The Vesuvio playground, one of the few green spaces in the newly designated Sullivan-Thompson Historic District, is a true haven for South Village children.
In the 1920s, the New York City Parks Department started buying land for playgrounds in the then-Italian-immigrant community.
This playground, which opened in 1934, was originally called the Thompson Playground after Revolutionary War Brigadier General William Thompson. An early example of the New Deal’s extensive development of parks throughout New York City, the park was among 14 new playgrounds established in New York City that year. Based on press releases in the New York City Parks Department archives, almost all New York City Parks Department projects between 1934 and 1943 were accomplished with New Deal funds and/or labor. Federal funding provided for laborers, materials, architects, landscapers, and engineers employed on Parks projects. The New Deal programs created 370 new playgrounds in the five boroughs between 1934 and 1943 and reconstructed 67 others.
During the time of the development of the park, a young boy named Anthony Dapolito was bumping along the cobblestone streets on a bicycle delivering bread from the bakery he would eventually own: Vesuvio Bakery. Dapolito never left his childhood neighborhood and, in addition to owning the iconic bakery, became an advocate for the Italian immigrant community of the South Village. In the 1990’s, local residents wanted to honor Anthony Dapolito for his work, but a Parks Department policy prevented the naming of public parks after a living person. They compromised by renaming the Thompson Street Playground after Dapolito’s beloved bakery.
Maintained by Friends of Vesuvio Playground, a volunteer community group dedicated to the improvement of the space, the playground boasts a wonderful 3’ deep pool which is most welcome in the summer months. Renovated in 2007, the park has handball courts, bocce courts, sandboxes, more water features, and a basketball court.
Most recently, the park doubled as an art gallery featuring an extraordinary mural by the world-renowned East Village artist, Isca Greenfield-Sanders and the help of more than 200 local kids.
The installation, entitled “Playground Parachutes,” includes four large-scale murals that Greenfield-Sanders gridded into 72 square tiles printed in four basic colors: blue, pink, yellow and black.
Teaching artists at the Children’s Museum of the Arts (CMA) in Hudson Square took the tiles and helped more than 200 children fill them in with colored pencils before returning them to the artist so she could reassemble into four parachute images. The project was organized and sponsored by three local downtown non-profits — CMA, Green Below 14, and public art group, SmartSpaces — along with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation.