History

INTRODUCTION

Marine Park and the land it sits on features a rich and diverse history. Until the arrival of the Dutch, Gerritsen Creek was a popular hunting and fishing spot for Native Americans living nearby. The first Europeans to settle in the area were the Dutch. Dutch colonist Wolfert Gerritsen, who built a gristmill and a field house on the creek in the latter half of the 17th century, serves as the namesake of Gerritsen Creek.

In the early 1900s developers began making elaborate plans to turn Jamaica Bay into a port, dredging Rockaway channel to allow large ships to enter the proposed harbor. Speculators anticipated a real estate boom and bought land along the Jamaica Bay waterfront. Fearing that the relatively pristine marshland around Gerritsen Creek would be destroyed, philanthropists Frederick B. Pratt and Alfred T. White gifted the city 150 acres in the area for use as a park in 1917. After a seven-year delay, the City accepted their offer and began to design what would become Marine Park. The prospect of a new park inspired developers to erect new homes in the area, although park improvements were slow to follow.

Marine Park, Brooklyn, E. 32nd St. and Fillmore Ave. under construction, 1938 (NYC Parks Photo Archive).

Plans for the park’s development evolved over time, including one by landscape architect Charles Downing Lay which won a Olympic medal in “Designs for Town Planning” in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, the first medal awarded to an American that summer.

Fill deposited in the marshlands in the 1930s and new land purchases increased the park’s area to 1822 acres by 1937. That year the Board of Aldermen named the site “Brooklyn Marine Park.” A series of additional land transactions, including the 1974 transfer of 1024 acres to the National Park Service for inclusion in the Gateway National Recreation Area, have stabilized the area of Marine Park at 798 acres, including land underwater.

Marine Park, Brooklyn, Athletic Field north of Avenue U, 1937 (NYC Parks Photo Archive).

Over the decades, portions of Marine Park have been improved with recreational facilities, while other areas have been conserved to protect wildlife and plant life. In 1939 the Pratt-White athletic field was dedicated in tribute to the two fathers of Marine Park. A 210-acre golf course opened in 1963, and the John V. Lindsay Model Airport was dedicated in 1971. New ballfields were opened in 1979 and named for baseball lover and police officer Rocco Torre in 1997. Nature trails established along Gerritsen Creek in 1984-85 invite park-goers to observe a wealth of flora and fauna. In 2000, the Salt Marsh Nature Center opened, where Urban Park Rangers present to the public a variety of nature-themed educational activities. In 2013, the Carmine Carro Community Center opened, named after Brooklyn community advocate and former Marine Park Park Warden Carmine Carro.