Nearly a century before Heritage Park opened on the North Shore of Staten Island, the first public green space on Kill Van Kull was donated to the city by Jenny Faber in 1906. Faber Park stood out on a waterfront dominated by shipbuilders and warehouses. Today as the city plans to cover miles of its unused waterfronts with parks, Faber Park serves as an early example.
The park offers views of Bayonne Bridge, which recently had its deck raised 60 feet to allow for supersize cargo ships to pass below. The park offers a lawn, pool, recreation center, and a skateboarding park.
The earliest map that I’ve found with the park’s namesake dates to 1874, showing it as the home of Eberhard Faber. An immigrant from the German state of Bavaria, he brought his father’s lead pencil manufacturing business to New York. His first factory was at Turtle Bay, followed by a larger facility in 1872 in Greenpoint. The business is now in its 8th generation, still making its graphite sticks tucked inside a wooden shaft. In 2015, New Yorker magazine published a detailed profile of New York’s “Pencil King.”
In 1869 his relative Jenny Faber received title to the property that will later become Faber Park. The pond on the extreme right of the map below is the creek draining out of Bodine Pond, which was entirely filled in favor of the Castleton bus depot.
The 1907 Borough of Richmond Topographical Survey shows the Faber property as one of two remaining sizable waterfront residences on the Port Richmond shoreline. On the top right is a ferry route connecting to Bayonne. The construction of the Bayonne Bridge led to the demise of this ferry. A year before this survey was made, the Faber property was purchased by the Department of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity, which sought to build a power plant on the site. But the 1869 Faber patent letter stipulated that the site must have a dock for “commerce or enjoyment.” This likely stalled the plan and in 1928 the city designated this property as a park.
Inside Faber Park
Unused structures in the park were demolished and a redesign by architect Frederick H. Zurmuhlen Jr. provided a seawall, recreation building, playground, and a swimming pools. The red roof tiles, stone arches and masonry were compared in reports to the mission-style buildings of southern California.
On the pool deck is an enclosed balcony for viewing with a more recent mural on the pool level. Considering its famous namesake, I’m surprised that there is no pencil-themed public art in this park. Give me a can of yellow paint and I’ll gladly cover a couple of lampposts in this park with the familiar color of a #2 pencil. A the time of its opening on July 15, 1932, Faber Park had the largest public outdoor pool in the borough. How scenic it was to swim in the pool while watching ships pass by the park.
At the time, there was a smaller Faber property next to the park. It was acquired by the city in 1941, more than doubling the park’s size. The 1917 map above shows the yet-undeveloped city parcel next to the a reduced Faber property. Both have since become Faber Park.
There has never been a better time to be a skateboarder in New York, as more public skating sites citywide continue to be built. There are currently 25 skate parks across the city, with three on Staten Island. Aside from the custom designed terrain, all of the skating sites have scenic views. There’s one under the Manhattan Bridge, and another with a view of the Unisphere. Faber’s skate park was designed by a group of 50 youths in partnership with Stantec’s Action Sport Group. This one opened in 2015.
Looking west at the water’s edge towards the reopened Bayonne Bridge, one can see a faint speck of green in the otherwise bulkheaded channel. That’s Shooters Island, one of only two places where New York City shares a land border with New Jersey. The other is Ellis Island ,which is also divided between the two states. Functioning as a bird sanctuary, it is closed to the public.
Looking west from Faber Park, the riprap shoreline mitigates the impact of waves caused by the supersize ships. Although Bayonne appears so close, the Kill Van Kull is not ideal for swimming. Dredged to 50 feet in depth to accommodate oceangoing ships, it can quickly capture a swimmer unfamiliar with its currents. As the shorelines of Manhattan and much of Brooklyn have been transformed into parkland, perhaps in the future this promenade will extend further on both sides of Faber Park.