Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Marx Brothers - Preservation Instigators ?

The Marx Brothers' global influence is so undeniable and so indelible that even after all these years, the brothers still manage somehow to contribute to the public dialogue on issues as far ranging as local politics, foreign policy, individualism and yes - even historic preservation (you see, it turns out - the Marx Brothers were the impetus for the Demolition Review law in Chicago, too ! ).

Their collective recalcitrance, and the inevitable image of those brilliant comics thumbing their noses at the status quo, is perhaps the essence of what is most American about these lovable clowns. It's also the very characteristic that gave their opinions pop, and still does.

Throughout their busy lives, the Marx Brothers engaged in a freewheeling discourse with a virtual salon of leaders, thinkers and creative artists which included American Presidents, world-renowned painters (perhaps most notably Salvador Dali), filmmakers, writers and poets from all across the globe. Correspondence flowing back and forth between the publicly mute Harpo Marx, the outspoken Groucho Marx and the somewhat taciturn American President Harry S. Truman is preserved today in the National Archives at:

In 1961, Harpo Marx presented Truman with a copy of his acclaimed memoir Harpo Speaks! in which the comedian lovingly describes the Marx Brothers childhood home on East 93rd Street in Carnegie Hill where the family lived before the turn of the 19th century and into the 20th century. Harpo always liked to say (yes, he really did speak) that wherever the Marx Brothers went, their 93rd Street accent followed. The Marx Brothers childhood home, the first they ever knew, never left them - even after they moved out of the house on the hill (perhaps it actually was the steep slope under footing their childhood that caused them to lean so far to the left at times ?).

The stark vulnerability of that still un-landmarked childhood home, the house that helped to shape the world-view of the inimitable Marx Brothers, and to which Groucho wistfully returned late in life, has sparked a preservation campaign attracting a rather ecclectic coalition perfectly suited to men of such renaissance talents and ideas. Among the many supporters of the effort to protect historic East 93rd Street (affectionately known as Marx Brothers Place) are some of the most distinguished Preservationists in NY (Tony Wood, Elizabeth Ashby, Teri Slater, Michael Devonshire & Bronson Binger to mention but a few), theatre artists & theatre critics (Playwright Gregory Murphy, Theater Critic Leonard Jacobs, Stage Director Ludovica Villar-Hauser, Actor Jy Murphy, et al), film & television artists (filmmaker Woody Allen and TV Writer-Producer Bob Weide of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm"), Marx Brothers fans from all over the world and Groucho's own granddaughter Jade Marx.

Now, as it turns out, we find that NYC is not the first place where these magicians of mayhem and comic clowning have had a profound and positive impact on historic preservation. After leaving their beloved childhood home on East 93rd Street, in the 2nd decade of the 20th century, the Marx Brothers lived for a time in the City of Chicago. As you will read in this Chicago Tribune story from 2003, it is this later Marx Brothers House that was the impetus for the adoption of a Demolition Review Amendment in that city, too:, 1,703330.story .

As this fact was completely unknown to the 93rd Street Beautification Association when it first launched its preservation campaign, Save Marx Brothers Place (, which has now led to a movement to adopt the Demolition Review Amendment in NYC (the bill is presently making its way through the legislative process of the NYC Council), one must ask the obvious question: are these comic geniuses, who always had an opinion on public policy - whether the emigration of Jewish refugees after WW II, America's relationship with Israel or whether Truman's wife should run for President in his stead - still pulling the strings from beyond the grave ? Honk if you think so.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Everybody Says We Love Woody Allen !

As a lifelong Marx Brothers fan, and former Carnegie Hill neighbor, the moment Woody Allen heard that Marx Brothers Place was fast becoming the Georgia of Carnegie Hill, under constant threat of aggressive incursion and senseless demolition, NY's most loyal filmmaker came charging over the hill of East 93rd Street on the back of a tall white (it may have actually been shorter than it appeared, and now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure it was speckled) stallion (or, maybe it was a nag) waving a rusty, but surprisingly impressive, scepter in one hand, while calling out to all that could hear (which over the sound of Greystone Development's unbridled drilling was probably only a few), just like the patriot, Paul Revere, determined to arouse residents to the danger at hand; the systematic destruction of our city's irreplaceable cultural heritage.

Of course, East 93rd Street was all a buzz, smitten and bedazzled by Mr. Allen's selfless and glorious equestrian showstopper. So when this beloved NY filmmaker, who's been a little busy rolling out a new movie and all, took even more time out of his hectic schedule to write a beautiful letter of support intended to accompany the 93rd Street Beautification Association's Request for Evaluation (RFE) to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) asking the city to extend the Carnegie Hill Historic District one block east so as to include this remarkable collection of historic 19th century houses within the protected boundary, we were, in a phrase, over the moon.

Please click on this link and enjoy reading about Woody Allen's support for historic Marx Brothers Place:

We are deeply grateful for Mr. Allen's generous support and magical words. That's why Everybody Says We Love Woody Allen !

For more information, please visit:

Marx Brothers Place is Ready for its Close-up

In a city where real estate development still charges ahead at a break-neck pace that would give any mere mortal a serious case of whiplash (despite the well documented, and widely reported, revelation- no revelation here as we had told NYC Council Member Dan Garodnick; Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn about these dangerous and shoddy development practices, and the blatant lack of regulatory oversight, day after day, and well before it ever became tragic construction accident after tragic construction accident - of the serious under staffing and brazen corruption running rampant throughout the NYC Department of Buildings), it's a really big deal to get a TV News crew up at the crack of dawn on the eve of (yes, that's the morning before) Christmas Eve, when it's still pitch dark outside and so chillingly cold that even the usually intrepid NYC pigeons are huddled together, somewhere out of sight, with their shiver meter set to vibrate in the hopes of generating enough friction to sufficiently heat up the hollow in which they have temporarily taken refuge, to film a news story about a tiny little block in the hinterlands (better known as Carnegie Hill) which is under siege by developers who care nothing about the neighborhood (except to bleed it dry for the profit they will take back to NJ with them) and even less about its storied history.

