By Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
Ask someone which Village parkland was originally under water, and you’ll probably get the correct answer: Hudson River Park. Ask which Village parkland was once a cemetery, and you’ll probably get only one answer: Washington Square Park. But James J. Walker Park also fits that description.
The land prescribed by Hudson Street, Clarkson Street, and St. Luke’s Place, from 1812 to 1895 served as St. John’s Cemetery, the burial ground of Trinity Church. NYC Parks acquired the land in 1895, calling it St. John’s Park, then Hudson (Street) Park by 1896. Architects Carrere and Hastings provided an elegant park design. A large, rectangular marble sarcophagus on the north side of the park, dedicated in 1834 to three fallen firemen, serves as the only reminder of the land’s former role as a cemetery.
Over the course of the past century, the park has evolved to serve the needs of its community. The Carmine Street Recreation Center located at Clarkson Street and Seventh Avenue South, was opened to the public on May 6, 1908 as one of several bathhouses in Manhattan. NYC Parks assumed full jurisdiction over New York City’s bathhouses in 1938. The outdoor pool was opened in 1939.
The Center was renamed Tony Dapolito Recreation Center in 2004 to honor of Anthony V. Dapolito (1920-2003), a long-time chair of Community Board 2, whose roots in the community and tireless work on its behalf earned him the honorary title, “Mayor of Greenwich Village.” His efforts rebuilt several neighborhood parks, defeated Robert Moses’s ill-conceived plans for the extension of Fifth Avenue through Washington Square Park, and defeated the Lower Manhattan Expressway through much of SoHo.
In 1947 the City Council changed the name of the park to honor Mayor “Beau James” Walker, whose family had moved to 6 St. Luke’s Place in 1886. James J. Walker (1881-1946) was a New York politician whose style and exploits made his name synonymous with the Jazz Age. Elected as a Tammany Hall mayor in 1925 but fleeing to Europe in 1932 after charges of corruption were filed, he returned in 1935 to resume a public life in New York.
The playground was renovated in 1972 and 1996 including the installation of play equipment, a spray shower, benches, trees, an iron fence, and safety surfacing. Animal art includes handmade tiles salvaged from the 1972 renovation and horse-head hitching posts. Artist Keith Haring created the fanciful mural alongside the pool three years before his death in 1990.
The Mayor has funded between $3 million and $5 million for the reconstruction of the Tony Dapolito Recreation Center, which is now in the procurement stage of a two-year plan.