interior was used for a variety of veteran and community functions until the early 1990s.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

The end of WWII will have its 75th anniversary next year and Potosky said that people from the borough and beyond should have a chance to use the space to commemorate the many Kings Countians who helped win the conflict.

As it is, only family members of the Brooklyn heroes whose names are etched into the memorial are allowed into the inner chamber, according to Hodgson, who advised relatives to contact the agency’s Brooklyn borough office at (718) 965-8900 to schedule a visit, where they’ll be accompanied by a Parks staff member.

“327,000 Brooklynites served in WWII — that’s more than most states — they liberated Europe and Asia,” Potosky said. “We owe it to them, that this memorial was built in their memory.”

But Vanasco fears that the slow-grinding gears of city government might keep him and his brother from seeing the space reopen to the public.

“I just don’t understand why is it taking so many years,” he said. “I and my brother keep saying we’re not going to see if it keeps going on like this. The years go by.”

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kdugg[email protected]glocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
World War II veteran Jack Vanasco has fought for years to get the Downtown memorial to reopen to the public.
Photo by Steve Solomonson