After 5 years of repairs, NYC mulls demolition of historic West Village rec center

A century-old West Village recreation center has been closed for repairs for five years — but city officials on Wednesday said the space is in such bad shape they’re now considering tearing it down altogether.

The Tony Dapolito Recreation Center was once a shining community space where locals could exercise and swim.

But now, cracks run across the ceiling of the facility’s gymnasium, the basin of its outdoor pool is covered in graffiti and weeds, and its indoor pool leaks.

The city has allocated about $20 million to fix the center since 2019, but crews have since uncovered more structural problems than were previously known. Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue said it may be unsalvageable.

Officials said they’ll need another $20 million just to keep the building upright.

Donoghue gave a tour of the space on Monday, two days before the department planned to tell the local community board it may need to be torn down.

“It’s a uniquely challenging building,” Donoghue said. “We want a brand new state-of-the-art facility, and this is an example of where we’re really constrained by the building footprint and structurally.”

“All options are on the table, including demolition of this building,” she added.

Benjamin Conable, deputy director of engineering at the parks department, explains how difficult it may be to fix the rec center.

Liam Quigley

The building is so unstable that crews have installed electronic monitors along some of its most compromised areas to watch for movements that could signal its collapse.

Donoghue said her team is looking into replacing the rec center with a new one that could be built at an affordable housing development planned for 388 Hudson St., down the block. That project is being overseen by the city Department of Housing and Preservation Development.

The rec center’s closure and possible destruction mark the loss of a public place West Villagers have enjoyed for generations.

Downtown New Yorkers used to be able to spend their summers swimming at the “Tony Dap.”

Liam Quigley

The center affectionately known as “Tony Dap” took its current name 20 years ago from a longtime chair of the local community board.

The space first opened as a public bathhouse in 1908, when it was called the Carmine Recreation Center. It was once operated by three city agencies, but the parks department took full control in 1938. The outdoor pool opened a year after that.

In 1980, the pool was used for a scene in “Raging Bull.” In 1995, the wayward children of “Kids” plunged into the water.

“I remember it being a fun place to go in the summertime, and it was easy to get to, and it was a good sort of memory from my childhood,” said Chico Kramer, 37, as he walked by the closed building on Tuesday.

But Donoghue said returning the space to its glory days would cost millions more than the city originally budgeted for its repairs, and that her department is running out of time to decide what to do with the center.

Parks officials did not say what they would do with the lot if the building is torn down or repurposed, but noted any decision would be made in consultation with the community board.

The indoor pool at the rec center leaks when it’s full of water, parks official said.

Liam Quigley

Any changes would require years of work. The building is landmarked, and Donoghue said the Landmarks Preservation Commission will have to approve any decisions regarding what to do with the space.

The fate of a 170-foot mural created by artist Keith Haring in 1987 and installed next to the center’s outdoor pool is also unclear. Parks officials said they are working with the late artist’s foundation to preserve the work.

The extended closure was frustrating for Kramer, who grew up swimming in the center’s outdoor pool. The nearest full-size outdoor public pool is located a mile-and-a-half away.

“It’s amazing how long it takes to get something done through the city,” he said. “It seems like city-funded programs always get cut first, right? Like, kids who are from the city always have a hard time if they don’t have enough funds to get sent to camps outside of the city.”

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