Streams

The Abandoned Garden of Prospect Park

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Vale of Cashmere (Jesse Lucas)

Situated on the northern end of Prospect Park in Brooklyn, The Vale of Cashmere is an Alice-in-Wonderland kind of place: a row of benches facing a sunken fountain filled with reeds, moss and an empty wine bottle or two. A hundred years ago, the Vale was a formal garden populated by high society families. Over the years, it fell into disrepair. Will Akers, a playwright, discovered it accidentally one day while rambling through the park. Visiting the Vale is now a summertime ritual.

“There’s nowhere else in the park like this, because the renovations haven’t gotten here yet,” Akers explains. "Because so much of New York is torn down and rebuilt all the time, anything that survived, especially if it’s shown its age, is all the more precious. I want to hang on to these things for as long as I can because they go away.” Summer Sundays, he finds a bench and listens to the Mets baseball game on a transistor radio.

Prospect Park Archives

The Prospect Park Alliance is raising capital to restore the Vale to its original condition. 

William Akers goes by W.M. Akers in print. His non-fiction writing and plays draw inspiration from the past. He's written about the rough-and-tumble days of the late 19th and 20th centuries for Narratively, a storytelling platform. 

Clair de Lune by Debussy was performed by Rafał Blechacz and recorded live in the Greene Space by WQXR. 

  

Editors:

Karen Frillmann

Contributors:

Will Akers

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Comments [6]

Beth from Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

It felt like a secret to this guy. Isn't that really the point?

Lovely story.

I'd only add this:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2p1t6yMkKxA

Sep. 03 2014 12:18 PM
Charles from Park Slope

I hate you for this story. I really enjoyed the privacy. You just destroyed that because you're a lazy journalist.
Transplants ruin everything.

Aug. 29 2014 07:01 AM
Margaret from Park Slope

Abandoned? Not really. I'll admit that the plantings are a few decades old, the pipe that used to feed the pond broke a half-dozen years ago and the park can't afford to fix it, and undergrowth now blocks what once were views, but abandoned... no way. Not by the birders, or the birds that they come to see. Not by the dozen or so volunteers who descend on the area every Monday, picking up trash, sweeping stairs, edging paths, cutting back hedges, fighting the good fight against invasive weeds, raking leaves in the fall, clearing storm drains if it rained, pulling out the grass from between the paving bricks, and in general maintaining the Vale as an area of calm and order. Not by the retiree who makes the Vale part of his daily routine. Not by the preschoolers and their adults who now pass through on their way to the Zucker play area nearby, stopping to explore the now-dry pond. More people discover this magical place every day, and while it will never host family barbecues and Frisbee games it's no longer anyone's private hideaway.
(Oh, and by the way.... judging by the trash we pick up, most of the nocturnal cruising activity has moved on. Just so you know.)

Aug. 29 2014 12:07 AM
JvC from Park Slope

William Akers, thanks for lifting the veil on my Veil of Cashmere.
Secret or not, it's scary and crappy everyone. Don't go there. You will not like it. The only person you will see is some author guy sitting there listening to a sport on a ham radio. Stay away from the Veil.

Aug. 28 2014 01:25 PM
Sad from Brooklyn

Well it was secret from the usual Park people who play frisbee in the center lawn... of course it wasn't a *secret* secret. I used to go there almost every day, I volunteered there during the weekly clean ups and mucked around in the mud pulling up weeds with the seniors that had been going there for their whole lives. I met the gentleman who used to hang out there all the time (I think was homeless?) and would sit and talk to him. I fed birds, meditated on the ground, started drawing for the first time. And sure various other activities would go on amongst people for whom it was definitely not a secret. I even wrote a short comic about the woman who lived in it for the anniversary of my boyfriend and I. Favorite place ever.

UNTIL they chopped down the trees and put the children's playground in right beside it!!!!! I was told by the other park cleaners that someone donated a ton of money and insisted on having a playground built there even though he was requested to find another place. I've never gone back since because it makes me so sad. You can hear the cars now from the road, and all the people who didn't take the time to explore the park before have now "happened upon" this place with all their kids (I love kids and playgrounds, just not there!) I'm on my quest to find a new place in the park now. The stories I've heard about the different parts of the park though make me realize nothing in the park stays the same forever, so I'll always have the memories!

Aug. 28 2014 12:10 PM
Deborah from Brooklyn

I hate to break the news to you, but this is not a secret place. In fact, ever since my childhood in the 1980's, it has been a hook-up spot for gay men. As kids we would often come across people having sexual relations there.

Aug. 28 2014 11:15 AM

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