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.