Vesuvio Playground, formerly known as Thompson Playground, takes its name from the popular Italian bakery on nearby Prince Street. The bakery is owned by community leader Anthony Dapolito and has been family operated since it was founded in 1920. Dapolito has played an important role in the Greenwich Village and SoHo Communities for decades both in the acquisition and development of open spaces. He has been an active member of Community Board 2 since 1955.
Land for this playground was acquired in three parcels over the course of twenty-eight years. In 1929 and 1930 Parks purchased two parcels mid-block on Thompson Street. The playground was developed with a comfort station, swings and benches arranged around a large central wading pool. In 1957 Parks expanded the property south to Spring Street and west to Sullivan Street. This additional land was the site of a warehouse, two commercial garages, and two buildings for business and residence, structures typical of the Little Italy-SoHo area.
The buildings were razed, and the entire playground was redeveloped. The improvements expanded the program of the playground from a tot lot for small children to a recreational facility for all ages. A spray shower was created in the place of the wading pool, more play equipment and gingko trees were added, and a new sandbox, handball courts, basketball courts, and boccie courts were built. The mini-pool was installed in the late 1960s.
In the mid-1980s Parks redesigned the Playground to redefine the athletic and play areas for different age groups. The west side of the park was made into a children's play area with new climbing equipment, swings, benches and tables, and a new play unit was constructed near the spray shower area. The handball and basketball courts were reconstructed, and the low brick walls were extended to delineate courts from tot areas. The granite block walkway along Thompson Street was also reconstructed and extended. In addition, decorative squares of granite block pavement were placed throughout the park.
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