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

The Brooklyn Paper
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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 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.

Updated 5:37 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

scott from park slope says:
I favor historical preservation but this case seems more coincidence than history. you can draw a straight line between any two points in nature, so being able to draw a straight line to the empire state building from a monument that predates it by many years means nothing.

there's also the consideration that history isn't a dead thing but something we are actively creating all the time. who's to say that the new tower won't come to have historical cachet of its own?
Nov. 27, 2012, 8:58 am
Joe from Crown Heights says:
judging by the photo, it seems the view would only be visible 5 months of the year - the rest of the time it would be obscured by foliage
Nov. 27, 2012, 11:12 am
John Wasserman from Windsor Terrace says:
Pardon me, but I don't see a well as I used to. The lamp post is the only thing that I am able to see. It's quite unsightly, if you will excuse the opinion.
Nov. 27, 2012, 12:25 pm
sajh from Brooklyn Heights says:
Depending on where you stand in Flushing's Fresh Meadow's Park, the Globe is in perfect alignment with (fill in the blank). Therefore, nothing tall should be built between Flushing and Manhattan. This is basically the logic being used here. This person should be ashamed of the ridiculous waste of time he is creating. He should instead be petitioning people to get off their lazy arses and help with the cleanup/rebuilding effort of areas destroyed in our city.
Nov. 27, 2012, 12:32 pm
Miguel Carraway from Clinton Hill says:
Let's be frank; Kessler is an idiot. There's only ONE obscure spot inside the park where this vista lines up. Would the Astor mansion have even been visible? It was only four stories tall.
Nov. 27, 2012, 2:34 pm
Ina from PH says:
What a NUT JOB!
Nov. 27, 2012, 3:41 pm
Z from Bay Ridge says:
I think that lamp post got to go
Nov. 27, 2012, 3:42 pm
Sarah Palin from Alaska says:
On a very clear day you can see the former Soviet Union from on top of the Grand Army Plaza so that view should be preserved too...
Nov. 27, 2012, 5:02 pm
charles from Calais says:
Is BP paying by the word these days?
Nov. 28, 2012, 1:16 am
ty from pps says:
Seriously? I really hope this Kessler didn't actually take up the time of the Landmark folks. This is ridiculous.
Nov. 28, 2012, 11:56 am
Mr Tony from Ditmas Park says:
Kessler You sound soft and pink,grow some balls.
Nov. 29, 2012, 12:46 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Knowing Ratner, there is good chance he will never build it, though he will probably look for scapegoats for that failure.
Dec. 1, 2012, 6:30 pm
Rams from Brooklyns says:
How horrid most of these comments are, mirroring more imporatantly, the stagnant and wasteful aspect of human expression. Maybe most of you would benefit from being encassed in an underground mini mall filled with Targets and Barclay centres without the sun. You'd have a lovely view to sip your diahreaea scrappacino into your mom's jeans and pick your noses with dirty fingernails and wipe your crusty smiles and goopy eyes with dirty hands from your underground trip thru the bowels of the new land below.

Try taking a walk every now and then to get some fresh air and ponder what it is to actually see the city you live in instead of make empty comments serving only to demean one's character and exaggerate the blatant unhappiness of the mostly soured inner grumblings of your digestive processes.
Dec. 3, 2012, 7:12 am
ian from fiske terrace says:
If any of you with negative comments would actually read up on Olmstead, the creator of Prospect Park, you'd understand that he envisioned some views and experiences to be from unique perspectives. Understanding the nature of the city's growth, Olmstead knew that the location of the empire state building would be a landmark of architecture even before it was built because it was owned by the most wealthy New Yorkers, the Astor Family. In addition, the axis line drawn from the Empire State Building contains numerous significant references to the Astor family with Waldorf Court, in Fiske Terrance, Brooklyn along the longitude and Astoria, Queens on the latitude. Furthermore, the direct line passes throguh Fort Lee, New Jersey to the north and the Tip of Breezy Point near Fort Tilden in Far Rockaway, New York to the south. There Must have been some sort of lookout point or series of command posts that would have served the area to warn of incoming ships at night via beacons of light along this line. Kessler has put much research into his story. Read his Book, and maybe you'll understand.
Dec. 3, 2012, 11:27 am
Gonzo from BKNY says:
Surely you must be joking, Mr Kessler.
Dec. 3, 2012, 9:42 pm
Gonzo from BKNY says:
I'm sure this has nothing to do with bitter resentment over Barclays.
Dec. 3, 2012, 9:45 pm
Ganja Man from Park Slope says:
Hey Kessler...
Just how "medicated" are you?
Dec. 3, 2012, 9:48 pm
Al from Clinton Hill says:
That's funny 'cause Kessler's BS is blocking my view of the sun.
Dec. 3, 2012, 9:58 pm
Richard from Park Slope says:
To the Editor, December 2,

