Just over one year ago, the Department of Parks and Recreation was in Washington Park on Fifth Avenue to start the renovations. But now, as of Friday, May 11, the playground is open to the public and Park Slope kids are running around in the fountain and through the “water cannon” like no time has passed.
But, the aspect of most importance in this playground is that it is nestled next to the —a historic building that was the site of the Battle of Brooklyn in August 1776 and is now a colonial museum.
The (also known as the Battle of Long Island) was the first mêlée during the American Revolutionary War after the Declaration of Independence was signed. It is also known as the largest battle during the war, which resulted in the independence of the United States of America from the British, with 50,000 troops on both sides.
General George Washington’s Continental Army was surrounded and overwhelmed by British forces, but thanks to 400 Marylanders, commanded by General William Alexander (M.S. 51 was named after him) Washington was able to retreat to Cobble Hill on First Place and “live another day,” as Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz said on Friday.
On Friday, local politicians, Parks Department officials and the executive director of the Old Stone House came together (dressed in Revolutionary War uniforms), between Third and Fourth streets, to cut the ribbon and officially open the new and improved J.J. Byrne Playground.
To see our photo gallery of J.J. Byrne Playground, .
The renovations at the popular playground include new play equipment for toddlers to pre-teens like swings, sprinklers (a “water cannon”), a fountain, monkey bars and more. The design is accentuated by natural stone, grass and “rustic” pavement, which “respects” the Old Stone House.
To give a respectful nod to the site’s history, the local politicians came dressed up as major figures of the Revolutionary War: Councilmember Brad Lander dressed up as General William Alexander, Councilmember Stephen Levin was General John Sullivan, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz dressed up as General Israel Putnam and Park’s Borough Commissioner Kevin Jeffrey was General George Washington.
The project was funded by joint capital allocations by Councilmember Levin who gave $3.255 million, Councilmember Lander donated $1.627 million, Borough President Markowitz gave $500,000, Assemblywoman Joan Millman gave $100,000 and Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave $395,000.
Borough President Markowitz said that although the British captured the Old Stone House and we lost the Battle of Brooklyn, the new playground is a win.
"We received an old Brooklyn beat down here in 1776, but General Alexander, with 400 Marylanders, held off the Red Coats so Washington could retreat to live another day,” Markowitz said. “And if this is not the most used park, I don't know what is. This is the stroller derby capital of Park Slope and this project was an example of government working at its best for families of Brooklyn.”
Levin, under his three-point hat, said that he could not be more proud of the local politicians who made the renovations a reality.
“This park is a testament to hard work and community in Park Slope,” Levin said as fife-and-drum music piped in through speakers. “This country would not be the same without the events that happened at this site and this site is a homage to patriotism.”
The renovations of the playground were the third phase of work being done to Washington Park, which include a new skate park, a synthetic turf ball field and other changes. The fourth phase, which has not yet begun, will include a building at the end of Fourth Street’s cul-de-sac to be used as a community center.
Markowitz said that Kim Maier, the executive director of the Old Stone House, “led the charge of this park” and without her vision, the project could not have been completed.
Maier said that J.J. Byrne Playground is special because of its proximity to the Old Stone House.
“It's great for the kids to share space with a historic place like the Old Stone House. Most historic houses sit by themselves, but here kids can actually play around it and as they get older they will start to ask questions about its past and the answers are all right here,” Maier told Patch after the ceremony. “This is an active historic site, you don't often see this situation.”
Although the officials were happy about their project being completed, the biggest smiles were on the faces of the children as they ran through the water spraying up into the air, swinging high on the swings and climbing on the playground’s equipment.
Maria Martinez, who grew up on Eighth Street, used to bring her 3-year-old daughter to the playground before it closed a year ago.
“I’m so thrilled, when it closed she missed it so much,” Martinez said, while her daughter Samantha ran through the fountain. “But now it’s beautiful, it’s great for the kids and couldn’t be better for the community.”
Richard Ryea, whose 4-year-old daughter was playing with the water pump, said he’s happy the playground is finally open.
“I am the stinky guy who didn’t think we needed a new one,” Ryea said. “But I can’t knock this. It’s beautiful and now there’s a great alternative to Prospect Park.”
Maier said that J.J. Byrne Playground is meant for everyone in the neighborhood to come together, play, relax and hopefully learn more about Park Slope’s history.
“Think of this as the town square of Park Slope,” Maier said. “On May 12, 1883, the Brooklyn Baseball Club played their first game here—now I invite you to play here and play often.”