I ALWAYS THOUGHT the Boathouse was one of the most romantic buildings in Prospect Park. No, in Brooklyn. No, anywhere. The 1907 Beaux Arts structure sits on a pond called the Lullwater, which also sounds impossibly romantic in the manner of the Park’s original 1860s design by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted.
Last time I looked, maybe 12 years ago, the Boathouse was dilapidated and deserted. In fact, the white terracotta, Tuscan-columned building came this close to being demolished in the 1960s before being saved by community protests (it’s now on the National Register of Historic Places).
And though I glimpsed it through the trees every one of the countless times I walked or ran the Park’s 3-1/3-mile loop, and vaguely realized the place had been renovated, that sketchy earlier encounter still resonated, and I hadn’t been down there in eons.
Yesterday, encouraged by my daughter, who’s visiting from Hawaii, we deviated from the course and explored not only the Boathouse but other sections of the park that were new to me. The 1907 boathouse, which replaced an earlier wooden structure by Vaux and Olmsted, is now used as an Audobon Center for nature education.
Its vaulted, tiled interior, above, now contains displays on birds and birding (who knew there were 200+ species in the Park?) and a small cafe. Yesterday, a rare sunny Sunday in this desperately rainy month of May, it was crawling with kids.
Unlike in Victorian times, when people ice skated, fished, and boated on the Lullwater, all that is now forbidden. The Lullwater today, above, is strictly a reflecting pool, mirroring an 1890 bridge by McKim, Mead, and White that also replaced Vaux’s original.
Skating on the Lullwater, c. 1886. Photo: Brooklyn Historical Society. This image shows the original wooden Lullwood Bridge, designed by Calvert Vaux, in the background.
The rowboats seen arrayed in William Merritt Chase’s painting of the original rustic boathouse, below, were nowhere in sight.
We then took a path I’d never traveled, which revealed an apparently unused pavilion, below (one imagines uniformed brass bands playing there 100 years ago), and emerged at Grand Army Plaza, feeling like we’d been somewhere new.
To read more about the Prospect Park Boathouse, go here.