Got a sneak peak at the new Lakeside project in Prospect Park...amazing things are happening.
We took a tour with Christian Zimmerman, the Park's vice president for design and construction, through the "What's Out There Weekend" program of a group called The Cultural Landscape Foundation. Few landscapes are as intensely cultural as Prospect Park's, and as Zimmerman led us through the construction fence, I realized that he is as conversant with Messrs. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the park's original mid-19th-century designers, as a steward of Monticello would be with Thomas Jefferson.
The park's founding fathers, especially Olmsted, must have been giving him an earful...because the area we trod yesterday was an egregious desecration of Olmsted's utopian rural vision. Robert Moses, the "Master Builder," literally paved paradise and put up a parking lot...and a pug-ugly early-1960s skating rink.
The site of this desecration was the "Concert Grove," the most formal part of the original park design--an ampitheatre-shaped swath off the East Drive whose shoreline faced a man-made "Music Island," once a site for genteel summer concerts. (More about this delightful folly here.) The first phase of the park's multi-zillion-dollar Lakeside Project has been to demolish the ratty old rink, reclaim the original shoreline, and recreate Music Island, this time as a wildlife habitat. The job is virtually done, and the results are stunning.
Above, a shot of the Concert Grove back in the late 1800s; the statue of Abraham Lincoln still stands there, but thanks to Mr. Moses, Mr. Lincoln spent decades gazing at the Zamboni shed. Here is almost the exact spot today. Our tour group stands above the same wall in the earlier photo; it was buried in sludge for the rink project and, when excavated, needed only some pointing to gird the lake once again. (Lincoln is just out of sight to our left.)
AND NOW...VICTORIAN PUBLIC DECOR PORN!
The massive dig to restore the shoreline revealed no dead mobsters or even guns, said Zimmerman, but it did turn up this fanciful water fountain (circled in red). Yes, the rink-builders just tossed it into the mud. The park folks hope a donor will come forward to restore this treasure, although probably not as a working drinking fountain due to ADA regulations for wheelchair accessibility.
These spectacular bronze urns, which disappeared during the park's decades of hard times, were meticulously replicated from photographs.
The urns sit atop the original stone bases, whose weathered carving is like a glorious 3-D picture book of Victorian ornamentation...
and lush music-themed assemblages, some carved with composers' names.
The closest thing to Olmsted's heart, however, would have to be the restoration of the lake's "natural" contours and the artful use of native plantings. He was a firm believer that the common folk needed to rest their eyes on nature's beauty as a restorative for society's ills.
An adolescent swan and a red-eared turtle already seem to approve. Tomorrow, in Part II of the sneak peak at Lakeside, we'll go inside something that Vaux and Olmsted could never have imagined.