Washington Park redux: J.J. Byrne Park name change marches ahead

Washington Park redux: J.J. Byrne Park name change marches ahead
The Brooklyn Paper / Noelle D’Arrigo

The rush to un-rename one of Brooklyn’s most historically significant blocks moved forward last week when Community Board 6 voted to change the name of Park Slope’s J.J. Byrne Park back to Washington Park, its original name.

The motion swiftly passed without controversy and now heads to the City Council for an expected approval.

For Park Slope residents, who know the park bordered by Third and Fourth streets and Fourth and Fifth avenues by its current name, the renaming has become a history lesson courtesy of the community board.

“I don’t think that many people are aware that we have this piece of history right in our own backyard,” said Lisa Lopez, as she sat near the Old Stone House, the Revolutionary-era structure that comprises the centerpiece of the historic greensward. “If anything all the interest in changing the name might make people more aware of it.”

Byrne, a borough president who died in office in 1930, is credited with the construction of the Municipal Building on Joralemon Street and, ironically, rebuilding the Old Stone House itself.

That’s not bad for a brief career as the borough’s highest elected officer, but it’s not much compared to Gen. George Washington, who left his indelible stamp on the area in 1776, when he and his army escaped from British forces during the Battle of Brooklyn.

That’s how Washington Park, the first professional baseball stadium in the country, got its name in 1883.

“That name reflected its historic importance,” said Kim Maier, executive director of the Old Stone House, who supports the name change back to Washington Park. “When people come [to the park] they will recognize what went on here and that history is where they live.”

Whatever name the park comes to wear is less important than what the park will eventually look like, some users said. Right now, the park is undergoing a multi-million-dollar transformation that includes new handball and basketball courts and a dog run — paid for partly by developer Shaya Boymelgreen to compensate for damages incurred during the construction of his NOVO condos nearby.

Borough President Markowitz also got some money allocated (although, given the renaming frenzy going on, his contribution probably won’t be enough to ensure that his name adorn a park in perpetuity).

In praise of J.J. Byrne

So, Park Slope wants to change the name of J.J. Byrne Park so that it no longer honors our former borough president, but celebrates the life of George Washington (who, frankly, has a lot of things named after him already!). Community Board 6 backed the name change last week, but before Brooklyn’s immortal history is paved over, The Brooklyn Paper felt honor-bound to at least compare Byrne to other “luminaries” who have stuff named after them around town.

— Mike McLaughlin

J.J. Bryne never… Unlike…
…owned another man, woman or child. Charles Carroll, a Declaration of Independence signer who owned slaves. (Carroll Gardens, Carroll Park, Carroll Street)
…spewed anti-Semitic vitriol. Peter Stuyvesant, the governor of New Amsterdam, who tried to discriminate against Jews. “To give liberty to the Jews will be very detrimental.” (Bedford–Stuyvesant, Stuyvesant Avenue)
…sympathized with England during the Revolutionary War. Joris Rapelye, a wealthy Brooklyn landowner, supported the British during the Revolutionary War and ultimately fled to England. (Rapelye Street, a two-block-long street in Carroll Gardens)
…shot a man in a barbaric duel. Alexander Hamilton who was infamously slain in a duel with Aaron Burr in 1804 — but the hothead Hamilton actually came close to gunfights on a number of other occasions, including one with James Monroe. (Fort Hamilton, Fort Hamilton Parkway)
…faked being a nobleman. General William Alexander, who served in the Continental army, pretended to be of noble descent and insisted on being called “Lord Stirling.” (Sterling Place and Alexander JHS, both in Park Slope)