This Brooklyn Heights park, aptly named for the sloping space it occupies, is located east of Columbia Heights and south of Vine Street. Acquired by Parks in 1946 and in 1947 during the proceedings for the mapping of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, then known as the Brooklyn-Queens Connecting Highway, this site was not needed for the highway construction itself, so it became parkland.
The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, also known as the BQE, was constructed under the direction of Parks Commissioner Robert Moses between 1946 and 1964 at a cost of $137 million. It links the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens between the Brooklyn Plaza of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and Grand Central Parkway near the Triborough Bridge. Built to relieve congestion on local streets and to aid industry and business by shortening transportation time between the boroughs, the BQE received Federal, state and city funds. The six-lane highway, extending 11.7 miles, included creatively designed overhead arches, playgrounds and parks, and a landscaped esplanade. After repeated reconstruction projects in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, the BQE will receive a $240-million, 4-year rehabilitation from the New York State Department of Transportation, scheduled to be completed in 2004.
Over the years, there have been many development proposals for this site. Plans to build baseball fields and tennis courts were thwarted because of the site’s unusual topography while commercial proposals were rejected because of the lack of other usable recreational space for the community. In 1976, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society unsuccessfully proposed to lease the site for parking space. At the same time, Parks received a proposal from the Green Guerillas of Brooklyn Heights, who wanted to use the site to develop an experimental nursery. Although this idea seemed promising, it never materialized. Community members now use Hillside Park to run their dogs, garden, relax and socialize.
Originally inhabited by the Canarsee Indians, Brooklyn Heights was developed into farmland when the Dutch arrived in the 1630s. Until the second decade of the nineteenth century, development was fairly sparse and was limited to frame and simple brick buildings. Brownstones and more substantial brick buildings were added in the 1830s and 1840s. Since the completion of the Esplanade in 1950, residents and visitors alike have enjoyed the stunning views of the Manhattan skyline, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the New York Harbor.
Brooklyn Heights is widely known for the cultural institutions that began here, including the Brooklyn Historical Society and the Brooklyn Philharmonic. This area is home to many famous artists and writers. Playing host to an art show twice a year, the neighborhood also holds summer concerts on the Promenade overlooking Manhattan.