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NYC Parks and The Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge

When it opened in 1964, the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, which connects Brooklyn and Staten Island, became a monumental gateway into the New York Harbor.

Verrazano Bridge rendering
The view of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge from the Fourth Avenue and Shore Road entrance to Shore Park and Parkway

Towering 693 feet above the bay, the Verrazzano Bridge (as it is commonly called) helped transform southern Brooklyn parks and Staten Island's beach end into destination New York vistas.

History of the Bridge

Staten Island Ferry
Archival image of the Staten Island Ferry near the Whitehall Street pier in Manhattan. (Photo courtesy of the NYC DOT)

Prior to the bridge’s opening on November 21, 1964, ferries were the only means of travel between Staten Island (St. George), Manhattan (at Whitehall Street), and Brooklyn (at the 69th Street Pier, now the American Veterans Memorial Pier).

When New York City consolidated the five counties in 1898, a solution that allowed for faster and easier travel that was not hindered by weather conditions, and a need for an easier way to link the city’s expressways, prompted talks for a bridge that would connect Brooklyn and Staten Island.

Aerial view of the Verrazano Bridge
Aerial view of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge between Staten Island (left) and Brooklyn (right). (NYC Parks Archive)

When Robert Moses (who was also the Parks Commissioner) became chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority in 1934, he pushed for building a bridge between Fort Hamilton army base in Brooklyn and Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island. Financially, this location made the most sense for building a cost-effective bridge because it is the narrowest part of the New York Bay (also known as The Narrows). Additionally, the bridge's construction would add to the city's vision for creating a connected network of highways by using the bridge to merge the newer sections of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, to the Staten Island Expressway, which opened in 1964, and the Belt Parkway, which was completed in 1960.

Aerial view of the Verrazano Bridge
Workers attaching a catwalk rope to the Staten Island tower beams, December 19, 1962. (Photo courtesy of MTA Bridges and Tunnels Special)

Moreover, the new bridge would add to the real estate of coastal parklands, old and recently acquired, that Moses included in his vision for the Belt Parkway. Waterfront parks like Owl's Head ParkBensonhurst Park, Dreir Offerman Park (now Calvert Vaux Park), John Paul Jones Park, and Shore Park and Parkway, as well as Dyker Beach Park, Leif Ericson Park, and John J. Carty, became newly redeveloped destinations for the booming Bay Ridge population and new visitors coming to the Brooklyn area using the new expressways. Connecting Brooklyn to Staten Island would spike vistorship to Staten Island's recently restored beaches and Coney Island's new and extended boardwalk to Brighton Beach

Robert Moses at the opening ceremony for the bridge
The opening-day motorcade from Brooklyn to Staten Island following the ribbon-cutting.(Photo courtesy of MTA Bridges and Tunnels Special Archive)

On the bridge's opening day, about 500 cars crossed the bridge within the first hour (mostly from the Staten Island end). In 24 hours, about 10,000 crossed the 13,700 foot-span of the bridge. Today, the bridge averages nearly 200,000 in daily traffic. 

According to the New York Times, when the bridge officially opened to traffic at about 3 p.m. George Scarpelli, a 22-year-old employee of the Parks Department, who drove a pale blue Cadillac convertible  packed with friends in tuxedos, was the first to cross the bridge and pay the 50-cent toll.

View of the Verrazano Bridge from Shore Road Park
A view of the Verrazzano Bridge from Coney Island Beach. (Photo by Daniel Avila/NYC Parks)

Where to See the Bridge

Today, the bridge's iconic battleship-gray, 693-foot-tall towers, which makes the bridge the second tallest in the world, can be seen as far north as the Brooklyn Promenade and as far east as Coney Island Beach and Board Boardwalk, providing stunning views for our parklands.

View of the Verrazano Bridge from South Beach
A view of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, looking south, from Shore Park and Parkway. (Photo by Daniel Avila/NYC Parks)

Shore Park and Parkway is perhaps one of Bay Ridge's best kept secrets. Locals meet up at the 69th Street Pier to go fishing or have lunch and couples walk hand in hand come sunset along promenade's views of Fort Hamilton Army Base, Fort Wadsworth, Coney Island, and One World Trade Center. The Parkway is a favorite among runners and residents looking to relax and watch some of the world's largest ships pass by, and it is not unusual to spot cars pulling over from the Belt Parkway to the resting areas, just to snap the breath-taking views of The Narrows.

John Paul Jones Park
A view of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge from John Paul Jones Park. (Photo by Daniel Avila/NYC Parks)

John Paul Jones Park, just off the parkway, at Shore Road and Fourth Avenue is perhaps the most romantic park in the area. Come June, the park's leafy grassland and peek-a-boo backdrops of the bridge and bay is often packed with couples and their wedding parties taking official wedding photos. 

View of the Verrazano Bridge from South Beach
A view of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, looking north, from the South Beach Boardwalk in Staten Island. (Photo by Daniel Avila/NYC Parks)

On Staten Island, the towers truly define New York City's urbanscape. The towers, which are each nearly the size of a 70-story building, loom over the wide expanse of beaches along the east end, adding an urban twist to the natural setting. Take a walk along the boardwalk or flop down at South Beach, Midland Beach, or Cedar Grove Beach to enjoy the view. 

View of the Verrazano Bridge from South Beach
An early rendering of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. (NYC Parks Archive)

In honor of the 50th anniversary, NYC Parks installed a re-cast of a sculpture of Giovanni da Verrazzano, whom the bridge was named for, at John J. Carty Park. The original sculpture, which was placed on the Verrazano Memorial Flagstaff in 1964 went missing in the 1980s. 

The Verrazzano name wasn't a favorite among many New Yorkers. Some believed the story of Giovanni da Verrazzano, who in 1524 was the first European explorer to sail into the New York Harbor, was not accurate and that Henry Hudson rightly deserved the credit for first entering the New York Harbor. Staten Islanders preferred the bridge being named the Staten Island Bridge or Narrows Bridge, but with a push from the Italian Historical Society of America, Governor Nelson Rockefeller ended all disputes over the bridge’s name and signed a legislation making Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge the official name but on March 9, 1960.

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