Volume 74, Number 22 | September 29 - October 5 , 2004

Rec. center is renamed for Village’s‘Mr. Parks’

By Lincoln Anderson

Villager photos by Ramin Talaie
Former Mayor Ed Koch spoke as Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern and Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields sat to his right.
In a renaming that could not be more appropriate or more well deserved, the Parks Department’s Carmine St. Recreation Center was rechristened for the late “Mr. Parks” and “Mayor of Greenwich Village,” the late Tony Dapolito.

Family, friends, a former mayor and many admirers, about 200 in all, filled the basketball gym at the rec. center Monday morning for the ceremony.

Speakers noted that the new name of the center on Seventh Ave. S. could not have been more fitting, for during his life, Dapolito, who was born and lived all his days in the Village, did so much to protect and improve the neighborhood and its public green spaces.

Dapolito, who died last July the day before his 83rd birthday, was the city’s longest serving community board member, logging 50 years on Greenwich Village’s Community Board 2. He was 12 times board chairperson, during other times serving as chairperson of Board 2’s Parks Committee.

Speakers at the event included former Mayor Edward I. Koch, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, Councilmembers Christine Quinn and Alan Gerson, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, former N.Y.U. President L. Jay Oliva, C.B. 2 Chairperson Jim Smith and Dapolito’s grandson, Brian Delaney. Former state Senator Catharine Abate also was at the ceremony.

Among other family members in attendance were Dapolito’s widow, Frances; Jennie, their daughter, and her husband, Denis Delaney; and Joseph Dapolito, last surviving of the five Dapolito brothers of whom Tony was the oldest; and Joseph’s family members.

Also in the audience was Larry Fazio, 68, Dapolito’s unofficial “adopted son.” For 27 years, Fazio drove the truck for Vesuvio Bakery, the business started by Dapolito’s parents.

Calling Dapolito “a great friend of parks and to the Village,” Benepe praised him for always keeping things in perspective and exerting a calming influence, even when contentious park and playground debates threatened to erupt.

“When things were really out of control,” Benepe recalled, “he’d say, ‘Well, waddaya gonna do? I know it’s crazy, but waddaya gonna do?’ ”

Recalling his early years in the Village, where he settled in 1956, Koch reverently recalled the Board 2 members and activists of that era, such as Jane Jacobs, Ruth Wittenberg, Shirley Hayes and Verna Small.

“That’s an extraordinary group of people to be on a quasi-governmental board,” noted Koch, himself then a board member. “What kept it all together was Tony Dapolito.” Despite the political battles that rocked the Village in those days, “on the board, Tony was absolutely the fairest of chairman,” Koch said. “No one could say that Tony didn’t give them a fair shake. That’s the ultimate thing for a chairperson.”

Koch listed some of the memorable battles Dapolito helped lead, from epic struggles, such as closing Washington Sq. Park to bus traffic and blocking Robert Moses’ plan to plow Fifth Ave. through the square — to smaller, but no less fraught, cultural skirmishes, like “banning the folk singers” in the park.

“Most of them we won,” Koch said. “And the Village wouldn’t be what it is today if we hadn’t.”

Borough President Fields, who is responsible for appointing Manhattan’s community board members, highlighted Dapolito’s long service, noting the boards were created in 1951 and that he served on Board 2 since 1954.

“He was indeed a legend in his own time,” she said. “To answer that question, ‘Waddaya gonna do?’ We can name this center after you and we can tell children of your legacy and how they can make a difference.”

Councilmember Quinn said it was C.B. 2 District Manager Art Strickler who, as they were leaving Dapolito’s wake last year, proposed the idea of naming a Parks facility after Dapolito. Thompson St. Playground was renamed Vesuvio in his honor seven years ago, as a way of getting around Parks’ rule of not renaming playgrounds or parks for living persons. So Vesuvio had already been renamed, Quinn said. There were some vest-pocket parks that could be renamed, but these were too small.

“Arty said, ‘It’s gotta be something big,’” Quinn recalled. “So we decided, it’s gotta be Carmine Rec.”

Quinn noted that when she had encountered opposition in attempts to upgrade Village parks, Dapolito reassured her that she was doing the right thing.

“He really gave me the guidance to stick with it and help give this community world-class parks,” she said.

Councilmember Gerson used the rec. center and the basketball court as a metaphor to describe Dapolito. Like the bustle of the center, Gerson said, Dapolito was “indefatigable. His energy was nonstop. He was the first to arrive at community board meetings and would be the last to leave.” The following morning, the councilmember said, Dapolito would be back at 5:30 a.m. working at his Prince St. bakery.

Like the players on the basketball court, Gerson said, Dapolito “knew how to win — not for himself, for the community. He always played by the rules. His word was his bond.”

Yet, while some young basketball players, filled with “hubris,” might be cocky and boastful, Gerson said, Dapolito was modest despite his many awards and accolades.

Gerson was Dapolito’s neighbor in 505 LaGuardia Pl.

“He was a mentor to me, a mentor to all of us,” Gerson recalled. “We miss you, Tony.”

Assemblymember Glick said of Dapolito, “He did so much and was so kind and it was so effortless — because it was a reflection of who he was.

“And Tony was for the little guy,” Glick continued. “The people who made this neighborhood what it is are being priced out and that would have broken Tony’s heart. In the face of the onslaught of moneyed interests in this community, Tony stood up for what was right.”

Calling Dapolito “the George Washington of community participation,” former Parks Commissioner Stern said the renaming of the center, which opened in 1908, was apt.

“I’ve been through hundreds of name changes and this is the best,” he said. “Just like Strawberry Fields in honor of John Lennon.”

Oliva, N.Y.U.’s president emeritus, said Dapolito wouldn’t have wanted such fanfare on his account. But, he said, the civility, kindness and openness, yet passion for getting things done, that Dapolito embodied are sorely needed today.

“Tony, you don’t need this,” Oliva said. “All the celebration, this wouldn’t have been up his alley. We need this. For us, we need that name everywhere we can put it.”

Dapolito’s grandson, Brian, is majoring in psychology at N.Y.U.

“And I’m hoping one day to be as understanding of people and loving as you were,” he said of his grandfather. “Up until now, he only had one grandchild. Now, he has thousands.”

Mayor Bloomberg issued a proclamation designating Mon., Sept. 27, 2004, Anthony Dapolito Recreation Center Day in New York City. However, it is, in fact, called the Tony Dapolito Recreation Center. Denis Delaney, his son-in-law, said the Parks Department asked the family what they preferred and they said Tony, since that’s what everyone called him.“Any conversation we had in the family, it was parks,” Denis Delaney remembered. “If he got some vest-pocket park with benches, that made his week.”

One of several current and former Board 2 members at the ceremony, Ann Arlen, a former member, said Dapolito used to tell her how as a boy he showered at the rec. center because they didn’t have a shower at home. His brother Joseph Dapolito confirmed it was true.

“It’s really come full circle,” Arlen said.

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