Mar 4, 2014
The Lakeside Center: Unpaving Prospect Park
Prospect Park’s Long-Awaited Skating Rink
New York’s imperious former parks commissioner Robert Moses didn’t care much about preserving history, so when he built an ice skating rink in Prospect Park in the early 60s—confusingly named Wollman, also the name of the skating rink in Central Park, with funds donated for both by the eponymous financier family—he built part of it right on top of Music Island. Park architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux had envisioned that small island in the Lake as a place where ensembles could perform for passersby on shore. Only problem was the sound didn’t quite carry, and over the subsequent several decades of disuse, the island fell into disrepair. Why preserve what you could just pave over?
So much urban redevelopment is now about undoing what Moses did, so when the Prospect Park Alliance raised $74 million to rebuild the skating rink, it also planned to restore Olmsted and Vaux’s original vision for the park, excavating five acres of Music Island and returning it to its natural glory, sans bandstand, along with part of the original esplanade plus new walkways and picnic areas. The LeFrak Center, which opened in late December, has been unobtrusively constructed nearby, carefully designed so that most of it seems to fit in with the park’s natural landscape—a concern with which Moses would never have bothered. Its two rinks mean parkgoers can still strap on a pair of ice skates in winter but also a pair of roller skates in warmer weather; there’s also a new cafe and new viewing terraces, all combining to make for an addition to our borough’s crown jewel that we can be proud to leave to future generations. One Moses mistake undone, a million more to go.
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