Ocean Parkway Malls

Ocean Parkway

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

In 1866, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux conceived of a network of wide, tree-lined avenues that would cut across the grid of Brooklyn and link its open spaces. Modeled after the Avenue de L’Impératrice (now the Avenue Foch) in Paris, Olmsted and Vaux’s new roads differed from their French predecessors in that they stretched for several miles. They were intended to provide sumptuous green corridors along which citizens could live and take pleasure drives. Two of them were built along Olmsted and Vaux’s newly designed Prospect Park: Eastern Parkway, running from Prospect Park to Crown Heights, and Ocean Parkway, connecting Prospect Park to Coney Island.

Only Ocean Parkway was built quite the way Olmsted and Vaux envisioned. (Eastern Parkway stopped short of its intended terminus.) Five and a half miles long, it stretches from Prospect Park to Brooklyn’s beaches at Coney Island. The parkway is divided according to function. The center lane is only for private vehicles, and was intended for pleasure driving, originally for horse-drawn carriages. It is flanked by two greenswards, planted with trees and grass, which lend the road a park-like atmosphere and provide a place for pedestrians to stroll. Outside the greenswards are service roads for local and commercial traffic.

The City of Brooklyn acquired the land for Ocean Parkway in 1868. When the Parkway was built, between 1874 and 1876, it started at Park Circle, which is now known as Police Officer Robert Machate Circle, at the southern entrance of Prospect Park. The Parkway’s central drive quickly became a popular place for impromptu horse and carriage races; jockeys referred to it as the Ocean Parkway Speedway.

On June 15, 1894, thanks to the efforts of Albert H. Angel, of the Good Roads Association, and other sports enthusiasts, Ocean Parkway became the home of the country’s first bike path. More than 60 “wheelman clubs” from the New York and New Jersey area, as well as bicycle police, were on hand for the opening ceremony. Since racing was still a concern, cyclists were limited to speeds of 12 miles per hour on the bike path and 10 miles per hour on the parkway. Until 1908, there were several tracks for horse racing along the parkway, but these disappeared once open betting was banned. Equestrian culture on Ocean Parkway came to an end when the bridle path on the eastern roadway was removed during restoration in the 1970s.

In the 1950s, Ocean Parkway’s northernmost section was replaced with the Prospect Expressway. To prevent any further compromise of the historic design, in 1975 the city designated Ocean Parkway as a scenic landmark. A major federally funded restoration, as well as new noncommercial zoning restrictions, followed. Today, Ocean Parkway remains the magnificent thoroughfare that Olmsted and Vaux envisioned.

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