Van Cortlandt Park

Mario Merola Grove

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

This grove of pine trees is dedicated to Mario Merola (1922-1987), the pugnacious Bronx District Attorney who convicted David Berkowitz (“Son of Sam”) and led the D.A. office for an unprecedented 15 year term.

Merola was born on February 1, 1922 in the Woodlawn section of the Bronx. His father worked as a barber and his mother, like many southern Italian immigrants, worked in the garment industry. Merola attended public schools in the Bronx and earned a football scholarship to New York University playing halfback at the Bronx campus of NYU. In 1941 he joined the Air Force and served as a flight navigator for the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. Merola flew on 55 B-24 missions over Europe in World War II and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, and five Clusters. He returned to the Bronx after the war, finished his undergraduate degree in 1947, and went on to earn a law degree from NYU in 1948. He married Tullia Palermo in 1949, and they had three children, Michael, Elizabeth, and Marilou.

Merola began to practice law in 1949. He started working for the New York City Department of Investigation in April of 1957, and was made an assistant district attorney in May of 1960. In 1964 Merola was elected to the City Council where, a nature lover at heart, he sponsored bills to establish the Thomas Pell Wildlife Refuge and Sanctuary and the Hunter Island Maine Zoology and Geology Sanctuary in Pelham Bay Park in 1967. He also served as chairman of the finance committee in his last term on the Council.

Elected as the Bronx District Attorney in 1972, Merola was known for his fearlessness in taking on controversial, high profile cases. These included the conviction of serial killer David Berkowitz, the prosecution of arsonist landlords in the South Bronx, and the indictment, but unsuccessful conviction, of Labor Secretary Raymond Donovan in 1977. Merola held the position for 15 years, the longest tenure of any district attorney in the Bronx. He was a member of the Executive Committee of the State Division of Criminal Justice Services, City Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, and State District Attorneys Association. Merola died on October 27, 1987.

Mayor Ed Koch renamed the Bronx County Courthouse to honor Mario Merola. The courthouse, located on the Grand Concourse at 161st Street, was dedicated on February 26, 1988. On May 18, 1988, eight white pines (Pinus strobus) were dedicated for the Mario Merola Grove on the corner of Van Cortlandt Park East and East 233rd Street. Mario Merola was laid to rest in the Woodlawn Cemetery across the street from the Grove.

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