The History of Cadman Plaza Park

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Reverend Dr. Samuel Parkes Cadman

This park honors Reverend Dr. Samuel Parkes Cadman (1864-1936), better known as S. Parkes Cadman, a Brooklyn Congregational minister, newspaper writer, and pioneer Christian radio broadcaster of the 1920s and 1930s. He was an early advocate of ecumenism and an outspoken opponent of anti-Semitism and racial intolerance. Famed for his oratory, he was the 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. By the time of his death in 1936, he was called “the foremost minister of congregational faith” by the New York Times.

Reverend Cadman was considered to be the Congregational Faith’s leading minister not only in the United States, but worldwide. 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. S. Parkes Cadman

One of his many famous quotes:

“Personally, I would not give a fig for any man’s religion whose horse, cat and dog do not feel its benefits. Life in any form is our perpetual responsibility.”

- Reverend Dr. Samuel Parkes Cadman

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Elevated trains on Brooklyn Bridge.

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The Construction of Cadman Plaza.

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.

But residents of Brooklyn didn’t always have a Cadman Plaza Park. In 1883 the elevated trains Sands Street Terminal was completed in the area now occupied by Cadman Plaza and with the Fulton El Terminal was one of the major arteries and stations for the Brooklyn elevated trains. Brooklyn Bridge carried passengers to and from Manhattan and Brooklyn on now removed tracks and the Brooklyn Station was once a majestic elevated train station. By the late 1800s and early 1900s, the station is believed to have serviced tens of thousands. In 1908 subway construction began, which paved the way for the removal of the elevated tracks. By 1910, the Fulton El Terminal was removed. In 1931, the decision to redevelop the Sands Street Station into a public space was made and thus began the dismantling of the station. The metal and other materials were reused for World War II, and streets were reconfigured for the transition from trolleys and carriages to automobiles, including an automobile ramp onto the Brooklyn Bridge. The City of New York acquired this land by condemnation in 1935 and in 1939, the park was completed and named Cadman Plaza Park that now occupies 10.384 acres of land. In total for the open space there were 21 acres of land cleared, 125 buildings razed, and the cost of improvement was $4.5M or $70M in 2010 dollars.

There were other considerations for this parcel, at one point it 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.

William Jay Gaynor (1829-1913) 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 William Jay Gaynor Shot.assassination when an irate ex-civil servant, John J. Gallagher shot him in August 1910. He recovered shortly after assuming office, and he remained a feisty opponent of city corruption. So much so that corruption-fueled Democratic machine Tammany Hall refused to support his re-election bid in 1913. Not to be deterred he announced an independent run for the mayoral office, however he only served three years of his first term, for the would be assassin was eventually successful when the bullet lodged in Gaynor’s throat since the shooting eventually killed him in 1913. He was also famous for walking over the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall every day from his home in Park Slope. William Jay Gaynor

Just south of the park is the main branch of the Brooklyn Post Office (1891). Next to the park on the northeast side is the new office of emergency management (OEM) building, dedicated December, 2006 replacing the old offices which were destroyed in the world trade center bombing. Adjacent to OEM is the recently refurbished Walt Whitman Park and federal and state court buildings. Walking through Cadman Plaza Park, you see kids with their parents/nannies, dog walkers, joggers, and residents enjoying the green space and sports field throughout the year. It’s a welcome spot to walk through despite the busy Tillary Street to the south and the Brooklyn Bridge exit ramp to the north.

Brooklyn Heights Blog published a nice video ‘montage’ (created by BHB’s Karl Junkersfeld) about Cadman Plaza and Cadman Plaza Park history.

Read about the war memorial in the center of the park here.