The world witnessed international athletes win medals for their countries as they performed peak-human athleticism at the 2022 Winter Olympics. Since the inception of the modern Olympics, New Yorkers have won over 271 Olympic medals, though the games have not always focused on sports alone. From 1912 to 1952, Olympic juries have awarded 151 medals for painting, sculpture, architecture, literature and music.
Among them was the silver medal for Designs for Town Planning in the architecture category of the 1936 Summer Olympics. Charles Downing Lay was a landscape architect and the first American to win a medal in the game, winning for his design of Brooklyn’s very own Marine Park.
Initially presented in oil paint on a 45-square foot canvas, Lay’s vision was to include a two-mile waterfront seaside park, a yacht basin and a harbor, a large pond and canal for water-based sports, swimming pools, golf courses, a model airfield, athletic fields, a zoo, a casino, a theater, picnic grounds, tennis courts, a stadium with a capacity of over 125,000, among other amenities. It was to cost between $30 to $50 million.
Though the project was award-winning in Berlin, it was not feasible back in Brooklyn. At the time, NYC Parks Commissioner Robert Moses thought Lay’s plans were too expensive and hired Gilmore Clarke and Michael Rapuano, known for their design of Flushing Meadows, for an alternative design. Essentially, most of Lay’s plan was scrapped, leaving behind the Pratt-White athletic field, the “U” and the loop. Other components such as the golf course, model airfield and opportunities for boating and water-based sports are in the park today. Playgrounds, nature trails, a nature center, bicycle pathways and the Carmine Carro Community Center were also added to the park’s recreational facilities in the following decades.
“Knowing that Marine Park has an Olympic medal in its history makes me even prouder to advocate for its betterment every day,” said Maria Carro D’Alessandro, chairperson of the Marine Park Alliance (MPA). “I feel that the passion we have for the park is like an Olympic torch, carried forward across generations since the beginning – I think of my parents every time I walk in the park. The MPA aims to make 2022 a big leap forward in what we can do for the park and its community members with a greater diversity of programming, conservation efforts and appreciation for a place that feels like home for so many of us.”