Marsha P. Johnson Park to get new ‘ornamental gateway’ to cap off renovations, honor park’s namesake

marsha p. johnson park gateway with flowers
A new ornamental gateway will cap off renovations at Marsha P. Johnson State Park in Williamsburg, Governor Kathy Hochul announced on Wednesday.
Courtesy NYS Parks Department

Williamsburg’s Marsha P. Johnson Park is getting a new “ornamental entryway” that honors the spirit of the park’s namesake to cap off park renovations, Governor Kathy Hochul announced on Aug. 24, which would have been Johnson’s 77th birthday.

The seven-acre waterfront park, which sits on Kent Avenue between North 8th and North 9th streets, was renamed after Johnson, a transgender activist who had a pivotal role in the Stonewall Uprising, in 2020. The following year, the state embarked on a $16.5 million renovation project of the park — hitting some bumps regarding the park’s design along the way.

marsha p johnson state park gateway from inside
A rendering of the new gateway, which will be built next year, at Marsha P. Johnson State Park. The gateway is meant to honor Johnson’s life and personality. Courtesy NYS Parks Department

Most of the construction is finished, according to Hochul’s office, but the park will be finished with a colorful, artistic new gateway at the corner of Kent Avenue and North 8th Street. 

“Marsha P. Johnson was a trailblazer who stood up for what is right, challenged the status quo, and changed the course of history,” Hochul said in a release. “As we celebrate Marsha P. Johnson’s birthday, New York State will continue to honor her story at this newly renovated state park, where we are highlighting her message and carrying it forward for new generations of visitors.”

The large, circular gate will be adorned with colorful flowers and panels and the phrase “Pay it no mind,” which Johnson claimed as a middle name of sorts — when people used to ask what the “P” stood for, the activist would simply say, “Pay it no mind.”

Construction of the gate will begin in 2023, according to the state, and caps off a host of renovations including new landscaping and green space, park furniture, a new park house with restrooms and a classroom, and artwork commemorating Johnson’s life and work.

“Inclusion and acceptance are goals that we take to heart at State Parks,” said department commissioner Erik Kulleseid. “The new and improved version of Marsha P. Johnson State Park is a great example of how we can be welcoming and open to all, and to reflect the varied and diverse stories of the many people and places of New York State.”

rendering of state park
The state updated its proposals for the renovated park’s design, including more green spaces, eco-conscious elements, and subtle nods to Johnson. Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects and Planners

The park’s design went through several significant changes as the state prepared to begin the renovations, as Johnson’s family and LGBTQ+ activists fought for a park that would really honor Johnson’s name and meet the needs of the community.

Parks scrapped its initial plan after public outcry and agreed to tone down the original design — and apologized to Johnson’s family for not doing enough public outreach before they announced its plans. The updated design included more natural elements and subtle nods to Johnson, including an area called “Marsha’s hillside,” which Hochul’s office said honors her love of nature.

The freshly-completed areas also include eco-conscious elements like new trees, a native species garden, water-permeable pathways and a new stormwater management system.

“It is incredible to see a waterfront park named in honor of a pioneer for Black, queer and trans folks,” said Jenna Frasier, an LGBTQ+ fellow in the statehouse. “We deserve beauty and rest in our lives, especially while our community still fights for our rights, and it feels so meaningful to find a home for that in Marsha P. Johnson State Park. I am humbled to honor her legacy and to see her celebrated in her park!”