Place Category: Parks and Playgrounds
This park honors Reverend Dr. Samuel Parkes Cadman (1864-1936), a Brooklyn Congregational minister and radio preacher famed for his oratory. He was pastor of the Central Congregational Church in Brooklyn for 36 years and helped to found the Federated Council of Churches in America, which he headed from 1924-1928.
Reverend Cadman was considered to be the Congregational faith’s leading minister not only in the United States, but world wide. He spent his summers preaching in Europe, and every Good Friday for over 30 years he delivered a sermon at the John Street Methodist Church in Manhattan. A dedicated minister to the end, Reverend Cadman collapsed during his final sermon in Plattsburgh, New York, and died one week later.
Cadman Plaza Park, bounded by Cadman Plaza East and West, and Tillary and Johnson Streets, is located on the border between the historic neighborhoods of Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn. Lenape Native Americans originally inhabited the area, until the Dutch arrived in the 1600s and gained control of the land they came to call Breuckelen. Downtown Brooklyn and Brooklyn Heights remained sparsely inhabited until 1814, when Robert Fulton’s new steam ferry began to offer an easy commute to and from downtown Manhattan. Brooklyn Heights became Manhattan’s first suburb, and Downtown Brooklyn was on its way to becoming a center of commerce and the heart of municipal Brooklyn.
The City of New York acquired this land by condemnation in 1935 and it was named by a local law four years later. Numerous buildings had occupied this site, as well as the old Brooklyn Elevated train tracks, which were removed during the Depression in favor of an automobile ramp onto the Brooklyn Bridge. Just before the ramp was constructed, the parcel was slated to house a large auditorium. The newspaper The Brooklyn Eagle sponsored a contest for the auditorium’s design, but the winning entry from Elizabeth Gordon and Stuart Constable went unused and the auditorium was never built.
The massive memorial in the center of the park honors Brooklynites who served in World War II. Designed by Charles Keck (1975-1951), the memorial stands 24 feet tall. At its dedication in 1952, it was one of the largest monuments in New York City.
The northern end of Cadman Plaza Park houses a statue of William Jay Gaynor (1829-1913). Gaynor was mayor of New York City from 1910-1913. Before becoming mayor, Gaynor was a journalist, a lawyer, and a state supreme court justice, known for his tough stance on corruption. Gaynor held a reputation as a reformer, and tried to eliminate some of Tammany Hall’s influence on city government during his tenure. Gaynor narrowly escaped assassination when he was shot by an irate ex-civil servant in August 1910. He recovered shortly after assuming office, but served only three years of his term. He was also known for walking over the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall every day from his home in Park Slope.
Although the park is now surrounded by federal and state courts, the main branch of the Brooklyn Post Office (1891), the offices of the International Red Cross, and the headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the park remains a large recreational space for neighborhood residents, workers, and children. Containing drinking fountains, flags, benches, and a comfort station, Cadman Plaza Park’s main function is as a playground for the entire Brooklyn Heights community.
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