Summer makes one think of our public pools and recreation centers (whether they’re open or not). The first one that came to mind was the Tony Dapolito Center, which opened on May 6, 1908. Located on 7th Avenue between Carmine and Clarkson Streets, this South Village recreation center is named after the late “Mayor of Greenwich Village,” Tony Dapolito.
Mr. Dapolito’s parents, Nunzio and Jennie, Neapolitan immigrants, opened the famous Vesuvio Bakery (named for the Vesuvio volcano near Naples) at 160 Prince Street in 1920 shortly after Tony was born on Houston Street. According to Tony’s obituary in the New York Times, “The eldest of five boys, he was the first to be given the chore of delivering bread. He drove a horse-drawn bread wagon; the family did not have a truck until 1937. In 1946, he married Frances, a local girl, and they had one child, Jennie, who still lives in Manhattan.” Eventually, Tony took over ownership of Vesuvio Bakery, furthering his community involvement.
For many years, he served as president of the First Precinct Police Community Council. He was elected 12 times as chairperson of Community Board 2 and Chairperson of CB2’s Parks Committee for many more. When he began his time on the Community Board in 1950, shortly after the boards began, he said he wanted to be the first person to serve for 50 years. He served for 52. Tony spearheaded efforts to have several neighborhood parks rebuilt, and was one of the leading activists against Robert Moses’ plans to extend 5th Avenue through Washington Square Park and build a Lower Manhattan Expressway, which would have wiped out a large piece of SoHo. Among his neighborhood passions was an interest in facilities and amenities for children. Therefore, the year after his passing in 2003, one day before his 83rd birthday, the Department of Parks and Recreation named this recreation center for him. (to read more about Anthony Dapolito and other Italian immigrants of the South Village, check out our report Italians of the South Village)
According to the Department of Parks & Recreation:
The building originally took its name from nearby Carmine Street, which in turn is named for Nicholas Carman, a colonial-era vestryman from Trinity Church. The facility was opened to the public on May 6, 1908 as one of several bathhouses in Manhattan commissioned by Mayor William L. Strong. In 1895, after decades of lobbying by social reformers, the State Legislature passed a law requiring free bathhouses in cities with populations over 50,000. By 1911 there were 12 such facilities serving “the great unwashed” in the city, as an antidote to the overcrowded and often unsanitary conditions of tenement life.
The architectural firm Renwick, Aspinwall and Tucker designed the facility, which cost approximately $132,954 to build. Originally, three City agencies operated in the building. The office of the Manhattan Borough President ran the showers and tubs on the first and second floors. The third floor gymnasium was supervised by the Recreation Commission (later the Department of Parks and Recreation), and the Board of Education was responsible for the roof area, which served as an open-air classroom for anemic and sickly children.
In 1920, a new indoor pool was completed, which altered the building’s eastern facade. In 1912, plans for an outdoor pool were delayed by the extension of 7th Avenue South. In 1938, The Department of Parks assumed full jurisdiction over New York City’s bathhouses and the outdoor pool was finally opened in 1939, built by the Works Progress Administration and designed by Aymar Embury II. In 1987, Keith Haring painted the mural along the pool, just three years before his death. This magnificent art piece remains today.
This recreation center is especially important to Village Preservation as it is located in the South Village extension of the Greenwich Village Historic District which we strongly advocated for. The history of the building can be found on page 275 of the report (the above link). Further, the building’s architectural merit is called out in the Village Preservation-commissioned report on the South Village by architectural historian Andrew Dolkart.
Today, the Tony Dapolito Recreation Center “serves as a year-round hub for many in and around the neighborhood. In addition to providing fitness facilities, it hosts youth and adult athletic leagues, after-school programs, a summer day camp, fitness classes and many other activities.”