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D'Onofrio Square

D’Onofrio Square

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

Sergeant Salvatore F. D’Onofrio died on June 24, 1944, while serving in France during World War II. Two days prior to his death, D’Onofrio’s platoon was trapped by enemy sniper and machine gun fire. In order to allow them an escape, D’Onofrio risked his life by engaging the snipers and shooting at them. With the enemy distracted, his men were able to withdraw to safety. However, D’Onofrio sustained serious injuries that later resulted in his death. For his courage and devotion to duty, D’Onofrio was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. In addition, the Williamsbridge Post of the American Legion sponsored an act to rename this site D’Onofrio Square. On May 10, 1948, Mayor William O’Dwyer (1890-1964) signed Local Law 31, which made the new name official.

The city originally acquired the property, which lies along White Plains Road from East 213th Street to East 216th Street, in November 1900 for the purposes of road construction. In 1926, the land was transferred to Parks. The particular parcel from East 215th Street to East 216th Street was transferred to the Transit Authority in May 1984. White Plains Road, sometimes called Third Street in Williamsbridge, was first laid out in 1863, and subsequently widened from 1902-1908. The original road to White Plains, which dates back to colonial and Revolutionary days, followed roughly the same path. The old road meandered through the landscape, whereas the modern avenue is a straight and wide thoroughfare.

In 1886 the Third Avenue Bridge over the Harlem River was built for the Third Avenue elevated train. Over the following decades, the line extended northward, leading to further development in the Bronx. The train tracks ran atop supporting columns directly over this property. The train continued to expand northward until the middle of the 20th century, when the looming elevated tracks came to be seen as an eyesore. In 1955, the elevated tracks south of 149th Street were torn down. By 1973 the rest of the “El” had been demolished.

Today, the site’s three separate narrow plots are still dominated by the columns that support the subway tracks above (this far north, the subway is actually above ground). Because the trains run overhead, the ground below is very shaded – and, when combined with the occasional grease spurt that falls from above, conditions do not allow for plants to thrive. But there are 28 London plane trees (Platanus x acerifolia) along the property’s perimeter, where there is some exposure to sunlight. There are also several benches on which local residents may rest for a moment and observe the area’s commercial bustle.

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