The Parade Grounds of Prospect Park have served as an integral part of the Brooklyn community since the mid-19th century. In 1868 the southern Parade Grounds were set aside from the City’s original purchase as a public area for Civil War veterans of New York’s First Division of the Union Army and New York Coast Guard to conduct military exercises away from Prospect Park’s tranquil interior.
Called “one of the most popular resorts in the country” in a Parks Annual Report of that era, Prospect Park was built in an era of rapid expansion, as Brooklyn residents demanded more space for recreation and repose. In 1859, the New York State Legislature, at the request of the City of Brooklyn, authorized the City to select sites for future public parks. Included among the sites selected for park development was an area of lush farmland labeled Mount Prospect Park (later renamed Prospect Park).
A design was drawn up by Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903) and Calvert Vaux (1824–1895), who came to consider their plan for Prospect Park to be a greater achievement than their previous collaborative effort, Manhattan’s Central Park. Though the outbreak of the Civil War (1861-1865) and the economic recession of 1873 hindered its construction and development, Prospect Park was eventually completed in 1885.
Throughout the late 1880s and 1890s, when unoccupied by the military, the lengthy Parade Grounds field often hosted archery practice, lawn bowling games, and cricket matches. In later years the Parade Grounds would also hold public lacrosse, baseball, football, and soccer games. When Caton Avenue underwent construction in 1926, the City added a small triangular section of its unused land to the grounds. By the late 1930s the Parade Grounds’ baseball diamonds attracted an average crowd of 20,000 daily spectators to watch soon-to-be-discovered baseball players, such as Dodger Sandy Koufax. In the 1950s Parks added a new recreation building to the Parade Grounds. In addition to housing Parks Department offices, a comfort station, a concession area, and several indoor tennis courts, Brooklyn’s 74th Police Precinct also shared the site.
In July 2001 Brooklyn Borough President Howard K. Golden allocated $10.3 million for the renovation and upgrading of Prospect Park’s Parade Grounds, located at the intersection of Coney Island Avenue, Caton Avenue, Parade Place, and Parkside Avenue. The renovation, scheduled for completion in 2004, will include four baseball fields, two soccer fields, a multi-purpose field, a set of basketball courts, and two football fields with state-of-the-art artificial turf.