Al D’Avanzo, 76, architect and a founder of BAMRA

Al D’Avanzo sitting at one of his favorite Bleecker St. cafes.

Al D’Avanzo sitting at one of his favorite Bleecker St. cafes.

BY ALBERT AMATEAU | Albert N. D’Avanzo, an architect and Villager who was a founder of the Bleecker Area Merchants and Residents Association (BAMRA), died in his home on Thompson St. between late Sun., March 24, and early Mon., March 25, his 76th birthday.

In ill health for the past two years, Al was last seen by friends and neighbors on Sunday afternoon. On Tues., March 26, his friends Chic Sgroi and Julie Lau, a BAMRA colleague and former chairperson, went to his apartment and discovered his body.

“How will we get anything done without him?” was a frequent comment at his April 7 memorial at the Greenwich Village Funeral Home on Bleecker St.

As the first chairperson of BAMRA, Al D’Avanzo wrote the organization’s bylaws and registered it with New York State as a nonprofit civic group. He initiated a tree-planting program and mapped the organization’s boundaries between Sixth Ave. and Mercer St. from Houston St. to W. Fourth St. He was working on a revision of the bylaws when he died.

“He was cantankerous and benevolent at the same time,” said Lois Rakoff, a BAMRA member and Thompson St. neighbor. “He was in favor of the Washington Square Park redesign and I was against it, along with many neighbors. But he ‘forgave’ me, saying that he was a ‘symmetrian’ while I was an ‘asymmetrian’.”

A man of many talents and strongly held opinions, Al D’Avanzo preferred direct action to long talks.

“He took the whole responsibility for coming up with the name of BAMRA and incorporating it with the state,” said Lau, who succeeded Al as chairperson of the group. “He organized an anti-graffiti program, hiring a homeless man [to remove or paint over the graffiti] and buying the paint and brushes. He always wanted to do the right thing, by his vision,” Lau said.

“Al was against the annual Legalize Marijuana rally in the Village and made a complaint about it under my name as BAMRA chairperson,” Lau added. “I was giving birth at the time and didn’t know what was happening until the marijuana people picketed our restaurant.”

Devoted to the neighborhood, Al frequently ignored his own needs.

“He looked pale and ill in 2011,” Lau recalled. “I asked how he was and told him to go to the hospital. He said, ‘Yeah, yeah.’ But he didn’t do anything. So I took him to the emergency room myself. He hadn’t seen a doctor since he was in the Army, and they found lots of problems,” she recalled.

“He used to say, ‘I’m like an old tree; nothing can hurt me.’ He was like a tree: Once he made up his mind and took a stand, he would not be moved,” Lau said.

Al was also a Parks Department-certified tree pruner.

Sgroi, a general contractor, worked with Al on several projects. She recalled him as a stubborn and loyal friend who once worked for the City Planning Department in order to promote the Bleecker area tree program and to change the rules on sidewalk cafes.

“Al was involved in the redesign of Father Demo Square on Sixth Ave. and on Minetta Park across the avenue,” Sgroi said.

Rick Bell, director of the American Institute of Architects New York Center on LaGuardia Place, recalled Al D’Avanzo as a talented and outspoken colleague at the architectural firm of Warner Burns Toan & Lunde.

“He could draw wonderfully and he was never shy about questioning a project,” Bell said. “He wouldn’t play office politics games.”

Victor D’Avanzo, Al’s nephew, told the April 7 memorial that his uncle was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the youngest of five brothers and one sister. His father was born in Naples, Italy, and his mother was from Chillicothe, Ohio. Al served in the Army in the 1950s in the Military Police, stationed at the Berlin Wall.

After his discharge he came to live in the Village and earned a degree in architecture from Columbia University. As a young Villager he wore his hair long and rode a motorcycle.

Al’s personal style changed but his love for Greenwich Village remained constant.

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4 Responses to Al D’Avanzo, 76, architect and a founder of BAMRA

  1. William DAvanzo

    Thank you for posting this tribute to my Uncle Albert. I'm William D'Avanzo, Al's God son and Victor's (quoted in the article) much younger brother. :) As with the effect on BAMRA, the loss of our Uncle leaves a very big void in our family. We will always cherish the memories we have of our Uncle. He was an encourager, philosopher, teacher, and mentor to many. NYC is better for his efforts, and our hearts are fuller for his presence in our lives, though they ache now for our loss.

    Thank you to the many friends and colleagues of our Uncle Albert who joined Vic in the celebration of his life and achievements.

    • George Davanzo

      William last time I saw Uncle Albert was in 1976 after my Grandfather Luigi D'Avanzo died. Uncle Albert came with us to Disneyland after my now deceased father Joshua D'Avanzo and my mother Diane D'Avanzo divorced. At the time I was about 10 years old. I am unsure as to why we never saw each other again, but I am so sad to hear of his passing.

      "D'Avanzo" according to my facebook account is pretty widespread name so I am never sure if there is a true connection. I lived in Union Squ for 10 years and never knew he was around the corner. So sorry for your loss. Our brief time decades ago was nice.

  2. Diane D'Avanzo

    I'm happy to read this rememberance and tribute to my Uncle Albert. I'm Diane D'Avanzo, Uncle Albert's God daughter, and cousin to Victor and William D'Avanzo and their sister Anna Marie. Our thanks go to Victor for hosting Uncle's Albert's memorial service in the Village. My sister Yvonne made the trip from Florida and returned with many great stories shared by Uncle Al's dear friends, neighbors and colleagues. Along with this article, I'm so glad to read of the contributions Uncle Albert made to the community he so loved and the lives he touched. We love and miss you, Uncle Albert.

  3. Elizabeth Mooney

    I'd like to echo my two cousins responses above. Uncle Albert's only sister was my mother. I always knew that The Village was Uncle Albert's heart and soul, but it took his memorial to see why it meant so much to him. Besides being a beautiful place, it's the people – his community of friends and neighbors. I was so fortunate to meet them and hear their stories and share my own. My uncle was never one for wakes and funerals. But he would have loved his memorial. Instead of being a sad occasion, it was a celebration of his life. I would like to thank all of the people who attended and who brought such joy and meaning to my uncle's life. As much as he gave to the community, he got back tenfold in friendship and love from his beloved Village.

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