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The Pratt-White Gift

An article by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle announcing the Pratt-White gift, along with a map of the donated land, 1922 (Brooklyn Daily Eagle Archives).

The land that Marine Park sits on today was primarily a gift from two of Brooklyn’s leading men in the early twentieth century, Frederic B. Pratt (1865-1945) and Alfred T. White (1846-1921). Pratt, son of the founder of the Pratt Institute, served as the university’s president for 44 years and was a philanthropist. White, a fellow philanthropist, built some of the earliest housing for workers in New York City.

Both Pratt and White were members of the Brooklyn Committee on City Plan, of which Pratt was also the president. Starting in 1912, Pratt and White began to purchase land around Marine Park, convinced that the sparsely-settled neighborhood needed to provide park and playground space for current and future residents of Brooklyn. In 1914, Pratt wrote that “While so much land is still available at reasonable prices it seems almost a crime to the future city not to make some provision now.” In 1917, they offered over 120 acres of land to the city, and then they waited. And then they waited some more.

The main concern on the part of the city was cost. How much money would the city have to pay to fill in the marshland, or to pay landowners for the rest of the land needed to make Marine Park complete? And how much would the park be worth, considering that the Marine Park neighborhood was still rural at the time? These questions took seven years to resolve, with the city finally accepting the Pratt-White bequest in 1925. White died in the meantime in 1921.

Pratt and the estate of White agreed to give the city further money to purchase additional land and to pay all of the taxes associated with the properties that had accrued over the long interval. Today, the influence of Pratt and White’s generosity is seen in Marine Park at the Pratt-White athletic field by Avenue U, dedicated to the two fathers of Marine Park. At the dedication ceremony for the field in 1939, a speaker extolled that “…generations of New Yorkers to come will benefit from the vision, the generosity, the superlative civil spirit of Alfred T. White and Frederic B. Pratt.”

The Marine Park neighborhood, now a thriving community in Brooklyn, boasts the largest public park in Brooklyn, a benefit accrued through the foresight and patience of two of Brooklyn’s first leading citizens.