Frances Dapolito, far left, got teary eyed at the unveiling of the plaque honoring her late husband, Tony Dapolito. Next to her is Jennie Delaney, her daughter, and former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe.
Dapolito remembered, as center is renamed
By Lincoln Anderson
In a renaming that could not be more appropriate or more well deserved, the Parks Departments 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 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 citys longest serving community board member, logging 50 years on Greenwich Villages Community Board 2. He was 12 times board chairperson, during the other times serving as chairperson of Board 2s 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 Dapolitos grandson, Brian Delaney. Former state Senator Catharine Abate also was at the ceremony.
Among other family members in attendance were Dapolitos 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 Josephs family members.
Also in the audience was Larry Fazio, 68, Dapolitos unofficial adopted son. For 27 years, Fazio drove the truck for Vesuvio Bakery, the Soho business started by Dapolitos 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, hed say, Well, waddaya gonna do? I know its 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.
Thats 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 didnt give them a fair shake. Thats 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 wouldnt be what it is today if we hadnt.
Borough President Fields, who is responsible for appointing Manhattans community board members, highlighted Dapolitos long service, noting the boards were created in 1951 and that he had 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 Art Strickler who, as they were leaving Dapolitos 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. Arty said, Its gotta be something big, Quinn recalled. So we decided, its 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 Dapolitos 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 Tony was for the little guy. The people who made this neighborhood what it is are being priced out and that would have broken Tonys heart. In the face of the onslaught of moneyed interests in this community, Tony stood up for what was right.
Dapolitos grandson, Brian, is majoring in psychology at N.Y.U.
And Im 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 thats 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 didnt have a shower at home. His brother Joseph Dapolito confirmed it was true.
Its really come full circle, Arlen said.