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Corporal John A. Seravalli Playground

Corporal John A. Seravalli Playground

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

At the request of Community Board 2, and by decision of the City Planning Commission, Parks, and Borough President Hulan E. Jack, this open space was carved out of Manhattan's crowded West Village. During the early 1950s, Anthony Dapolito, lifetime park advocate and then chairman of Community Board 2, had successfully worked for the creation of Thompson Playground in SoHo. Residents of the West Village were inspired to approach Community Board 2 and Parks Commissioner Robert Moses for a playground in their neighborhood.

On April 9, 1958, the City Planning Commission held a site selection hearing. One of the proposed sites would have required the displacement and relocation of ninety-five tenants, as well as a fire station. The location chosen, however, on Hudson Street, between Horatio and Gansevoort, would displace only twelve families. Aside from three residential brownstones, the project required the demolition of a Department of Sanitation garage, and express depot, a waste paper loft building, a furniture warehouse, and a parking lot. Only the nine-story office building facing West 4th Street would be spared.

Opponents of the playground denounced the design as a "white elephant," and claimed local civic groups and boards had not been adequately consulted. Its advocates, however, were confident that the residential Village would expand towards the west, and that the open space would be needed. On November 17, 1959, the Board of Estimate authorized the acquisition by condemnation of "all the structures, together with the appurtenances thereto, on property acquired for a park."

The new playground featured full and half-size basketball courts, a baseball diamond, and a children's play area with a sand box, swings, baby swings, a slide, and four see-saws. As the hands and feet of small Villagers first made their marks in the sand, members of the 60's generation were sent to tread unknown ground in the Vietnam War. Corporal John A. Seravalli, "a youth of the neighborhood," fell on February 28, 1967, in South Vietnam. His father, a member of the American Legion, asked that the City Council rename the playground in memory of the corporal. While Community Board 2 wanted to rename the playground in a way which would recognize all fallen soldiers from the Village, perhaps "Memorial Playground," the City Council approved the family's petition. On May 8, 1968, a small bronze plaque was affixed to the brick comfort station, telling of the corporal's death at age 21, and remembering his service in the war.

In 1986 the fence surrounding the playground was elevated, to prevent stray baseballs from damaging pedestrians or windows. The playground was renovated in 1992. Two handball courts replaced the see-saws, the children's area was re-centered around climbing apparatus, and picnic tables were installed under the cover of trees. Several generations of children have now enjoyed the playground, which accommodates an ever-increasing residential community.

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Corporal John A. Seravalli Playground

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