Thursday, July 9, 2009
Salute to Ulmer Park, short-lived Brooklyn beer getaway
All aboard the train to Coney Island, Ulmer Park and Bath Beach Above pic courtesy NYPL
Next weekend on Coney Island is the annual Siren Festival, sponsored by the Village Voice. Are you going? Believe it or not, over a 100 years ago, there was once a time you could get your beer, music and mayhem at a Brooklyn 'pleasure park' just a few stops short of Coney Island -- near today's Bensonhurst neighborhood.
Ulmer Park was the lark of William Ulmer, one of Brooklyn's most successful brewers in an age where much of the nation's finest beer was coming from the future borough. The German-born son of a wine merchant who learned the trade from his uncle, Ulmer opened his eponymous brewery in the 1870s at Belvedere Street and soon came upon the idea of opening a park as a way of selling more beer. (Not a bad idea. Jacob Ruppert would have similar designs in mind when he bought the New York Yankees in 1915).
The park would open in 1893 in Gravesend Bay along the southern shore of Brooklyn -- back when there was an actual shore -- between Coney Island farther south and the more conservative Bath Beach resort community to its west. Ulmer Park seemed to have more in common with Bath Beach -- clean, family friendly (keep Dad happy so he keeps drinking!) with a beer garden, carousels and swings, rifle ranges, a dance pavilion and of course plenty of beachfront property.
The park seemed to be particular popular with Germans -- Ulmer after all was German, and this was a beer garden -- and particularly the annual 'Saengerfest' festival. A Times article even claims that 100,000 gathered at Ulmer Park for the end of one such festival.
Below: an illustration of Ulmer Park. Note the grand pier which stuck out into into the bay
We can get a good idea of Ulmer's intentions for the park by looking at his failure at obtaining a "liquor tax certificate" (or license) in a report from 1900. "A picnic ground, or open air pleasure resort, of about two acres" between Harway Avenue and the shore, the park had a bowling alley, a pier with canopied bar at the end, two or three other beer pavilions scattered throughout the property and a hotel.
Ultimately, neither the resort at Bath Beach nor amusements at Ulmer Park could compete with Coney Island which was about to enter its golden age in the early 1900s; apparently, it was grit and decadence people wanted in their summertime Brooklyn getaways. Ulmer closed in 1899.
The land remained a public space hosting baseball, cricket and track and field events. Eventually it was wiped away and redeveloped. It remains in name only, at the Ulmer Park branch of the Brooklyn Public Library and the name of the neighborhood bus depot.
For your frame of reference, the park was located a couple blocks west of today's bus depot, located here:
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FYI, did you know that Central Park and Prospect Park designer Calvert Vaux drowned "under mysterious circumstances" in 1895 and that his body washed up on shore not too far away from Ulmer Park?