City is considering demolishing the Tony Dapolito rec center in Greenwich Village

Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue discusses the obstacles to restoring the Tony Dapolito Rec Center.
Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue discusses the obstacles to restoring the Tony Dapolito Rec Center.
Photo by Max Parrott

The Parks Department is publicly announcing that it’s considering razing Greenwich Village’s beloved Tony Dapolito Recreation Center years after discovering extensive structural damage to the core of the building, which was built in 1908.

“It’s a uniquely challenging building,” Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue told reporters on Monday. “It’s a building that we inherited in pieces and the fact that it’s three buildings stitched together was not optimal for sure.”

The rec center, named after a long-serving community board member known as the unofficial “Mayor of Greenwich Village,” never reopened after its pandemic closure. A protracted renovation project exposed serious structural issues, and required the Parks Department to indefinitely shutter the entire facility, including both its indoor and outdoor pools. 

Reinforced scaffolding holds up the rec center’s ceiling from collapsing.Photo by Max Parrott

Parks officials say they’re actively weighing plans to restore the facility against creating a new public recreation center nearby, but the tour of the facility that Donoghue and Parks engineers led on Monday focused on the downsides of working with the antiquated building. 

Donoghue said that Parks would be getting $100 million to upgrade the area’s recreation centers, and it might be more “fiscally responsible” to start over with a new facility — potentially one in the base level of an incoming affordable housing building across the street at 388 Hudson Street.

“We’d be really challenged, as we saw in walking through, to do that here. The constraints on the indoor pool, the constraints with the building footprint itself. The columns don’t allow for even a regulation size basketball court,” said Donoghue.

The rec center’s indoor pool.Photo by Max Parrott

On the facility’s second-story basketball court, reinforced scaffolding is shoring up the vaulted ceiling from collapsing. Benjamin Conable, Parks’ deputy director of engineering, said the agency had to install 24-hour vibration monitoring to provide alerts in case there are any movements. On the exterior of the building, the city also put up scaffolding to prevent parts of its stone facade from falling off onto pedestrians.

After its construction, the core structure of the building was extended twice to add an additional space and its indoor pool. Essentially the building is cobbled together from three separate buildings, Conable said. 

“Tight column spacing makes it very difficult for us to modify the building in any meaningful way,” he added.

There is one element that Parks wants to preserve however: the massive Keith Haring mural that sprawls over the center’s outdoor pool — one of the famous pop artist’s most prominent public artworks. The city has been in touch with the Keith Haring Foundation to transfer the mural into whatever comes next to the site, Donoghue said.

Photo by Max Parrott

The obstacles posed by the turn-of-the-century building have merged into the discussion around the development of an all-affordable rental building on city-owned property across the street at 388 Hudson St., where HPD will soon be soliciting proposals for a community space on the ground floor.

In a February 2023 resolution on the 388 Huson project, Community Board 2 cited the continued closure of the Tony Dapolito recreation center as a reason the neighborhood needs more recreation space in the new building. Parks indicated that the future of that community space would play a major role in determining the future of the rec center.

“We are working with HPD and our sister agencies to look at the potential for a rec center at 388 Hudson,” Donoghue said. “They’ll be putting out an RFP to a developer to be able to investigate that as an option. We’ll be working closely with them in conjunction with the community.”

Parks will be presenting its plans to Manhattan Community Board 2 Wednesday evening.

Left, Parks’ Deputy Director of Engineering Benjamin Conable, right Sue Donoghue.Photo by Max Parrott