The Untold Stories of Fort Greene Park Benches

The Untold Stories of Fort Greene Park Benches
Like many other benches (Photo by Melisa Stumpf)
Like many other benches in Fort Greene Park, this seat bears a memorial plaque. (Photo by Melisa Stumpf)

By Melisa Stumpf

Jim and Sharon Barnes like to remember their three beloved dogs: Sandy, Greta and Ginger — only one of whom is still alive and is almost 18 — in a particular way. Their names are engraved on a plaque in a bench in Fort Greene Park.

“We wanted to leave a little memorial for them in the form of the bench which many could enjoy. Seeing the bench brings back many wonderful memories every time we pass by,” said Jim, former chair of the Fort Greene Park Conservancy.

“We went to the park every day of their lives and it was a time of pure joy for them,” Jim said. “It was good for all of us. It is a time to just focus on the moment and your connection with your dogs, nature and other dog lovers.”

Benches near the tennis courts overlook part of Fort Greene Park. (Photo by Melisa Stumpf)
A bench near the Fort Greene Park tennis courts bears a popular Notorious B.I.G. quote. (Photo by Melisa Stumpf)

The “Donate a Bench” program was established in 2008 in order to create permanent funds to maintain and endow the care of Fort Greene Park’s benches, encouraging residents to share their life stories while donating much-needed funds. The stories of donors are as compelling as the program itself. There’s the late Josephine Jarden and Joseph Gutleber, who share a spot on a bench that overlooks the park. They never knew each other, but their kids are good friends and decided to remember and honor them this way.

The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation has worked with the conservancy to allow it to install the benches, but in the last three years the allocation of park funding has drastically decreased. The conservancy now relies highly on these donations, which it has raised between $60,000 and $70,000, for basic park upkeep, according to Charles Jarden, chairman of the conservancy.

“It’s really rewarding when we can do something like the bench program which gets a fairly big return. It goes right back to the park,” Jarden said.

The price to sponsor a bench ranges from $1,500 for an existing half bench to $3,000 for a personalized plaque to be featured on a full existing bench, or $5,000 for the conservancy to purchase and install a new ‘Central Park Settee’ style bench — one of the two bench styles featured in the park based on benches used during the creation of Central Park in 1958 — along with the personalized plaque.

Fall leaves are a beautiful backdrop for many benches around Fort Greene Park. (Photo by Melisa Stumpf)
Fall leaves are a beautiful backdrop for many benches around Fort Greene Park. (Photo by Melisa Stumpf)

The ‘World’s Fair 1939’ is the other design that can be spotted in the park, one of many iconic bench styles that are scattered throughout New York City. The iconic benches contain iron handles on the sides and were “developed for use at the 1939 World’s Fair, which was held in New York during 1938 and 1939,” according to the Kenneth Lynch & Sons’ official website, the manufacturers of the benches.

The money raised by the donations is used to hire staff to help keep the park safe and clean, as well as for purchasing basic supplies such as light bulbs, paint and toilet paper, among other necessities. Fort Greene Park also uses a large part of these funds to host music- and sports-related events, as well as summer activities and concerts to help bring notice to Brooklyn’s first park, according to the parks department website.

“That’s also very satisfying because we get to interact with all the money spent. We’re curating the programs so we hire the artists and work alongside of them,” Jarden said.

There are presently 10 benches available for sponsorship. If you’re interested in adopting one contact Brenna Smith at fortgreeneparkconservancy@gmail.com.

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