This month Brooklyn Bridge Park is turning 5 years old, which seems so young considering all of the changes that have taken place over the 85-acres during that time. Not long ago, the Tobacco Warehouse was still an open-air empty space; the Empire Store Warehouses were equally abandoned; and there were no roller rinks, no soccer fields, no beaches. Just rocks, cement, and unused piers.

Brooklyn side of East River, ca 1910 (Brooklyn Historical Society)

The area—then laden with shipping barges, piers, and warehouses—became vacant; with cargo ship operations closing in the 1980s, the Port Authority sold many piers off for commercial development. In 1985, not-for-profit organization Friends of Fulton Ferry Landing was established, and it was their idea to transform the area into a park. After a few name changes, this group settled on the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy.

Panorama of Brooklyn and Manhattan waterfronts, ca 1910. (Brooklyn Historical Society)

In 2002, things got a little controversial—or at least that's the year that any current controversy springs from. Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. Pataki signed a Memorandum of Understanding, where "New York State and the City of New York agreed to create, develop, and operate Brooklyn Bridge Park... The MOU also formed the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation (BBPDC) to develop the park, following the guidelines as established by the Illustrative Master Plan." $360 million of capital funding was doled out, and in 2004 design plans were being prepped. In 2011, a new MOU was signed, which outlined requirements for commercial and residential development in the park.

View from Esplanade, Brooklyn Heights, 1961. (Brooklyn Historical Society)

Construction began in 2008, and in March of 2010—five years ago this month—Pier 1 became the first section to open to the public. Back then, not many knew about this area, and it was a blissful, quiet oasis, with The Best View of Lower Manhattan. It was easy to stake out a picnic spot, or find complete privacy. In the following years the park became more developed, and more of a destination spot—as of last summer it's often become too crowded at Pier 1. The price of improvements!

Currently, the unfinished Pierhouse condos and hotel are looming over Pier 1—the development plans to partially open this year, and will be filled with new residents sometime in 2016. Pier 6 is also getting condos, though some are now questioning if all of this is actually necessary.

The park is showing no signs of slowing down—you can keep up with the next phases right here, with more developed parkland, St. Ann's Warehouse, and Pier 5 marina coming this year.

And like it or not, we can all agree that it looks better at 5 years old than it did at 1 year old. Click through for the before and after shots.

Pier 5, before and after

Here's an additional look at the park before it was a park—back in the 1970s.