Prospect Park is Brooklyn’s not-so-secret jewel box: 585 acres of recreation, children’s playgrounds, old growth forests, the borough’s only lake, and a number of distinctive, useful buildings. Bookmark this useful guide to the structures of the park, and you’ll always have a well of inspiration to draw from for your next adventure. And check out the Prospect Park Alliance for more information.
The Picnic House sits close to the main west side entrance to the park, near Third Street and Ninth Avenue. It presides over the spacious 90-acre Long Meadow, surrounded by a shaded grove and replete with barbecue facilities, which has been a popular picnic spot since the park opened.
The present Picnic House was constructed in 1927, after the original burned down, by Canadian-born architect J. Sarsfield Kennedy. The building is considered an elegant example of Georgian architecture.
What to do
The house itself is available for weddings and other special occasions. It offers a spectacular setting for partygoers, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the meadow, hardwood floors, and a working wood fireplace.
If your needs are a little more quotidian, you can visit the Picnic House’s concession stand during its limited hours. Or take advantage of one of the nearby barbecue facilities and picnic tables to cater your own fun (public restrooms are also available until the park closes). For those with children, there is a recently renovated playground near the Third Street entrance.
Picnic House photo courtesy of Rhonda D. via Foursquare.
Audubon Center | Jeremy J. via Foursquare
The Boathouse / Audubon Center
Those planning a wedding also have another choice on the east side of the park with the Boathouse. The Boathouse was built in 1905 and is such a jewel that it was one of the first structures in New York City to receive landmark status. It overlooks the scenic Lullwater of the Lake and the Lullwater Bridge.
The Prospect Park Audubon Center is the first of its kind in an urban park: a place that allows park visitors to explore the diversity of nature up close. Through programs that happen in the Boathouse, and through innovative Pop-Up Audubon events that take place in different natural areas April through October, the Audubon Center is introducing a new generation of New Yorkers to the wonders of the natural world.
The Boathouse was built in 1905-07 and was based on the design of a 16th-century Venetian library by architects Helmle, Huberty and Hudswell. It came within 48 hours of being demolished in 1964 but was saved by the preservation movement that started after the demise of the old Penn Station a year earlier.
Renovated in the 1970s and again in the 1980s, it served as a ranger station and visitor center until it was renovated again in 2000. It now houses the Audubon Center (see below), the Audubon Society’s only urban interpretive center in the United States. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
The Boathouse can be seen in Martin Scorsese’s movie The Age Of Innocence (1993) as the Boston park where Archer Newland meets Ellen Olenska.
What to do
Couples with a wedding to plan would do well to consider this signature venue for both the ceremony and the reception. For the non-nuptial minded, there is the Moveable Feast concession stand, a comfort station, and the Midwood Trail. The Midwood, home to some of Prospect Park’s largest trees, is a relic of Brooklyn’s history. The thirty-minute hike loops from Prospect Park’s Audubon Center through a forest filled with birds and other animals.
Or learn what bird life is like on the migratory superhighway. The Audubon Center hosts introductory bird watching courses every Saturday from 12 to 1:30 p.m. On the path of the Atlantic Flyway, Prospect Park is designated an “Important Birding Area” by the National Audubon Society.
Lefferts Historic House | Ryan S. via Foursquare
Lefferts Historic House
The Lefferts Historic House is a children’s museum on the east side of the park whose mission is to teach children about life in 1820s Brooklyn. It features a working garden, historic artifacts, period rooms and exhibits.
The Prospect Park Alliance and the Historic House Trust of New York City jointly operate and preserve this important piece of New York City’s, located near the Willink entrance at Flatbush and Empire Boulevard.
Continental Army Lieutenant Pieter Lefferts originally built his house in 1783 on Flatbush Avenue near Maple Street. When Pieter died, the house passed to his son John, and then to John’s daughter Gertrude Lefferts Vanderbilt, who wrote about her family and community in her 1881 book, The Social History of Flatbush.
In 1917, the family offered the building to the City of New York with the condition that the house be moved onto city property as a means of protection and historic preservation.
What to do
Lefferts Historic House operates a children’s museum highlighting family life in Brooklyn in the 1820s, including the Dutch and Native Americans who lived in the area. Visitors to the house are encouraged to try out traditional tools, toys, and games, and try activities such as candle making, sewing, and butter churning.
From April through October, the Lefferts Historic House hosts children’s birthday parties for up to 25 kids, and has been named one of the best birthday party venues by Time Out New York. Guests enjoy potato sack races, treasure hunts, and other old time activities, as well as rides on the nearby carousel.
Prospect Park Carousel | Traci L. via Foursquare
The Prospect Park Carousel is also located in the Children’s Corner and is one of the park’s most popular attractions. Hand-carved in 1912 by Charles Carmel and restored by the Prospect Park Alliance in 1990, its 53 magnificent horses ride alongside a lion, a giraffe, a deer and two dragon-pulled chariots.
The carousel was brought to the park from its original Coney Island home in 1952. It was originally constructed in 1912 and one of only 12 of Camel’s creations still operating. It is not the first in Prospect Park, however, as a horse-drawn carousel first opened in 1874 and was located in the Vale of Cashmere, in the northeast corner of the park.
What to do
Ride the carousel! While you’re there, check out the nearby Lefferts Historic House and pay a visit to the red pandas at the Brooklyn Zoo. The carousel is also available for birthday parties.
LeFrak Center skating rink | David via Foursquare
LeFrak Center at Lakeside
The LeFrak Center at Lakeside is a 75,000-square-foot, year-round skating and recreational facility opened in December 2014. It offers winter ice skating, summer roller skating, and a warm-weather water feature, combined with a restored landscape and vastly improved park access.
Lakeside is the most ambitious project in the park since the late 19th Century. It sits on more than 26 acres and is constructed of rough-hewn green granite set into the topography of the park. A regulation-sized hockey rink sits between the LeFrak’s buildings; the rink serves as a roller rink and event space in the off-season.
What to do
In addition to the rink and the water feature, the LeFrak offers concessions, party rooms, bicycle rentals, and boating on The Lake, either on kayaks or pedal boats.
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