Ah, the Wollman Rink, commonly referred to as Prospect Park's "eyesore," usually after a contemptuous reference to Robert Moses, who installed the dismal building in 1960. Those diamond-shaped thingies croak out a faint echo of low-slung Sixties pavilion architecture, but there's really just one good excuse for this blot on the lakeside: outdoor ice skating. The key is to look up and out at the lovely surrounding woods and sky (a good tip for not tripping over your toe picks anyway).
Despite eagerly anticipated plans for its demolition and replacement with an ambitious new "green-roofed" skating center, the rink will survive for at least one more year. It is slated to re-open on Thanksgiving Day, and today the unsightly machinery (in plain sight, alas) was chugging and steam-puffing in preparation, while bundled-up parks workers groomed the ice with brooms. I wonder if the new rink will fall into limbo in "today's harsh economic climate"? (That's my new all-purpose excuse. "Sorry, can't make waffles, not in today's harsh economic climate." "Laundry? Not amid the current economic uncertainty!")
What was here before the eyesore? One of the loveliest and most quixotic parts of the park's original design: the Music Island and Concert Grove. The musicians would perform concerts on a small man-made island off the shore, and audiences would gather in the grove.
The idea was romantic but impractical, and poor acoustics over the water eventually prompted the concerts to be moved to the Music Pavilion near the Nethermead. But for decades, huge crowds turned out (including swells like these gents circa 1890) and horse-drawn carriages thronged the drives, for programs by "the Twenty-third Regiment Band, under the leadership of Mr. L. Conterno." In August of 1872, the Brooklyn Eagle reported,
"The Grand March composed by Mr. Conterno and dedicated to Prospect Park elicited the warmest applause of the listeners. Some of the passages are martial in the extreme, and sound as if meant for the leading strains of an army. J.R. Thomas's pleasant little ballad "Happy be thy Dreams" was cleverly handled, and coming as it did after the grand march, gave some conception of the compass of the band."
Today, if you mosey along the periphery of the rink's chain-link fence, you can trace the reed-choked outline of the original shore, over which the martial strains once wafted. The masonry wall along the water lies in chunks.
The sign on this poor lamp seems curiously apropos. Yet the Concert Grove (if you turn your back to the Eyesore) retains the outlines of its formal beauty (making it beloved, as we have seen, by photographers on Asian Bride Mondays.)
It may take awhile before the Grove gets restored to elegance and crowned with a 21st-Century skating palace. Meanwhile, time to get my skates sharpened.
Archival images: Prospect Park Archives
BONUS E-BAY ARCHIVEY GOODNESS
I am on the wagon, E-bay-wise, in Today's Economic Climate, but you go ahead and bid here on this nifty image (a photo, not a postcard) of a lady in a delicious bit of millinery, standing, oh, about the second tree back in the picture above, behind Lincoln, who gazes out at the rink-less lakeside.