And the Medal Goes To...


After watching the Winter Olympic games in Sochi for the last two weeks, I got to wondering, how many individuals from Brooklyn had participated in the winter spectacular?  I mean, let's face it: Kings County and Alpine skiing don't really go hand in hand.  Where would people practice?  I know, I know, there is Prospect Park, and I have seen people on cross-country skis there.  But one slide down Mt. Prospect and a mogul skier is headed straight for Eastern Parkway, or over Copley Plaza.  I suppose with all the snow and ice lately, officials could turn Flatbush Avenue into a bob-sled run.  I can just see it, a new winter event, with bob-sledders weaving in and out of traffic, dodging the B41 and dollar vans.

But I digress.

After some research, it turns out there are quite a few Brooklynites who have participated in the Winter Olympic games throughout the years.  One of them, Charles Downing Lay, wasn't an athlete, but an urban planner, and in 1936 he won a silver medal in the town planning category for his design of Marine Park at the IV Olympic Winter Games in Germany. From 1912 to 1948, works of art inspired by athletics were an integral part of Olympic competition. His design of the sports and recreation complex was the first award won by an American during these games, which were hosted by the Sports Office of the Third Reich.


Lay was a modern day Renaissance Man -- an accomplished painter, architect, writer, landscape architect, and urban designer, who designed numerous parks around the country, including Jones Beach.

He lent his expertise to the redevelopment of Albany, as well as to the general plan for Saguenay River Park in Canada.  Originally from Newburgh, New York he and his wife lived at 199 Montgomery Place in Park Slope for a while, before moving to the old Mott Bedell house at 11 Cranberry Street.

A lover of big cities, Lay had strong opinions about how people could ideally live in them.  "I am interested in everything about the city. I do not believe in the back-to-the-land movement carried to extremes....Far more practical is it to bring the country into the town.

In 1931 he was chosen to design Brooklyn's Marine Park with a budget of $40,000,000.  His drawings were exhibited in the print gallery at the Brooklyn Museum in 1933.


Detailed plans for Marine Park which when complete will be the greatest municipal recreation and sports center in the world, are now on view in the Print Gallery of the Brooklyn Museum. The plans are the work of Charles D. Lay, prominent Brooklyn architect, who has incorporated ideas gleaned from recreation centers both here and abroad.  They include a seaside park with two miles of water frontage, a large circular pond and canal for water sports,  a yacht basin, a harbor for outboard motorboats, golf courses, swimming pools, athletic fields, parking spaces, a music grove, a zoo, an open air theater and a casino.  There will also be a picnic grounds and a stadium seating 100,000. ~ Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 14, 1933.  

By 1934 these ambitious plans were derailed. Growing costs and a lack of supplies and funds were slowy hindering the development of Marine Park.

Because the city has been unable to supply building materials and machinery, the 2,000 CWA employees engaged in the $50,000,000 project of building up Marine Park are able to perform only a small percentage of their normal functions, according to a statement issued last night by Charles Downing Lay, designer of the park. ~Brooklyn Daily Eagle January 14, 1934.

By September of that year Robert Moses decided to scale down Lay's original plans and start afresh. 

"The original plan for Marine Park reflected the grandiose ideas and munificense in public expenditure associated with the Walker regime.  It is no reflection upon Charles Downing Lay to say that the elaborate plans made by him are no longer practical.  To be sure, he proposed to modify his studies and contemplated making some of the features of the park self-supporting. But his plan as a whole would have been so expensive that it is doubtful if any city administration could have carried it through in the near future."  ~ Brooklyn Daily Eagle Editorial September 10, 1934

Even with a smaller version it would take many years and setbacks for the vision of Marine Park to become a reality. 

"Although it was started back in 1917 and made its chief bid for public attention in the Walker administration Marine Park, Brooklyn's largest public area of 1,593 acres, appears to have halted by the wayside while other and new borough projects have passed it by.  ~ Brooklyn Daily Eagle August 18, 1937 

Finally, in 1939 the first completed section of Marine Park was turned over to the Park Department by the WPA. A long journey to realization for the park, and one that was most welcome by the residents of Brooklyn.  But the seeds for the beautiful park that it became began with Charles Downing Lay -- Olympic silver medalist.

Here is a list of other Brooklynites who have particpated in the Winter Olympics  

Lynne Hine     Bob Sleigh     1928-Sankt Moritz

Carl Springer     Speed Skating     1932-Lake Placid  

Allan Potts     Speed Skating     1932-Lake Placid, 1936-Garmisch-Partenkirchen

Fred Kammer, Jr.     Ice Hockey     1936-Garmisch-Partenkirchen

Ruth-Marie Stewart     Alpine Skiing     1948-Sankt Moritz

Sonya Klopfer     Ice Skating     1952-Oslo

Errol Kerr     Free Style Skiing     2010-Vancouver 

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