Building of the Day: Meadowport Arch

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Meadowport Arch
Address: Prospect Park
Cross Streets: somewhat between Union and Carroll Streets
Neighborhood: Park Slope
Year Built: 1868-1870
Architectural Style: Victorian Orientalist
Architect: Calvert Vaux with Frederick Olmsted
Other Buildings by Architect: Olmsted and Vaux designed all of the picturesque arches and bridges within the park itself.
Landmarked: Yes (1975) Also National Register of Historic Places.

The story: I really like all of the arches in the park, for different reasons, but nothing beats the sensory experience of coming out of the Meadowport Arch. As Francis Morrone says in his Architectural Guidebook to Brooklyn, “WHAM!” (Endale Arch is a strong second, in this respect.) Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted were able to create this powerful experience through just the use of a tunnel and double entrance, artfully placed in front of a huge meadow. That, in a nutshell, is the mark of genius. While the experience of seeing the Long Meadow stretch into the distance is certainly quite something, especially for us greenery starved New Yorkers; the arch itself ain’t bad either. It’s actually quite complex.

Both the Endale, originally the “Enterdale” Arch, and the Meadowport Arch, are built on swampy land, so to prevent them from sinking or shifting, Vaux floated both on an elaborate caisson system underneath the structures, similar to much larger bridges, like the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. The Meadowport Arch is made of limestone, and has a unique double entrance onto the Long Meadow, giving the traveler a choice of which way to go in his/her journey through the park. The long 100 foot tunnel has benches built on both sides, which still serve as shelter from weather, and rest stops. Another unique feature of the tunnel is a cedar sheathed ceiling, with paneling covering the entire surface. A wooden ceiling in an outdoor park structure is really quite extravagant. The paneling was restored in 1988, and the craftsmen were meticulous to recreate the arches and vaulted ceiling detail in the entrances. It’s really quite wonderful.

Earlier in the summer, I was a participant in NY Times Streetscape columnist, Christopher Gray’s, “Requiem March” for the Prospect Park arches, and the photos here are from that walking tour. It’s fascinating to see the variety of styles and materials in the arches, and also get a greater sense of what Olmsted and Vaux were trying to accomplish in their creation of the park. The Meadowport Arch, with its vaguely Oriental feel, is an exotic folly expertly inserted into the environment. It looks like it grew there, a large limestone mushroom, along with the plants and trees that shelter it. It’s not until you enter that you really see the hand of man, in the ceiling and in the welcoming benches. These guys knew what they were doing. GMAP

19th century stereoscope photo. Prospect Park Alliance, by way of New York Times.

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