St. Marks Superblock

St. Mark’s Superblock

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

This Crown Heights park is named for nearby St. Mark’s Avenue. St. Mark is believed to have written one of the three synoptic gospels in the Bible. The text is traditionally dated before the 70 C.E. Roman destruction of Jerusalem, and some scholars believe that it is based on St. Peter’s firsthand account of Christ’s life. Co-founder of the first Christian community in Jerusalem, St. Mark also served as the missionary companion to the Roman-Christian convert St. Paul of Tarsus. Legend holds that St. Mark founded the Church at Alexandria, Egypt and that he was martyred in the city’s streets. His feast day is celebrated on April 25. His relics are housed in the Basilico San Marco in Venice.

The first European colonists arrived in Crown Heights in the 1600s. These Dutch farmers brought African slaves and indentured servants who, after gaining their freedom, developed their own communities in nearby Weeksville and Carrville. By the late 19th century, farmland could hardly compete with mansions and limestone row houses springing up around the newly built Eastern Parkway (1868). During the early 20th century, the area began to develop more rapidly with an influx of German, Scandinavian, Irish, and Italian immigrants.

After World War II (1939-1945), the neighborhood’s social dynamic began to change as the earlier immigrants of the European working class began to move to the suburbs. During the 1940s, Crown Heights became home to many Lubavitch Hasidim from the Soviet Union. In the 1960s and 1970s, a new wave of Caribbean immigrants entered the community. Although the 1991 riots prove that tensions have sometimes flared between these two distinct cultural groups, community initiatives such as Project Cure and Unity Day reflect the desire to celebrate diversity and encourage neighborly cooperation in Crown Heights today.

For years, the land between Kingston and Albany Avenues along St. Mark’s Avenue in Crown Heights, enclosed by a five-foot retaining wall, had remained in disrepair. In March 1968, the City made an agreement with the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (founded by U. S. Senators Robert F. Kennedy and Jacob Javitz in 1967 as the first non-profit community development corporation in the United States) to develop and upgrade the land. In 1978, the Department of Transportation (DOT), committed to building a new traffic-free “superblock” on the site, closed the street to all traffic but emergency vehicles and began redesigning the site. During construction, which began with turning the street’s central bed into a mini-park, neighborhood residents feared the completed site might not adequately be maintained in the future. After several years of discussion, the community of Crown Heights and the DOT approached Parks with their concerns about this small patch of DOT-owned land. In 1994, Parks agreed to help maintain the site’s fountain, wading pool, play area, and benches.

In February 2001, Parks announced that it would accept full jurisdiction of the site at the time of its next renovation. Future plans for the park include two rows of cherry trees to be placed at each end of the block, a ten-foot wide concrete sidewalk, and a planting bed where children can learn to maintain a garden. Council Member Annette Robinson and Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden have pledged $1,000,000 to reconstruct the site.

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