Endless possibilities for last undeveloped piece of Brooklyn Bridge Park

Ice skating? Mulled wine? A winter petting zoo?

May 17, 2018 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The last undeveloped piece of Brooklyn Bridge Park is situated beneath the Brooklyn Bridge. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
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Call it Emily’s Esplanade.

Or Emily’s Garden.

Residents of DUMBO and Fulton Ferry Landing say the last undeveloped site in Brooklyn Bridge Park should be named to honor Emily Roebling.

The Brooklyn Bridge couldn’t have been built without her.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

She supervised its construction after her husband Washington Roebling, who was the mighty span’s chief engineer, was crippled by caisson disease and confined to their house at 110 Columbia Heights.

While her husband watched bridge workers through a telescope from the window of their Brooklyn Heights home, Emily Roebling served as his liaison to master mechanic Frank Farrington, dealt with business issues and calmed ornery politicians.  

Wednesday night, at a community engagement workshop to generate design ideas for a vacant Brooklyn Bridge Park site beneath the famous bridge, neighborhood residents recommended various ways to honor Emily Roebling.

Doreen Gallo of the DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance coined the name Emily’s Esplanade.

It would replace the name park officials have been using for the site, which is Brooklyn Bridge Park Plaza.

Graphic designer Keith Godard brought along a maquette he made for a 7- or 8-foot-tall COR-TEN steel statue of Emily Roebling that he’d like to build for the plaza.

After the workshop, Godard told the Brooklyn Eagle it’s high time a statue was made for her instead of the men in her family.

“The boys always get the recognition,” Godard said, meaning John and Washington Roebling.  

Keith Godard thinks there should be a sculpture of Emily Roebling in Brooklyn Bridge Park's new plaza. This is a maquette of his proposed design. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan 

How About Some Hygge?  

Many workshop participants called for an ice-skating rink for this under-the-bridge section of the park.

Some people opposed ice skating at the site.

One group of workshop participants recommended that winter activities at the site be based on the Danish concept of hygge, which means cozy, comfortable conviviality.

They suggested campfires and heated outdoor areas. Mulled wine would be served. And how about an ice castle?

Another group’s suggestions for winter activities included a petting zoo with cold-weather animals, ice fishing with artist-designed ice-fishing shanties and sleigh rides.

An Approximately $9 Million Project

When it’s built out, the undeveloped site will serve as a connector between the north and south portions of the park.

For now, the fenced-in site at 11 Water St. is vacant. The landmarked Purchase Building stood there until its demolition a decade ago.

Brooklyn Bridge Park’s goal is to break ground next summer on the site under the bridge and complete its buildout in 2020, Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp. spokeswoman Sarah Krauss told the Eagle.

Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp. has raised about half the money for the approximately $9 million project and has asked local elected officials for the rest.

Krauss told the Eagle that Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp. will pay attention to workshop findings.

“Community feedback is very important and is one of many considerations that will be taken into account as we work to finalize the design,” she said.


A $20,000 Fee for Pratt Institute

One hundred twenty people signed up for the design workshop, which was held at Dock Street School in DUMBO. David Burney, director of the Pratt Institute’s Urban Placemaking and Management program, led Wednesday’s workshop.

Burney told the Eagle that by the end of June, he’ll present a report detailing the residents’ design ideas to Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp.

Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates will design this unfinished section of the park. The firm created the park’s master plan.

Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp. and the Brooklyn Bridge Park Community Advisory Council hired Pratt Institute to run the workshop.

The advisory council raised $10,000 to pay Pratt and Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp. contributed $10,000, Katrin Adam told the Eagle.

She’s the co-chairwoman of the advisory council’s design committee and a board member of the Fulton Ferry Landing Association.

Workshop attendees (from left) Clement Price-Thomas, David Lowin, Lucy Wilner and Doreen Gallo brainstorm about the last vacant piece of Brooklyn Bridge Park. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

How About a Butterfly Garden?

Based on input from members of the design committee and the neighborhood association, Adam drew up a design proposal showing a peaceful green space that would be an oasis in the middle of the otherwise heavily programmed park.

Her design includes a rose garden, a spot for the Emily Roebling sculpture and an open-air performance space with room for around 200 people. It also has a zigzagging brick wall along Water Street with several pedestrian entrances cut into it.

“We want contemplative, relaxing, informative and seasonal continuous use on this site,” said Adam, who’s an architect.

“It should be supportive to birds, insects, human spirituality, our connection to nature — and natural drainage because this is in a flood zone.”

Another Fulton Ferry Landing Association board member, Lucy Wilner, suggested a butterfly garden be created at the site.

Christabel Gough of the Society for the Architecture of the City said the new section of the park should be a serene spot and there was no need to create lots of activities for visitors.

“It sounds like kindergarten — like we’ve all got to get organized,” Gough said. “Why can’t we relax?”


RIP Purchase Building

And now, some details concerning the controversy surrounding the 2008 demolition of the Purchase Building.

The distinctive two-story brick and concrete warehouse was built with Depression-era Works Progress Administration money in 1936.

The city Office of Emergency Management used the Purchase Building as its temporary headquarters after its office at the World Trade Center was destroyed on 9/11.

For years, there was debate about whether the Purchase Building, which was located within the boundaries of the Fulton Ferry Historic District, should be torn down.

In 2001, then-City Parks Commissioner Henry Stern called the Purchase Building “a physical and visual obstruction to the realization of Brooklyn Bridge Park, because it is perpendicular to the waterfront,” The New York Times reported.

Preservationists argued that the building should be protected from the wrecking ball because its design was a historically significant transition between Art Deco and Modernism. Some neighborhood residents thought the shoreline-facing portion of the building should be demolished to open up a view corridor and the rest of it should be preserved.  

The city Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the Purchase Building’s demolition in 2006.

This 2005 photo shows the now-demolished Purchase Building, which stood on what is now the undeveloped Brooklyn Bridge Park site. Eagle file photo by Don Evans  

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