Described by residents as its “own small town within the city,” Park Slope is a lively Brooklyn neighborhood filled with historic buildings, top-rated restaurants, and outdoor green spaces. Before the arrival of European settlers, Park Slope’s land used to be inhabited by the Canarsee Indians, one of several Indigenous Lenape peoples who hunted and farmed what used to be known as South Brooklyn. The tribe’s legacy can still be seen in the neighborhood, since the modern-day Flatbush Avenue is a widened version of a Lenape road. European settlement would begin around 1637-1639, when William Kieft, director of the Dutch West India Company, purchased what is now almost all the land of Brooklyn and Queens. Park Slope’s land would mostly be used as woods and farmlands until the early 19th century.
After the completion of Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Bridge, mansions and rowhouses sprung up across the neighborhood, as wealthy landowners fled from the bustling Manhattan scene for the more peaceful nature of Park Slope. Though the neighborhood would face widespread social and infrastructural decline during the mid-20th century, gentrification of the area during the 1960s would renovate building stock, leading to the Park Slope we know today. Some key spots to visit today include the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Central Library branch of the Brooklyn Public Library system. Keep reading for an inside peek into one of Brooklyn’s most illustrious neighborhoods.
1. Grand Prospect Hall is the last authentic vaudeville theater in Brooklyn
Before the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, the area that would become Park Slope was home mainly to farmers and wealthy landowners. However, following its construction, the area became more directly connected to the city, allowing for goods to cheaply and easily pass back and forth. By the end of the 19th century, Park Slope was reported by the U.S. Census Bureau as having the residents with the highest per capita income in the nation. Ornate Victorian mansions began to spring up along Prospect Park West, with the area being monikered the “Gold Coast.”
While the Park Slope of today differs from its “Gold Coast” period, one striking remnant is the Grand Prospect Hall — the last authentic vaudeville theater in Brooklyn. Built by German immigrant John Kolle in 1892, the Hall was once where the neighborhood’s wealthiest residents attended shows, movies, parties and cultural events. Since its opening, it has served as the backdrop for films such as The “Royal Tenenbaums” and “Cotton Club.” Closed since the start of the pandemic, the Grand Prospect Hall was recently sold by Alice Halkias — the only remaining owner following her husband Michael’s death in May 2020. It was bought on July 16, 2021, by Angelo Rigas — an electrical engineer — for $30 million. At the moment, Rigas’ plans for the property remain uncertain, so only time will tell what is in store next for one of Brooklyn’s most historic landmarks.
In the end, the exorbitant wealth of Park Slope’s “Gold Coast” period did not last forever. During the Great Depression, many of the area’s elite were forced to scale back their expenses, with many residents choosing to sell their properties and move out of the city. Those that bought the abandoned spaces often demolished and rebuilt them as tenement houses, attracting immigrants from Europe, African Americans from the South, and Hispanic migrants. With this, the area’s reputation changed, and it was regarded as a tough working-class neighborhood eroded by rising crime and poverty. Even so, the neighborhood quickly bounced back, with young professionals moving into the area during the late ’50s and early ’60s. Refurbishing the brownstones and row houses left behind by the area’s former wealthy residents, these professionals helped restore Park Slope as one of the city’s premier locations to live.