Place Category: Parks and Playgrounds
James J. Tappen (1891-1918) served in Company D of the 308th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army during World War I. He was killed on September 29, 1918, at Binarville, France, in the Battle of Argonne. In July 1934, a bill introduced by Alderman Daniel Leonard and signed by Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia (1882-1947) named this park in Tappen’s honor. Before that, local residents called it Stapleton Park, for the surrounding neighborhood, though it had officially been known as Washington Square since 1867.
Stapleton was founded by Mithorne Tomkins and William J. Staples in the 1830s. The two men purchased the land from the Vanderbilt family and developed it into a commercial center and tourist destination. The neighborhood still contains some brick row houses from the 19th century, with stores on the first floor and living quarters above. Stapleton was famous for its breweries, which took advantage of the nearby spring water; the two largest brewers were Bechtel and R & H Brewery. In 1919, when the United States adopted Prohibition, R & H survived by brewing a “near beer,” which contained almost no alcohol and was therefore legal.
The town first purchased this property for public use in May 1867. New York City acquired it after consolidation in 1898. In 1981, Wright Street was closed off and added to the park, along with a small triangle on the opposite side of the street. This increased the park’s area by a third of an acre, bringing it to 1.777 acres.
Tappen Park is graced by a Romanesque comfort station with wrought iron lanterns, a gazebo, benches, and ornamental brickwork. The park also contains London planetrees (Platanus x acerifolia) and sugar maples (Acer saccharum). The James J. Tappen Post Christmas Tree is lit every year, in a tradition that dates back to 1937, when a 35-foot evergreen was transplanted here from the estate of the Hoffman family. The original tree did not survive, but the name and the annual tradition live on in a blue spruce.
Another noteworthy specimen is a London planetree planted in November 1985 to commemorate the life and work of Robert Dunne, a Parks employee. Dunne, who served the agency for 35 years, worked as a Recreation Director, and conducted tennis clinics at the Cromwell Recreation Center. In 1984, he risked his life to save a young child who had wandered into traffic on Victory Boulevard. Robert Dunne was well known and his work was well appreciated. This tree celebrates his dedication to the people of the community.
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