In the past couple of months, David Santiago, Sr. had a lot to celebrate. Fifty years after his family was forced from their Lower East Side home in the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, he had just moved into a new apartment at Essex Crossing. This morning, unfortunately, we have some heartbreaking news to report. Over the weekend, Santiago was found dead in his apartment of an apparent heart attack. He was only 57.
Santiago was featured in the New York Times and on television when the first Essex Crossing building, a senior rental property at 175 Delancey St., officially opened Jan. 29. The California-based chef had moved back to New York to help care for his mother, who lives in the Grand Street Guild apartments. As a former Seward Park site tenant, he had priority status in an affordable housing lottery for the new rental units. Santiago was one of six former residents of the urban renewal area who moved into the building.
Family and friends had been invited to a house-warming party at Santiago’s apartment on Saturday. One of the guests, local resident Dashia Imperiale, said there was no answer when they knocked at the door. Another longtime friend, Daisy Paez, called over to the 7th Precinct for help getting into the apartment. Officers found Santiago’s body in his bedroom.
Two of Santiago’s sons, David, Jr. and Dominic, talked with us by telephone early yesterday evening. Speaking of his dad, David, Jr. said, “he’ll be remembered for his food and his personality. He was a tough guy, but also a teddy bear.” Santiago was a chef in Los Angeles for many years. On the Lower East Side, he was involved in Suba, a Ludlow Street restaurant that closed in 2009. Santiago learned to cook in his uncle’s pizza restaurant on Delancey Street.
Santiago’s sons told us their dad had been battling health issues. He suffered two previous heart attacks, but was trying to live a healthier lifestyle. When we visited his apartment a few weeks ago, Santiago said he was cooking nutritious meals almost every night (his Instagram feed is full of beautiful home-cooked dishes). He was a doting grandfather of four (Victoria Dominique, Nicholas, Samantha and Gisselle). In posing for photos on his living room sofa, Santiago insisted on holding a picture of Victoria, who was just born 18 months ago.
His sons told us Santiago was a big supporter of LGBT rights and that they’ll always remember him as, “an outspoken person in our community, a good person and a great grandfather.”
Funeral arrangements are being made for later this week. We will update this story with details when we receive them.
UPDATE 3/7 The viewing for David Santiago, Sr. will take place Friday, March 9 from 4-8 p.m. at Provenzano Lanza Funeral Home, 42 Second Avenue. A fundraising campaign has been set up on behalf of the family to help pay funeral expenses. Here’s the link.