Off view: Little-known vista at risk, preservationist claims

Off view: Little-known vista at risk, preservationist claims
Courtesy of Richard Kessler

A picturesque view of the Empire State Building framed by Grand Army Plaza’s iconic arch is in danger of being blocked forever.

The 102-story skyscraper perfectly bisects the Solders’ and Sailors’ Arch when viewed from a not-so-well-known vantage point just inside Prospect Park — but long-time Park Sloper Richard Kessler fears a proposed tower in the Atlantic Yards mega-development will obstruct his favorite vista before the borough can truly appreciate its grandeur.

“It’s a very beautiful sight that shouldn’t be lost,” said Kessler, 66, who started an online petition last month urging locals to “save the view.”

The development company Forest City Ratner plans to erect a 219-foot tall residential high-rise only half a mile from Grand Army Plaza on Atlantic Avenue near Sixth Avenue. When that building is finished, Kessler worries that tree branches and a light pole won’t be the only things in the foreground when he and other onlookers lean against a lamppost at the start of Prospect Park’s East Drive — the only spot where the vista reveals itself.

“It would perfectly block the Empire State Building,” said Kessler, who has taken to calling the vantage point “Brooklyn Mirador.” “If I put my back against that lamppost and I see an apartment building instead of the Empire State Building, I got no interest.”

The Solders’ and Sailors’ Arch was completed in 1892 — 40 years before the Empire State building climbed into the clouds — but this preservationist believes the fortuitous placement is no coincidence.

Though he has no documentation to back up his case, Kessler claims the arch — and an 1869 statue of Abraham Lincoln that once stood in front of it — points right at the former Astor mansion five miles away on Fifth Avenue in an attempt by architects to challenge the wealthy family because they opposed the Great Emancipator’s efforts to end slavery.

The Astor family’s home is now the site of the Empire State Building, and a number of later monuments — including the Grand Army Plaza’s 1932 Bailey Fountain and the park’s 1965 John F. Kennedy memorial — also line up with the viewing corridor, only bolstering its significance, according to Kessler.

“These things are in a straight line and nature doesn’t make straight lines like this. This is something that was done on purpose,” said Kessler, who suspects that Grand Army Plaza designers Frederick Olmsted and Calvert Vaux knew about the axis when the arch rose in the late 1800s.

As of press time, Kessler has gathered 51 signatures pushing for the preservation of the “Brooklyn Mirador” on Change.org. He is seeking an additional 99,949 backers.

Once he rounds up enough supporters, Kessler hopes to deliver the petition to the Brooklyn Museum, the Smithsonian Institute, and the city’s Landmark’s Preservation Commission — which already ruled against his previous request to preserve the vista.

“We determined that the corridor is ineligible because it does not meet the definition of a New York City landmark,” said Landmarks spokeswoman Elisabeth De Bourbon.

Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco would not comment on the viewing corridor, but said the entire Atlantic Yards plan already received an environmental review when “scale and size” were up for discussion.

But the history-obsessed fanatic will not give up.

“I know for sure this is a significant thing,” said Kessler. “It would be terrible to lose it.”

This isn’t the first time Brooklyn preservationists have fought to save a long-distance viewing corridor: history lovers battled a now-finished condo development they claimed would sully a Green-Wood Cemetery vista in which a statue of the goddess Minerva appears to wave at the Statue of Liberty.

And in DUMBO, neighbors and celebrities rallied against a planned tower they fear will block views of the Brooklyn Bridge.