Protecting the Fort: Landmarks commission says Ft. Greene Park plans alter creator’s vision, stalling makeover

Building a new Fort: Community board approves Ft. Greene Park makeover after months of debate
NYC Parks

It’s a historical holdout!

The Department of Parks and Recreations’s plans to makeover an entrance to Fort Greene Park do not reflect the vision of the green space’s creators and honchos must go back to the drawing board, the Landmarks Preservation Commission ruled at a Thursday hearing.

“It seems to be sort of against every one of the historic moments in the design of the park,” said commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron.

The commission, which must approve the $10.5-million proposal for it to move forward because the meadow sits within the nabe’s historic district, tabled its vote on the project, recommending that parks officials revisit their plans instead. Community Board 2 green-lit the makeover last week after months of debate.

The parks department wants to redesign the corner at Myrtle Avenue and St. Edwards Street into a grand entrance by leveling its hilly mounds to create a wide pathway leading to the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument.

But history buffs contended that planner Frederick Law Olmsted would prefer the grassy knolls over a paved walkway because park-goers can hang out on them.

“[The hills] seem to be a very large gathering place, versus more of a passageway,” said commissioner Wellington Chen. “If you’re saying I can perform many programs on a passageway, that’s true. However, that’s not what Olmsted intended, which is a public gathering place.”

Parks honchos countered that not many people use the mounds — except to host the occasional dog costume contest — and residents would get more use from a plaza.

“In general, the mounds create a bit of an obstacle,” said Paul Kidonakis, the project’s landscape architect. “Not as many people would be able to get up on them and use them as they would the plaza.”

Commission members also charged that Olmsted would not have put an entrance on a corner and that the designer wanted park-goers to stumble upon the ship martyrs’ monument, instead of being confronted by it immediately after entering the lawn.

Fort Greene Park is being redesigned under the green-space agency’s “Parks Without Borders” program, which is tasked with sprucing up meadows’ entrances to make them more inviting.

But meadow mavens can open up the park to passersby without compromising its historic character, according to landmarks commission members.

“We’ve seen many examples of critical and beautiful historic parks where the entrance is not the apex of a parallelogram and they’ve worked successfully,” said commissioner Meenaksh Srinivasan.

The parks department will reappear before the commission at a to-be-announced date and is expected to present revised plans or evidence that its proposal is still the best option.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill