The land of Prospect Park South was once owned by the Dutch Reformed Church of Flatbush and remained largely undeveloped until 1899 when rail service reached south of where Prospect Park stands today.
Dean Alvord bought 40 acres of land from the church and launched the new community; one that he made sure would avoid the popular prospect of row houses. To offer country living in the city, Alvord sought to create a neighborhood “patronized almost entirely by people of intelligence and good breeding.”
He required houses to be set back 39 feet from the sidewalk and 8 feet of land to be left between the street and sidewalk for trees and grass to attract his intended demographic.
By 1905, almost all of the building plots hosted houses that drew in many of Brooklyn’s top businessmen, including the chief executives of Gillette, Fruit of the Loom and the Brooklyn Eagle.
How Prospect Park South Got Its Name
When the Dutch settled what they called “Vlacke Bos” — wooded plain — in the 1600s, the area covered a large part of central Brooklyn; in fact, it was also known as Midwout, for “middle woods.”
Part of the land was owned by the Dutch Reformed Church of Flatbush, the first church in Brooklyn, built in 1654 on the orders of Peter Stuyvesant, then director-general of New Amsterdam.
It was rural land and not really developed until the 20th century, after Brooklyn was consolidated into New York City and after the Brooklyn and Brighton Beach rail service (now the BMT Brighton line) reached the area south of Prospect Park. The neighborhood that developed was called Prospect Park South, logically, and it remains so.
It was a developer named Dean Alvord, who bought 40 acres from the Dutch Reformed Church and from the estate of Luther Voorhies to start the community in 1899. He pictured it as “the country in the city,” what he called a “rural park within the limitations of the conventional city block and city street.” He built elegant, detached homes on tree-lined streets he had paved. By 1905, development was virtually completed.
To this day, it is considered the heart of what is known as Victorian Flatbush.
The Prospect Park South Historic District, comprising most of the roughly 20-block neighborhood, was landmarked by the New York City Landmarks Commission in 1979.
Brooklyn-born Norm Goldstein is retired, after working 44 years for the Associated Press, the global news agency, where he served as a reporter, feature writer, editor, author and administrator. He also worked for AP as director of Educational Services and editor of the AP Stylebook.
He graduated from Brooklyn College and the Penn State Graduate School of Journalism.
He currently lives in Brooklyn Heights.