James Gandolfini, center, flanked by Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed, were among the celebrities at a March 2009 fundraiser to oppose the city’s three-district Sanitation garage in Hudson Square.
BY ALBERT AMATEAU | James Gandolfini, the actor who achieved celebrity as Tony Soprano, and a community advocate who had joined his Tribeca and Hudson Square neighbors in a vain effort to stop a Department of Sanitation mega-garage, was mourned last week by friends and admirers.
More than 1,000 people attended his funeral on Thurs., June 27, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. In addition to actors from the 1999-2007 HBO classic and other theater luminaries, ordinary fans attended the funeral, along with public figures, including New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Gandolfini, 51, died June 19 of a massive heart attack while on vacation in Rome, where his 13-year-old son by his first marriage, Michael, found his body in their hotel room.
Raised in Park Ridge, N.J., Gandolfini had lived in Manhattan for about 25 years, most of them in Tribeca.
When the city’s Department of Sanitation first proposed a three-district garage between Washington and West Sts. from Spring St. to Charlton St., neighbors organized the Tribeca Community Association and Canal West Coalition to oppose the 118-foot-tall project.
Gandolfini along with his neighbors vainly tried to convince the city to adopt an alternate project known as Hudson Rise, which called for a smaller, two-district garage with a public park on top of it.
In May 2008, Gandolfini met with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to pitch the new plan but the response was not what he had hoped. A week later the actor paid for 5,000 four-color fliers blasting the city project and promoting the Hudson Rise plan. The fliers urged Tribeca and Hudson Square residents and merchants, “Please help and become involved. We can beat this if we act.”
A month later Gandolfini told The Villager, “I live down here and I’d rather not have all those trucks that are going to come down here [as a result of that project]. I don’t think they’re paying attention to what they’re doing here, Mr. Bloomberg and the rest.”
Gandolfini, who had a neighborhood reputation off-screen as a big, gentle and soft-spoken man, added that he thought Bloomberg, “seems like a very nice man. I like a lot of what he’s doing for the city. This is a terrible idea. There are many, many better places to put this.”
Nevertheless, the three-district garage won City Council approval (Quinn voted for it) and is currently under construction and nearing completion.
The actor’s concern for the neighborhood went beyond the Sanitation garage issue. At a rally for the Hudson Rise alternative in 2009, Gandolfini weighed in on the 40-story Trump Soho condo-hotel built at Spring and Varick Sts. a few years earlier despite neighborhood opposition. He called the supersized hotel a “piece of crap” to which the nearby Sanitation garage would add insult to injury.
Gandolfini’s commitment to Tribeca included his being an investor in two residential developments, a seven-story building at 415 Washington St. with an entrance at 55 Vestry St. and another building at 414 Washington St.
At Gandolfini’s funeral last week, David Chase, writer of “The Sopranos,” said his ability to endow a dangerous gangster with human vulnerability was the “little boy” inside the actor’s soul.
In a tribute to him in Downtown Express, The Villager’s sister paper, last week, his friend and Tribeca neighbor Wickham Boyle said Gandolfini was “sweet and downright humble. It seemed as if he adjusted his height and his bulk and his big voice to be a person all of us could be very friendly with.”
After “The Sopranos,” Gandolfini played a leading role in “God of Carnage” on Broadway, for which he was nominated for a Tony Award in 2009. His many film credits include the voice of one of the monsters in Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are.”
In addition to his son, his wife of five years, Deborah Lin, and a nine-month-old daughter survive.