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California and the West

San Francisco Park Will Be Named for DiMaggio After All

Heritage: The city and the baseball great's estate end a legal dispute and agree that a tiny playground where the future Hall of Famer played will be named in his honor.

October 11, 2000|JOHN M. GLIONNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — Ending a bitter legal dispute over how to best honor the legacy of New York Yankee legend Joe DiMaggio, city officials have reached an agreement with the late player's estate to rename in his honor a tiny North Beach park where DiMaggio and his brothers played as boys.

The settlement, announced at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors' meeting, closed out a long-running feud between local officials and Morris Engleberg--the Florida-based trustee of DiMaggio's estate, who contended that a grander gesture was needed to befit the Hall of Fame player's icon status.

Engleberg in May had unsuccessfully asked a Miami federal judge to block DiMaggio's name from being associated with the 2.5-acre park, claiming that the city's plans violated federal trademark restrictions and other laws.

The lawyer had suggested that officials rename San Francisco International Airport, a local hospital or even the Bay Bridge after DiMaggio, the son of Italian immigrants who was raised along with his eight siblings within walking distance of the North Beach park.

Supervisor Gavin Newsom said Engleberg's hardball stance surprised city officials, who had long sought a way to recognize the San Francisco native son since his death a year ago at age 84.

Newsom said he was contacted this summer by a lawyer representing DiMaggio's two granddaughters--both of whom live in the Bay Area--who said Engleberg's vitriolic stance did not represent their true feelings.

"It's never been the city's intention to take commercial advantage of the DiMaggio name," Newsom said. "We just wanted to honor Joe DiMaggio by renaming this little ballpark where he learned his skills as a youth. I think the family understood that."

Engleberg could not be reached for comment Tuesday but city officials say that he has signed off on the agreement and has pledged not to appeal the federal judge's decision.

"I am happy to put this brief episode of controversy behind us, so we can focus instead on the enormous legacy of this most beloved of Americans," Mayor Willie Brown said in a statement.

Robert Telles, a Walnut Creek lawyer who represents the famed center fielder's granddaughters--Catherine Stein and Paula Hamra--said they were frustrated that the bad publicity brought about by Engleberg's suit reflected badly on their grandfather.

"When the city and Engleberg reached an impasse, there were a lot of inaccurate things attributed to them as far as their views," he said. "That frustrated them and they asked me to get involved."

Telles met with Newsom in May and the two worked out a compromise that would rename the park Joe DiMaggio North Beach Playground.

Officials also promise a $4-million face lift for the park, an expanse of cracked pavement that includes basketball and tennis courts, a boccie court and an indoor pool.

One key demand, Telles said, is that the city agree to suspend a 50-cent charge to use the park's indoor pool. Newsom said he expected the Board of Supervisors to waive the fee for at least three years.

"In his lifetime, Joe spent lots of time and money on charitable causes for kids," Telles said. "And it's a very important point for the family and Mr. Engleberg that a child would be turned away from a park bearing his name because he did not have any 50-cent fee."

Newsom said he hopes DiMaggio's granddaughters and his brother Dominic--a seven-time All Star with the Boston Red Sox who also supported the park's renaming--will attend a ceremony later this month.

"Thousands of kids still play baseball in that park," he said. "Now maybe they'll have added inspiration to play the way Joe DiMaggio did."

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