Fixing Fort Greene Park
Recognizing Brooklyn’s Role In American History
Fort Greene Park is one of the jewels of Brooklyn, and it played an interesting role in the history of the city—and the country. For starters, it’s the borough’s oldest green space, its 30 acres secured in 1847, decades before Brooklyn would become a part of the city, and dubbed Washington Park. It was a pet project of Brooklyn Eagle editor Walt Whitman, who fought hard for years for the land to be set aside. In 1867, Olmsted and Vaux were hired to redesign the space—the same year that their Propsect Park opened to the public and six years before their design for Central Park would be completed. Thirty years after their commission, Washington Park was renamed Fort Greene Park after the former Revolutionary War citadel.
Olmsted and Vaux’s design featured a Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument, honoring the thousands of prisoners who perished on British boats during the war for independence—more Americans than died in combat. The bodies were quickly buried or dumped overboard when the war ended, and skulls and other body parts blanketed the shore at Wallabout Bay, “as thick as pumpkins in an autumn cornfield,” wrote one historian; eventually “twenty hogshead full of these bones had been collected,” according to the Wallabout Committee’s 1808 Account of the Interment of the Remains. They would eventually be placed in 13 oversized coffins in a crypt in the park beneath a small monument.
It wouldn’t stay small for long. The modern park’s most distinctive feature was built in the early 20th century, when the prominent architectural firm McKim, Mead and White designed the grand staircase that leads to the plaza at the park’s highest point, where a 149-foot Doric column replaced Olmsted and Vaux’s modest marker. President Taft presided over the 1908 dedication.
Over the subsequent 100 years, advocates say, the striking tribute has been vandalized and ignored, used more for skateboarding than reflection. Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic congressmember who represents a peculiar staple-shaped swath of Brooklyn and Queens, including Fort Greene, hopes to bring new attention to it: he’s introduced a bill (at the time of this writing) into the House of Representatives to require the National Parks Service to study the site’s historical significance—the first step on the way to becoming a National Monument. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand will introduce it into the Senate.
New York City is home to nine National Monuments, from the Statue of Liberty to the African Burial Ground Monument. But they’re all in Manhattan; the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument would be the first in Brooklyn, or any outerborough for that matter, at long last acknowledging that the rest of the city also played significant parts in America’s past. – Henry Stewart
Bring GMO-Labeling to Brooklyn
New York State’s Fight for an Important Law
We all know by now the importance of eating whole foods and avoiding anything containing ingredients that we can’t pronounce, right? (We do all know that by now, right?!) But just because we can pick up a loaf of bread in the grocery store and check for sodium stearoyl lactate or calcium propionate, doesn’t mean there’s total transparency—not even close. The real secret ingredients lurk where you’d least expect them, in places like an ear of corn or head of cauliflower; the real secret ingredients are genetically modified foods (GMOs). In recent years, consumer advocacy groups have been fighting a David and Goliath-esque battle against food giants like Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturing Association in an effort to label clearly all foods that have been genetically engineered. Some states, like Connecticut and Maine, have already passed GMO-labeling bills, but they won’t go into effect until surrounding states join the fight. In May, Vermont passed its own labeling law—one without the trigger clause attached to those in Connecticut and Maine—and there’s now a bipartisan effort in the New York legislature to join in. Many New York advocacy groups (including several that are Brooklyn-based, like the Brooklyn Food Coalition, Brooklyn Food Co-op, East New York Farms, and more) are working now to make sure that the Empire State can be a national leader in food transparency. – Kristin Iversen
Endless Summer Returns!
The Little Food Truck That Could
When news circulated last April that, after a mysterious absence from its usual spot on Bedford Avenue, the Endless Summer taco truck—arguably a major early catalyst for the food truck boom, and inarguably one of the only places in New York turning out a quality vegetarian taco—had been put up for sale on eBay by its longtime owners, our hopes for a comeback weren’t what you’d call high. Sure, someone might buy it, in the same way that restaurant you like might eventually re-open when a sign goes up saying it’s “temporarily closed for renovations.” So imagine our pleasant, borderline ecstatic surprise when we spotted them this winter on a new corner, on Metropolitan Avenue outside Skinny Dennis.
“It was a no-brainer that this needed to come back,” says Teddy Roland, who saw the eBay listing, bought the truck, and left his longtime job as a producer for The Howard Stern Show to put his energy into getting the business back on its feet. “It was a challenge to resurrect this thing,” he says. “The old truck was falling apart, so we had to get a new one built, pump a little adrenaline and bring this baby back to life.” They also had to do a good amount of wrangling after rival taco truck Don Panchito moved into their longtime spot on Bedford and N. 3rd Street, but recently managed to secure a space directly behind it on Bedford, outside of the Metropolitan Pool and Recreation Center. Roland wisely kept the original owners’ menus and recipes intact. “We just wanted to work on consistency, quality, and speed,” he says. “That’s really what our focus is: we want to be fast, but delicious.”
– Virginia K. Smith