Originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. and Calvert Vaux and constructed between 1870 and 1871, the park was part of their system of parks for Brooklyn. Conceived as a residential square similar to Washington Square and Tompkins Square in Manhattan, the park served the growing middle-class neighborhood now known as Bedford Stuyvesant. In an inversion of the typical designs for residential squares, the plan included trees planted in the center of the square and flower gardens along the edge to be enjoyed from the street and the surrounding homes as well as from the park.
With the exception of this site continuing as parkland, there appears to be little trace of the original design. Some of the nineteenth century brownstones surrounding the park remain, as does a rare southern magnolia planted in front of a residence around 1885. A horticultural anomaly (as New York City is well beyond its typical range), the tree was designated a city landmark in 1970, the city’s only living landmark.
The center of the park was opened up in 1915 to accommodate crowds drawn to afternoon concerts there, and a library was built the same year. A playground was built in 1927. Today the park has many large shade trees, an open lawn, a playground, and a baseball field. In 1973 a recreation and cultural center with an outdoor amphitheater replaced the library, which burned down in 1969. In 1985 the park was renamed for Herbert Von King, a community leader.