Howe’s Brooklyn: A century after completion of the Bridge comes origins of Brooklyn Bridge Park
A neighbor who has called the Heights home since 1971 sends along the following observations.
Let us now praise unsung heroes for their superior intelligence, pure hearts and prescient persistence.
Two examples are Otis Pearsall and Scott Hand, who have written an account called “The Origins of Brooklyn Bridge Park, 1986-1988.” Requiring intelligence and persistence of the casual reader, the report documents with painstaking detail and attribution the events leading to the construction of one of the city’s most transformative projects.
The two authors are no strangers to transformative action on behalf of the neighborhood they love and call home. Pearsall is considered the father and driving force of landmarks designation of Brooklyn Heights; indeed, during the 1960s he was the ‘author’ of landmarking and subsequent zoning regulations that makes the Heights so completely unique today. Later in the ’60s Pearsall led the fight to prevent construction of a major meat market on the waterfront between Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. The meat market was an initiative of the Lindsay administration and presented, in its defeat, a major legal victory for the Brooklyn Heights Association.
In the mid-1970s, when Scott Hand was president of the Brooklyn Heights Association, he put the icing on the cake by getting Landmark Designation for Fulton Ferry Landing and Empire Stores warehouses between the Bridges, and persuaded New York State to buy the waterfront land to make Empire State Park (the site where Jane’s Carousel now sits). The protection of waterfront land in what is now taken for granted as another unique neighborhood—DUMBO and the Fulton Landing under Brooklyn Bridge—can be traced directly back to the battles led by Pearsall and Hand.
“The Origins” should be read carefully as an insight into how tenuous the best ideas can be in their infancies. Looking back more than two decades, the report captures a very dramatic conflict between determined waterfront developers and powerful quasi-public agencies versus some of the sharpest legal minds in our great city—who just happened to love their home turf. And they gave so much of their time and talent, unheralded.
But not completely unheralded are they. Otis Pearsall is a Lion of preservation, and when he decides to roar there is usually something wrong in the forest. Naturalists might counter that he is simply marking his turf. However explained, Brooklyn is a more bountiful and livable place because of him. Much of what he continues to do is unknown by the average citizen who benefits from it.
Today, the use and development of Brooklyn Bridge Park can be seen daily from the protected view plane of the beloved Promenade along the Heights, as new phases are completed. And more will come for years.
But such an immense and, yes, transformative, project did have a traceable birth. Many who followed the project passively, and perhaps later supported it actively, might remain unenlightened as to the origins.
Thus, an informed resident who is so fortunate to live near Brooklyn Bridge Park should feel the impetus and necessity of reading the account by Pearsall and Hand. Even a casual visitor who has been struck by the magnitude of the project and wonders, “How?” should read it.
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