Herbert Von King Park

Herbert Von King Park

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

What was here before?

This site was once part of Tunis Johnson’s (1838-1912) estate. He was one of the largest landowners in Kings County and the grandson of the third Mayor of Brooklyn, General Jeremiah Johnson (1766-1852).

How did this site become a park?

Acquired in 1857 by condemnation, this park was one of the first established by the City of Brooklyn. It was originally named for Daniel D. Tompkins, an abolitionist who served four terms as governor of New York (1807-17) and two terms as vice president of the United States under James Monroe (1817-25). It was not until 1871, however, that the plan for the park was submitted by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, the designers of Prospect and Central Parks. Like most small parks of the time, Tompkins Park was planned as a public square used for ceremonies and military reviews. The designers provided for little more than border plantings of flowers and shrubs, claiming that trees and winding walks would result in the park being used, “for clandestine purposes by people of bad character.” 

Historical additions to the park reflect changing uses of the site. Space was cleared in 1915 to accommodate the large crowds who turned out for concerts performed by regimental bands.  A playground was built in 1927, and a public library that dates to 1915 was housed in the shelter building until it burned down in 1969. The group Tompkins Park Recreation and Cultural Association formed in the same year and mobilized to improve park facilities. Their efforts led to the 1973 opening of a new recreation center which houses the amphitheater, senior citizen and teen center, and an auditorium named after famed 20th century African American composer and musician of ragtime and jazz music, Eubie Blake. In the auditorium, a mural by artist Akwesi M. Asante depicts 50 African American icons, including Fredrick Douglas, Mayor David Dinkins, and the Jackson Five.

In 2011, the amphitheater was named in honor of Almira Kennedy Coursey (1914-1996), a lifelong educator and local resident who promoted the park’s transformation from a passive town square into a bustling center of activity in the heart of the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood.

Who is this park named for?

This park is named for Herbert Von King (1912-1985). King was called the “Mayor of Bedford-Stuyvesant,” and was an active community leader for over 50 years. After completing high school, the Virginia native attended New York University and Kingsborough Community College. He founded Boy Scout Troop 219 in 1933, and later received scouting’s highest honor, the Vigil Honor.  Von King, a private building contractor by profession, served as a member of the local school board, Police Civilian Committee, and the Magnolia Earth Tree Center. In 1983, he received awards from the State Senate, City Council, and 81st police precinct in recognition of his community service.

Directions to Herbert Von King Park

Know Before You Go

Recreation CentersHerbert Von King Cultural Arts Center

Effective April 11, 2015, the Herbert Von King Cultural Arts Center will be closed until renovations are complete. Track our progress

  • Herbert Von King Park
  • Herbert Von King Park
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