CaVaLa Park in Tribeca renamed after Capsouto


BY Aline Reynolds

After months of lobbying by the Downtown community, Tribeca’s CaVaLa Park will be renamed in honor of beloved community member Albert Capsouto, who died last January at age 53 from a malignant brain tumor.

A Community Board 1 member for around 20 years, Capsouto chaired the Tribeca Committee and played a major role in creating CaVaLa Park, previously a cobblestone parking lot. Capsouto was also instrumental in the rezoning of the neighbrhood and the regrowth of small businesses in the years post-9/11.

“This is a wonderful tribute to Albert. I’m just thrilled,” said C.B. 1 Chair Julie Menin, who pushed for the name to be changed. “It’s a very beautiful way to recognize someone’s life.”

“I think it’s great news to see the community wants to compensate Albert for all the pioneer work he did,” said Jacques Capsouto, Albert’s brother.

He, Albert and their brother, Samuel, transformed a dry foods warehouse at 451 Washington Street into a traditional French restaurant, Capsouto Frères, in 1980. The restaurant quickly became a hotspot in the Tribeca community and, years later, a refuge for 9/11 youths.

“When the kids were running from P.S. 234 north, in the huge cloud of the World Trade Center, they ran to Capsouto Frères,” said C.B. 1 member Bruce Ehrmann, who chaired the Albert Capsouto Task Force. He said Albert greeted the children with open arms, giving them food and a place to hang out.

The Parks Department will hold a ceremony at the park later in the fall.

“After consulting further with Community Board [1], we learned more about the fine work done by Albert Capsouto and his longtime dedication to the Tribeca community,” said Manhattan Parks Department Borough Commissioner Bill Castro in a statement.

C.B. 1’s Albert Capsouto Task Force initially proposed the idea to Castro in early April. At the time, the Parks Department was hesitant about the idea.

“[Castro] says he and board chair Julie Menin are currently working together to find a suitable site for a memorial in lieu of renaming the park,” Parks Department Spokesperson Cristina DeLuca said in an e-mail in early May.

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe then received letters from State Senator Daniel Squadron, Assembly Member Deborah Glick, New York State Senate Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Council Member Margaret Chin, urging the Parks Department to memorialize Albert.

Shortly after 9/11, Capsouto traveled to Washington D.C. to petition Congress for funding for Lower Manhattan’s struggling small businesses.

“As a small business owner and chair of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s Restaurants, Retailers and Small Business Advisory Council, Albert helped lead a successful effort to secure federal assistance that has kept countless struggling small businesses and retailers open,” Silver said in a letter to Benepe.

Glick’s letter read, “While the name CaVaLa is catchy and geographically locates the park at the intersections of Canal, Varick, and Laight Streets, beyond that the name has no historical connection to the Tribeca community.”

The strong show of support from politicians and community members factored into the Parks Department’s decision.

“In the end, we were convinced that renaming the park would be a fitting tribute to a true community servant,” Castro continued in the statement.

Naming a park after a community advocate isn’t too uncommon. In the last year, the Parks Department named Arthur Strickler triangle, in the West Village, after the late C.B. 2 member, for example.

Menin, Jacques Capsouto and Ehrmann took a walk through the park with Manhattan Borough Commissioner William Castro on July 20, stressing the community’s desire to commemorate the space to Capsouto.

C.B. 1 previously passed a resolution in early May, which said that “CaVaLa,” which stands for Canal, Varick and Laight Streets, “appears to be an ironic reference to the early-21st century real estate bubble, when every neighborhood seemed to be reduced to an easily packaged acronym.”

“There’s no historical significance to the name [CaVaLa], and many people couldn’t pronounce it,” said Menin. “The park is all about renewal and rebirth. It’s a place for introspection and contemplation — a perfect place for someone to think about that individual, and what they contributed to the community.”

CaVaLa “doesn’t have much meaning to the neighborhood,” echoed Ehrmann.

Albert Capsouto was born in Cairo, Egypt into a Sephardic Jewish family. The Capsoutos fled from the Suez War to Lyon, France in 1957 and moved to New York City in 1961, when Albert was 5 years old. He graduated top of his class from Stuyvesant High School and went on to get a Bachelor’s Degree in architecture and engineering at Yale University.

Albert Capsouto will be granted a posthumous community service award honoring his longstanding service to the Downtown community at Downtown Hospital’s 17th Annual Gala Dinner Dance on October 7.