Green Spaces and Moody Places

Survey title page, 1934. Praeger Department of Parks survey and photographs, V1974.3, Box 1. Brooklyn Historical Society.

Survey title page, 1934. Praeger Department of Parks survey and photographs, V1974.3, Box 1. Brooklyn Historical Society.

This week I worked on the Praeger Department of Parks survey and photographs, and it has definitely found its way onto my list of favorite collections. In 1934, Mayor LaGuardia created a new city-wide Department of Parks, bringing the boroughs’ independent parks departments together under one agency directed by Robert Moses. One of the first tasks of the new Department of Parks was a survey of every park, playground, and gore in New York City, to assess the construction and development needs of the different spaces. For this survey, Emil Praeger, the chief engineer for the department, created architectural drawings, descriptions, and photographs for every park that the city owned.

Thanks to Praeger’s thorough work, the collection has hundreds of photographs of parks in all five NYC boroughs. But these images may not be what you expect when you think of parks, and perhaps that’s why they caught my attention. Some playgrounds are little more than empty plots of land, such as “Unnamed Playground 10” below. Today it’s the Crispus Attucks Playground in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

UNNAMED PLAYGROUND NO. 10/ Fulton St. and Classon Avenue, 1934. Praeger Department of Parks survey and photographs, V1974.3.210. Brooklyn Historical Society

Unnamed Playground No. 10, Fulton St. and Classon Avenue, 1934. Praeger Department of Parks survey and photographs, V1974.3.210. Brooklyn Historical Society

Like the unnamed playgrounds, many of the parks surveyed are simple spaces awaiting a better future. Praeger’s survey and funding from the Works Progress Administration helped to implement the improvements and features that made these areas into the parks we know today.

Gravesend Park, between 18th Avenue and 19th Avenue, from 55th Street to 58th Street, 1934. Praeger Department of Parks survey and photographs, V1974.3.81.

Gravesend Park, between 18th Avenue and 19th Avenue, from 55th Street to 58th Street, 1934. Praeger Department of Parks survey and photographs, V1974.3.81.

Men in Dyker Beach Park, 1934. Praeger Department of Parks survey and photographs, V1974.3.52. Brooklyn Historical Society.

Men in Dyker Beach Park, 1934. Praeger Department of Parks survey and photographs, V1974.3.52. Brooklyn Historical Society.McCarren Park, 1934. Praeger Department of Parks survey and photographs, V1974.3.124. Brooklyn Historical Society.

McCarren Park, 1934. Praeger Department of Parks survey and photographs, V1974.3.124. Brooklyn Historical Society.

McCarren Park, 1934. Praeger Department of Parks survey and photographs, V1974.3.124. Brooklyn Historical Society.

Many of the images show empty parks and playgrounds, I suspect because of the time of day or season in which the photographs were taken. After going through dozens of photographs of deserted benches and lonely swing-sets, I could really feel the silence in these places.

Fort Sterling Park, at Columbia Heights and Furman Street, 1934. Praeger Department of Parks survey and photographs, V1974.3.72. Brooklyn Historical Society.

Fort Stirling Park, at Columbia Heights and Furman Street, 1934. Praeger Department of Parks survey and photographs, V1974.3.72. Brooklyn Historical Society.

Irving Square Park, from Knickerbocker Avenue to Wilson Avenue, between Weirfield Street and Halsey Street, 1934. Praeger Department of Parks survey and photographs, V1974.3.104. Brooklyn Historical Society.

Irving Square Park, from Knickerbocker Avenue to Wilson Avenue, between Weirfield Street and Halsey Street, 1934. Praeger Department of Parks survey and photographs, V1974.3.104. Brooklyn Historical Society.

And yet, there’s also something special about finding a quiet, empty spot in the middle of the city. Mr. Praeger may have had his fill of that solitude come 1935.

Fort Greene Park, including the Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument, 1934. Praeger Department of Parks survey and photographs, V1974.3.63. Brooklyn Historical Society.

Fort Greene Park, including the Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument, 1934. Praeger Department of Parks survey and photographs, V1974.3.63. Brooklyn Historical Society.

If you’re looking for more photos of your favorite park’s humble beginnings, Praeger’s Brooklyn parks photographs are available for browsing in the library’s image database.

About Weatherly

I'm an Archives Survey Technician working on the CLIR project at BHS.
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