We take the green space that today is McCarren Park for granted, but it was not always a park. Once the ground that the park now occupies had its own streets and factories. A May 5, 1901 article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle showed the buildings that were to be condemned to create the park, but it was not just buildings that needed to be condemned. The whole street pattern of the neighborhood had to be changed. Some streets like Jane Street were forever wiped off the map. Others like North 12th, N.13th, N. 14th and Dobbin and Guernsey were cut.
The movement to create the park culminated in 1901, but was nothing new. For twenty-five years prior to the condemnation of the land, Greenpointers and Williamsburgers had been advocating for a park pointing out a fact that is still true today: North Brooklyn is a deprived area when it comes to parkland.
How did it come about? It happened in large part thanks to Patrick McCarren—a corrupt but powerful Democratic New York State senator—who wanted to bring the spoils home to his district. McCarren chose the site of the park himself. He called in favors and twisted arms, but he finally got the money to buy the park approved in a special session of the state legislature. The price tag was not cheap. It cost almost two million dollars to buy the land and compensate the buildings’ owners, but McCarren had enough clout in Albany to see that the money got allocated. Naturally, at first it was called McCarren’s Park, but that name would soon change.
The park did not appear quickly. It took a long time for the buildings to be condemned and the streets to be torn up. A June 1905 article titled, “Greenpoint Wants its Park” explained how the frustrated citizens were tired of waiting for their park. Another article five years later in 1910 brought up similar gripes. Ironically, the same tittle could be used to describe local sentiment about Bushwick Inlet Park.
In the end, though, the locals got their park. One of the businesses that had to re-locate became famous around the country. Charles Loof, a Danish born Greenpoint woodworker, occupied a building that constructed America’s first carousels, some of which are still around today and are landmarks. In 1906 Republican lawmakers in spite changed the name of the park from McCarren Park to Greenpoint Park, arguing that a park should not bear the name of a living person. However, when McCarren died in 1909 the New York City Board of Aldermen voted unanimously to give the park the name it still bears today.
So, why was Greenpoint able to get its park then, while today it struggles? Part of the explanation is that the land today is far more valuable and much more expensive, but also we have no politician with the huge clout on the state level that McCarren had. He might have been corrupt, but he got us a park.