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Olympia by the Sea

August 28, 2014 | by

The dashed ambitions of Brooklyn’s Marine Park.

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The salt marshes of Marine Park. Photo via Baldpunk.com

There is a proud park on the watery edge of Brooklyn. It contains a pool, a little sandy beach, canoes and kayaks, new sporting fields of all kinds, gardens, an open-air theater, and a playground; nearby subway stops draw people from the extremes of the five boroughs. Today, this sounds more or less like Brooklyn Bridge Park, the enchanting construction facing downtown Manhattan and built through public-private partnership, as is the way of city planning these days. But almost ninety years ago, these were just the lesser diversions in the grand plans for Brooklyn’s Marine Park.

Take the B or Q train down, down, down to Kings Highway—bring a book or music, because it’s a ride. Get off there, find the B2 or B100 bus on Quentin Avenue, and ride that another fifteen minutes east, and you’ll find the modern Marine Park. (You can also ride the 2 or 5 to the end of the line, which requires two bus transfers, but you’ll get there.) Almost ten miles from City Hall, you’ll have reached the greatest graveyard of a mighty park that New York City has ever seen.

It started in 1911, when the famed designer of the Chicago Columbian Exposition, Daniel Burnham, was invited to Brooklyn with his partner Edward Bennett to design a blueprint for the borough’s expansion. They set aside a large area far and away to the southeast by Jamaica Bay, as “a littoral counterpoint to Prospect Park,” as Thomas Campanella, Marine Park’s assiduous (and perhaps only) historian writes. As Campanella has documented, this suggestion became a reality through the philanthropy of two prominent Brooklynites, Frederic B. Pratt and Alfred T. White. They bought up and gave to the city about a hundred acres of land for the park’s creation. The city was leery even then—there were murmurs that a park would do little more than increase real-estate value for homeowners in the region. The philanthropists sweetened the deal to include $72,000 dollars to pay for costs. “The donors owned no other land in the vicinity and did not expect to profit in any way from the gift,” promised the chairman of the League for the Improvement of Marine Park, which throughout its history would have its work cut out for it. In 1925, the City at last made a formal announcement, and Marine Park was born. Read More »

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In the Ninth

August 12, 2013 | by

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On Sunday I went to see the Yankees play the Detroit Tigers. It was a throwback to the Yankees teams of my childhood, with Andy Pettitte on the mound, cap still low, glowering. I’ve always been (and always will be) a Met fan, which is its own portion of anxiety, and the Yankees glittered out there in the Bronx, Pettitte and Jeter and company so much more put together and reliable than the Mets. A note on the gigantic screen in center field informed us that Pettitte had pitched for the Yankees in his twenties, thirties, and forties. My friend sitting next to me noted that you could hardly see what the score was—the numbers were that inconspicuous—though the advertising, of course, dwarfed it all.

Strangest was watching Alex Rodriguez play, a man who has been so under the popular microscope recently for performance-enhancing drug use as to have articles considering his upbringing. Who thought that steroids were still a discussion? That felt like years ago too. Rodriguez is facing the longest nonlifetime ban in baseball history. But for some time, during this purgatory, until the appeals process wraps up, he’ll be playing nine innings a day in the Bronx and the other cities that this itinerant fourth-place circus travels to. My friend mentioned, as Rodriguez took the field for the first time, that he thought he remembered something about Rodriguez saying how he couldn’t hear the boos in the crowd these days, because they were mixed with so much cheering. Read More »

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Bergtraum v. Beacon

June 25, 2013 | by

The visiting team is already waiting at the fence when Murry Bergtraum High School coach Nick Pizza arrives on Cherry Street to open the gates to his field, which are kept locked. His players haven’t arrived yet, though the visiting team, Beacon High School, has already dressed on the sidewalk, a cluster of parents standing a few feet away, averting their eyes. No metal cleats are allowed in the complex, because the turf and dirt are that nice. The backstop opens up toward the Manhattan Bridge, and right field ends at the FDR Drive. The Brooklyn Bridge unspools to the south. The field is well dragged, and a custodian walks around its edges, using a leafblower to blow stray baseball dirt off the surrounding track. Back in October, the field looked different: after Hurricane Sandy, for almost a week, it was under three feet of water.

By the time Coach Pizza (“Brooklyn born and raised”) has changed into his uniform, his players are beginning to arrive, some of them on rollerblades, from Murry Bergtraum proper, a jail-like facility wedged between the Brooklyn Bridge and City Hall. “I got a good bunch of kids,” Coach Pizza says. “Gotta find that balance, get the classroom stuff out of the way.” Bergtraum, with a record of 3-10, is a perennial underachiever in Manhattan A West, while Beacon, 10-3, has won the division the past two years. One problem for Pizza’s team: eligibility. Too many players have failed too many classes to play. Hurricane Sandy didn’t help—early games had to be rescheduled, and Bergtraum didn’t have use of their field until mid-April, well into the season: after trucks of clay were redeposited over the infield, the locker rooms dug free of sand by the custodians.

Bergtraum High School, a once-proud jewel of the city education system that prepared students for practical careers in business, is now perhaps more famous for hallway riots and the fact that it’s one of the few large schools that the DOE hasn’t broken up (more positively, too, for its phenomenal girls’ basketball team). The student body, predominantly black and Hispanic, comes from all the far reaches of the boroughs, along the stretch of the J, M, Z, and L lines, necessitating commutes of over an hour in some cases. Read More »

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