Allow me to respond to my kind critics on why the view from the Brooklyn Mirador must be protected as a great ‘National Art Treasure’ or as a ‘Historic Visual Corridor,’ why I believe Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted’s original design for Prospect Park’s entrance plaza laid the framework for the amazing and beautiful site we are blessed with today, and why I believe their design both celebrated the Grand Army’s Civil War victory and condemned the anti-emancipation and anti-Lincoln elements in our society who were intent on establishing a European-style aristocracy in America and who had previously thwarted the artists’ passions in the creation of Central Park.

Given a moderate degree of freedom by James Stranahan and the wise Brooklyn Park Commissioners, the elliptical plaza’s axis was the essential starting point, establishing the basis of all future alignments. The plaza was dedicated in 1867 with a simple jet of water as its centerpiece. The ‘Fountain of the Golden Spray’ was centered on this axis.
Two years later, the first statue dedicated to Abraham Lincoln was presented in the plaza. Facing northward along this axis, in front of a large public gathering area, his gaze extended more than five miles to the site of the unseen Fifth Avenue Manhattan mansions of the Astor family, where the ‘Elite 400’ would hold court (where the Waldorf-Astoria would rise and give way to the world’s tallest building). Four months later, in February 1870, Olmsted spoke at Boston’s Lowell Institute, saying: “It is a common error to regard a park as something to be produced complete in itself, as a picture to be painted on a canvas. It should rather be planned as one to be done in fresco, with constant consideration of exterior objects, some of them quite at a distance and even existing as yet only in the imagination of the painter.”

For 26 years, Lincoln’s legacy was celebrated in Brooklyn’s Civil War memorial plaza. In 1895, three years after Duncan’s plain Defenders Arch was dedicated at the south end of the plaza’s axis (framing Lincoln and the secret corridor) and one year before the Supreme Court ruled racial segregation Constitutional, Olmsted retired. On March 10th he wrote that the architectural firm hired by the Commissioners who replaced Stranahan in 1882 “has been and is trying to establish the rule of motives that are at war with those that rule in the original laying out of Brooklyn Park…They have struck down Vaux and are trying their best to kill him in the name of the Lord and of France….It makes me grind my teeth to see how Vaux is treated.” In June, after Decoration Day ceremonies, the Lincoln statue was picked up, turned around, and moved to Prospect Park’s Concert Grove where, aligned with the eight-pointed star skylight of the Oriental Pavilion and a single spouted fountain, he looks far past Music Island to the pier on Gravesend Bay where Calvert Vaux was found drowned five months later. ‘Separate, but equal’ became the law of the land, ‘Jim Crow’ would rule for 60 years, the grandest hotel replaced the mansions, the simple Arch was draped in statuary and Brooklyn merged into New York.

Defeated in his 1928 Presidential bid, Democrat Al Smith and friend John Jakob Raskob of GM and DuPont, demolished the Waldorf and, in 1931, built the Empire State Building as Bailey Fountain neared completion in the plaza. After Democrat FDR’s election in 1932, Smith and Raskob joined the American Liberty League, promoting property rights and fighting the ‘New Deal.’ Two years after his assassination, the bust of John Kennedy was dedicated in Grand Army Plaza, where the Lincoln statue stood. Two years after his brother Robert and the Reverend King were killed, the original Brooklyn Mirador was completed – to provide the perfect vantage point for this beautiful distant view and a new perspective on the work-in-progress that is our democracy.

In 1852, before Prospect Park, before the Civil War, before Central Park, before publication of his ‘Journeys and Explorations in the Cotton Kingdom of America,’ Olmsted wrote: “What artist, so noble…directs the shadows of a picture so great that Nature shall be employed upon it for generations, before the work he has arranged for her shall realize
his intentions.”

Please go to, find “Olmsted and Vaux – National Art Treasure Threatened,” read the petition and sign it if you agree - or take a photo of the view so you can show your grandchildren their fabulous inheritance that you let slip away.
Your neighbor, Richard F Kessler
Dec. 5, 2012, 5:29 pm
Sloer from BH says:
You seem like a nice guy Mr. Kessler but you're out of your mind.
Dec. 9, 2012, 8:24 pm

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