Prospect Park, Brooklyn’s natural-wonder gem, is a fantastic funscape of outdoorsy things to do, including biking, hiking, walking, running, ball playing, sunbathing, picnicking, sledding, cross-country skiing, and more. There are also many structures throughout the park that offer even more: the playgrounds, the zoo, the band shell, the Lakeside skating center, the carousel, and the Lefferts House museum. Not to be overlooked is the boathouse, home to the first urban Audubon Center in the country.
The Audubon Center has been a tenant of the boathouse since the structure’s last renovation, in 2000. Prospect Park is in a designated Important Bird Area, or IBA (an actual thing), and is in the migratory path of literally hundreds of species of birds traveling through in the spring and fall. The center offers programs and instructional aids regarding these and the many local birds found in Prospect Park.
The boathouse was built in 1905, replacing a more rustic structure dating from the opening of the park in 1867. The original building stood on the edge of the Lullwater section of the park’s water course, making it an easy boarding area into the rental boats. The current structure, designed by Frank Helmle and Ulrich Huberty, is a two-story Beaux Arts-style beauty based on the Library of St. Mark in Venice. It features a long row of arched floor-to-ceiling French doors on the first floor and a terraced second floor with an awning-covered porch on the west side. Outside, there are white terra cotta eaves, and on the inside, gorgeous tiled vaulted ceilings on the first floor. A lullwater (usually put more bluntly as deadwater, but Prospect Park is a happy place) is an area of barely moving water, and these are great places for algae to grow. As a result, the water in front of the boathouse is often covered with thick algae blooms.
After the second World War, as the entire city fell into the post-war doldrums of the 1950s and ’60s, the boathouse fell into disrepair, was put to varied city-agency uses, and was eventually closed. It came very close to being razed in 1968, with the bulldozers scheduled, when, after months of hard work, it was saved by preservationists under the new (1966) Landmarks law just 48 hours before demolition was to begin. When you see this stunning structure and its environs today, it’s agonizing to think that it was just two days away from disappearing forever. The boathouse was one of the very first buildings to receive landmark status.
Now, two renovations since its rescue, the boathouse has become one of the most popular destinations in the park. The immediate area around it is beautiful, with the lullwater bridge in front and the recently made over Lakeside area just to the south. Besides the Audubon Center, the boathouse doubles as a venue for weddings, receptions, and private parties. There are often boats paddling by in the Lullwater, but those are rented now at Lakeside on the lake proper.
The next time you spend a day in Prospect Park, be sure to stop by the boathouse. You can walk, you can bike, or you can glide past in a pedal boat. No matter what your mode of travel, be sure to snap a few pictures of the magnificent Prospect Park Boathouse.
The Audubon Center is open Thursday and Friday, Noon – 5:00 p.m. and weekends 10:00 a.m.- 1:00 p.m.