But when NY1 TV News heard that historic Marx Brothers Place was being battered about by developers who were carelessly knocking down one 19th century house after another, they packed up the Van and set up their news cameras on East 93rd Street.

Please click on this link and enjoy watching the terrific NY1 TV News story, written and reported by Roger Clark, about historic Marx Brothers Place: It even includes some great old clips from Marx Brothers movies.

And then, please show your support for this preservation campaign by signing these 2 Petitions to help protect historic Marx Brothers Place:

1.) Petition to Extend Carnegie Hill Historic District one block so as to include Historic East 93rd Street. Please just click on this link and type in your name:

2.) Petition to Co-Name East 93rd Street 'Marx Brothers Place' in honor of the extant childhood home of the Comic Icons. Please just click on this link and type in your name:

And, of course, anyone that might be interested in more information about the 93rd Street Beautification Association's efforts to help protect historic Marx Brothers Place is invited to visit our home blog at:

Thanks again for your interest in historic East 93rd Street, affectionately known as Marx Brothers Place !

The New York Times Treks up to Marx Brothers Place

Over the years, many a writer has made his or her way up the steep hill to Marx Brothers Place in Carnegie Hill. After all, anybody with a funny bone (actually, anybody with a pulse) has some tangential relationship, whether conscious or subconcious, with the brothers four (yes, we know that wasn't all of them!).

So, it wasn't a total surprise when the NY Times reporter Jake Mooney contacted us wanting to write a story for The Sunday NY Times about Marx Brothers Place. But whenever opening the door to a reporter, its wise to hold ones breath until one sees the finished product in print (as it were). I should know, I spent the first part of my career as a journalist and was always surprised at how willing people were to talk with the Press knowing full well that it was like talking to a double agent during the Cold War; if the reporter is any good at all - you really have no idea where he or she stands.

Needless to say, given The NY Times publication of an article in its Real Estate section, just the week before, which made Greystone Development's (the builder bent on ignoring the dictates of R8B zoning on this tiny residential block) demolition of three contiguous historic gardens (species habitats and ancient bird flyways) and deep drilling into an ancient rock ledge, without ever having done a geological survey or an environmental impact study, sound like a good thing for this fragile urban ecosystem, neighbors were both relieved and delighted when they opened The Sunday NY Times to find a very thoughtful and respectful piece in The City section about historic Marx Brothers Place. We hope you enjoy the story, too !

Please click on this link and read The Sunday NY Times article, written by Jake Mooney, about historic Marx Brothers Place:

And don't forget to visit our home blog at:

The National Trust focuses on Marx Brothers Place

Perhaps it's because Harpo Marx had a long and rather glorious correspondence with President Harry S. Truman (see, National Archives). Or maybe, it's because the collection of antiquities on this remarkable NYC block includes houses that are older than any of the homes that are already included within the protection of the Carnegie Hill Historic District and, therefore, constitute the most credible (and yet still vulnerable) Rosetta Stone of the development history of this celebrated Manhattan neighborhood.

Then again, it might simply be that Preservation Magazine, the world-wide publication of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is loathe to see an important catalogue of 19th century homes in NYC razed to rubble in order to make room for an unwanted and freakishly out-of-scale Condo (Co-Op, whatev...) Complex in the middle of this ancient village-like block.

Whatever the reason, we are most grateful for the spotlight that Preservation Magazine Editor, Margaret Foster, decided to focus on the story of our historic little block and the hungry developers who would like to gobble it whole.

Please click on this link and read the wonderful piece Preservation Magazine published about Marx Brothers Place:

For more, please visit our home web blog at:

With A Little Help From Our Friends

Over the course of this preservation campaign to save historic Marx Brothers Place, the block in the Carnegie Hill neighborhood in Manhattan where the beloved childhood home of the world's greatest comic family still stands, we've been the grateful beneficiaries of unflappable support from a wide array of folks all across the globe.

Here in our own town of NYC, one Theater critic in particular has championed the cause of Marx Brothers Place with the sort of gusto usually reserved for the closest of family ties. So while he's not actually blood, we've decided to make Leonard Jacobs an honorary member of our preservation family.

While Leonard has never been stingy with his support of preservation efforts, recently going toe to toe with the NYC Developers, also known as NYU (his alma mater), when they got the bright idea to demolish the historic O'Neill theater in Greenwich Village (what's a little theater history between friends ?), he has gone to bat for Marx Brothers Place more times than Johnny Damon has stepped up to the plate at the stadium this year (O.K., maybe not quantitatively, but certainly effectively. Sorry Johnny, I'm a big fan, but you guys are making us sing the blues this summer, and that's just so winter).

Everybody should have a friend like Leonard Jacobs. He's one of those rare creatures who will walk right up to somebody and tell them exactly what he thinks. In other words, along with a loyalty streak longer than Fifth Avenue, Leonard lives the First amendment.

Here's the link for his latest blog post about Marx Brothers Place:

Up here on the Hill, where the air can get pretty thin, we breath a little easier knowing that Leonard is pulling for us. And for that, our collective hats, whether baseball caps, safari helmets or easter bonnets, are off to Leonard Jacobs for all he has done to let people know about the campaign to save Marx Brothers Place !