Volume 22, Number 52 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | May 7 - 13, 2010
Downtown Express file photo
Albert Capsouto was an owner of Capsouto Freres restaurant and a member
of Community Board 1.
City stalls in honoring late, beloved Lower Manhattan advocate
BY Aline Reynolds
The Tribeca community has asked the city Parks Department to rename a local park in honor of their beloved neighbor Albert Capsouto, who died prematurely in January of a brain tumor. But the city is stalling, both on renaming the park and on identifying other possible memorial sites.
Capsouto, who served nearly two decades on Community Board 1, played a critical role in establishing CaVaLa Park, formerly a cobblestoned parking lot.
CaVaLa, which stands for Canal, Varick and Laight Streets, is not recognizable and hard to pronounce, according to Board 1 members, who last week passed a resolution calling for the park to be officially renamed in Capsouto’s honor.
The resolution states, “[CaVaLa] appears to be an ironic reference to the early-21st-century real estate bubble, when every neighborhood seemed to be reduced to an easily packaged acronym.” Some who don’t know the meaning ask who CaVaLa is, assuming that it was named after someone, sources said.
The Capsouto Task Force previously contemplated renaming a school, a waterfall and the Hudson River Park bike path after Capsouto, but the park itself seemed most symbolic, Community Board 1 Chairperson Julie Menin said.
“The idea of renewal and rebirth every spring has a special meaning within our Lower Manhattan community due to 9/11,” she said. “Renaming the park would be a very fitting tribute to Albert’s memory.”
But the Parks Department has not yet settled on the park as a commemoration site for Capsouto. In fact, the department has appeared resistant to the idea since it was first proposed to Manhattan Parks Commissioner Bill Castro in early April.
“[Castro] says he and board chair Julie Menin are currently working together to find a suitable site for a memorial in lieu of renaming the park,” wrote spokesperson Cristina DeLuca in an e-mail on May 3.
“I’m really shocked and disappointed. He [Castro] indicated to me that we would be having a conversation about this,” Menin said.
The department seemed to soften its opposition to renaming the park following a conversation with Menin the next morning. Spokesperson Vickie Karp stated in an e-mail on May 4: “Parks is currently in discussions with all involved so that we can make the best decision.” The department would not disclose other potential Capsouto memorial spots.
Castro, Menin and Bruce Ehrmann, who heads Board 1’s Capsouto Task Force, will be meeting in the next few weeks to discuss the different options.
It has been nearly four months since the passing of Capsouto, a devoted Lower Manhattan advocate who fought for small businesses, helped rezone Tribeca and saw to completion Lower Manhattan parks.
Capsouto passed away on January 19 at age 53, just nine weeks after being diagnosed with a Stage 4 brain tumor.
Capsouto Freres Bistro, the family restaurant co-owned with his brothers Jacques and Samuel, is a favorite Tribeca haunt. “It’s like a town hall,” Madelyn Wils, former C.B. 1 chairperson, said. “People see each other and catch up on the news of the day. Albert would always welcome guests into the restaurant and make sure they were well-fed and satisfied.”
She recalled a time when she and Capsouto walked around all of Tribeca to note down the parking regulations that they later evaluated with the Department of Transportation. “It was so cold, we all went back to his restaurant afterwards and drank hot chocolate to get warmed up,” Wils remarked. “His restaurant was like his home — he invited everyone into it.”
Brothers Jacques and Samuel Capsouto will celebrate their 30th anniversary of the opening of Capsouto Freres without their cherished Albert by their side. “We’re going to continue doing what we were doing before, but it’s going to be very difficult without him there,” Jacques said, choking up.
The brothers are moved by the neighborhood’s effort to rename the park. “It’s not a family decision — it’s the community that wanted to do something for Albert,” said Jacques. “Albert put a lot of energy into making that park what it is today.”
Meanwhile, the city and state are honoring Capsouto in other ways.
The state Legislature passed a resolution in February to commemorate Albert Capsouto as a “pioneering restaurateur and civic leader” who “always gave of himself unstintingly.”
A $1,000 scholarship will be awarded annually to a Stuyvesant High School graduate showing dedication to community service. Capsouto graduated at the top of Stuyvesant’s Class of 1973.
A Caring Hand Foundation is posthumously giving Capsouto its annual Philanthropic Achievement Award for his community efforts in Lower Manhattan. The gala event, “Handing Our Children a Brighter Future,” will take place on Monday, May 17, from 6:30 to 10 p.m. Tickets cost $175 in advance and $200 at the door. Jacques and Sammy Capsouto will be accepting the award on Albert Capsouto’s behalf.
Funds will also be collected in Capsouto’s name at New York Downtown Hospital, where he was about to be appointed trustee shortly before his death. Jacques Capsouto plans on creating a program to commemorate his brother in the coming months.
Donations can be mailed to the hospital to Cora Fung, Assistant Vice President of Development, 170 William Street, New York, NY 10038-2612. You can reach Ms. Fung by phone at 212-801-1723.