Sunday, January 15, 2012

'The New York TImes' Lovingly Profiles Brooklyn Heights Promenade

The New York Times offered a beautiful profile of the beloved Brooklyn Heights Promenade in its "Streetscapes" section last week, discussing its inspiration, execution and legacy.

The piece begins: "Of all our New York highways, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway under Brooklyn Heights is perhaps the most daring and ingenious, a cantilevered structure narrowly threaded between waterfront warehouses and mansions high above, creating one of New York’s great parks, the Brooklyn Heights Promenade."

The story explains the makings of the double-decker throughway, which was proposed in 1940 by NYC highway architect Robert Moses as part of a $65 million roads program—including a crosstown highway originally directed through the very heart of the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood.

There had been talk since the early 20th century of creating a bluff-side park with views of New York Bay. In 1903 The New York Times reported on a $1 million proposal for "hanging gardens" behind the houses on the bluff, with "winding paths, stretches of green lawn" and nighttime band concerts "to delight with music the crowds who come in the evening when the moon is shining."

The homeowners of the 1940s, however, fought the potential roadway and park, saying they would "lose privacy with the public traipsing back and forth along what had been their backyards," while decrying the "nightmare of promenaders peering into windows of homes and hoodlums shouting unseemly language." Well, shit!

However, construction began anyway in 1946, thankfully preserving the center of the nabe, and opened four years later to great fanfare. John Cashmore, borough president, predicted the road-top park would soon be as popular with Brooklyn residents as the Coney Island boardwalk. In a 1953 column in The New York Eagle, Jeanne Toomey recommended the Promenade at night, when "the faint, dim lights of the Brooklyn Bridge encourage poetry. The ferryboats look like Mississippi showboats." Likewise, in a 1953 column in The New Yorker, Lewis Mumford praised the "cheerful glimpses of domestic felicity."

Today, "the view is indeed spectacular, quite different from the comparable views from Riverside Park, the FDR Drive and the Belt Parkway," the Times piece offers. "The Promenade is of a higher elevation, and you can see over a broad sweep of water with multiple, complicated channels, and busy with water traffic. Across the bay, New Jersey fills the horizon for miles."

Last month, the New York State Department of Transportation thankfully decided to end studies for a $354 million restoration of the entire expressway, including the portion that supports the promenade, instead undertaking repairs on an "as-needed-this-instant" basis... Read the full piece from the January 12, 2012 New York Times here. *