Prospect Expressway

8.209 acres

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

Prospect Expressway was constructed under the supervision of Robert Moses (1888-1981), New York City’s Parks Commissioner from 1934-60 and chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority from 1934-68. The city acquired the land for the 2.3-mile expressway in a series of condemnations. The expressway was built between 1953 and 1962 to link central Brooklyn with I-278 and the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. Extending southwest from the Gowanus Expressway at Third Avenue, Prospect Expressway runs between Prospect Park and Green-Wood Cemetery, and ends at the intersection of Fort Hamilton and Ocean Parkways.

Prospect Expressway is named after Prospect Park, which sits to the east of the expressway. Prospect Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) and Calvert Vaux (1824-1895), the landscape architects who had previously designed Manhattan’s Central Park. Many consider Prospect Park the famed designers’ greatest park, and one of the best urban parks in the world. The name comes from Mount Prospect, a hill that figured prominently in early proposals for the park, but was ironically left out of the final plan. One of the original advocates for building a large park in Brooklyn was James S.T. Stranahan (1808-1898), a businessman and public official with extraordinary foresight. In addition to supporting Prospect Park, he pushed hard for the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge in the 1870s and 1880s, as well as the consolidation of New York City in 1898. Parcels of land were bought by the City of Brooklyn for the new park throughout the 1860s, eventually totaling 526 acres, Prospect Park’s current size. After the Civil War ended in 1865, Stranahan, who was president of the Prospect Park Association, recommended that Vaux make some sketches for the park. Vaux summoned his partner Olmsted, and in 1866 the two set about transforming the site.

Prospect Park opened to the public in 1867, and by 1871, most of the park’s current features were completed. Olmsted and Vaux not only designed the park but also conceived of how it would fit into the urban landscape. The entrance they planned is large and formal Grand Army Plaza. They also suggested a series of wide tree-lined boulevards called parkways to connect the park to the seashore, other parts of New York City, and Long Island. A proposed “shaded pleasure drive” would allow carriage drivers to skirt the developed parts of Brooklyn, reach the shore at Ravenswood, cross the East River on a bridge or ferry, and drive on into Central Park, allowing for a day of continuous driving through parks and parkways. In the end, only Ocean and Eastern Parkways were built, leaving the network Olmsted and Vaux envisioned just a dream.

On the western side of Prospect Expressway sits Green-Wood Cemetery, which was commissioned in 1838 to be the first nonsectarian cemetery in Brooklyn. The body of De Witt Clinton (1769-1828), who served stints as Governor of New York State and Mayor of New York City was moved from Albany to Green-Wood in 1844. Soon after, the cemetery became not only a fashionable place for wealthy and famous to be buried, but also a tourist attraction. The cemetery’s striking Victorian gatehouses and shelters, contemplative winding paths, reflecting lakes, and the majestic view of New York Harbor drew thousands onto the grounds for walks and picnics. It is the resting place of many famous New Yorkers, including political leaders Henry George (1839-1897), William M. “Boss” Tweed (1823-1878), and Seth Lowe (1850-1916), jeweler Louis Tiffany (1848-1933), newspaper publisher Horace Greeley (1811-1872), and composer Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990). Until Prospect Park opened, the cemetery remained the largest open space in Brooklyn, covering 478 acres and containing 550,000 interments and monuments.

Since the Prospect Expressway was completed, there have been several recommendations to extend the expressway. In 1963, Robert Moses proposed a 4.2-mile, $10.5 million project to extend Prospect Expressway by turning Ocean Parkway into an expressway, which would have extended from Prospect Park to Coney Island. In 1966, the Tri-State Transportation Commission recommended extending it along Flatbush Avenue to the Marine Parkway Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge. Both were slated for completion in 1975, but the proposals came at a time when the desirability of highways was being reconsidered, and neither plan was approved.

Wednesday, Mar 07, 2001

Was this information helpful?