John D’Emic, Sr. Memorial Park
John D’Emic Sr. (1896-1972) was a South Brooklyn native. He was born the youngest of seven boys to poor Italian immigrants, and began working at the age of 12; first as a clam-opener, then as a plumber, a trolley motorman, a pharmacist, and a truckdriver. After serving with distinction in France during World War I, D’Emic returned to Brooklyn to settle down with his wife Irene and their five children. In 1937, D’Emic opened a used automobile business on the corner of 32nd Street and 4th Avenue that became a borough institution.
As a successful businessman, D’Emic began to aid community organizations for the youth and disadvantaged of South Brooklyn. He died in February 1972, and was remembered as a simple, honest, hard-working man with a love of family. He had 25 grandchildren. His son, John D’Emic, Jr., inherited not only his father’s business, but also his sense of community spirit. John D’Emic, Jr. died in 1974, and the automobile business closed.
John D’Emic, Sr. was a resident of early 20th century South Brooklyn, specifically Sunset Park. The area was named for a park built in the 1890s, and was home to waves of European immigrants, beginning with groups of Irish fleeing the 1840s potato famine. Norwegians and Finns followed in 1880s and 1890s, establishing sections of Sunset Park known as “Little Norway” and “Finntown” in the early 1900s. Italians joined them at the start of the 20th century and worked on the area’s thriving waterfront. Much of the residential construction occurred during this time, and today the brownstones and limestones set the style for the neighborhood.
D’Emic Park is bordered by 3rd Avenue, 34th and 35th Streets. The City of New York acquired the site in 1940 in connection with acquisition of land for the Gowanus Expressway, and assigned it to Parks that same year. In 1973, the playground was named to honor John D’Emic by a local law. The playground was renovated in 1983 adding new play equipment, benches, timberform play equipment, a handball court, a cantilevered basketball standard, and a spray shower. A comfort station and sandbox were removed, the fences were rehabilitated, and the swings were repainted.
Today, the park features basketball and handball courts, benches, a flagpole with a yardarm, a spray shower, drinking fountain, camel animal art, play equipment with safety surfacing, game tables, and swings for tots. The park remains a tribute to John D’Emic, Sr. for his support of local organizations and his leadership in the community.