Monday, August 10, 2009

Marx Brothers Place: A Rare Glimpse into NYC's Physical History

The exquisite exhibit entitled, Mannahatta: a Natural History of New York City, at the Museum of the City of New York, vividly illustrates just how wrong-headed the city has been to not act more quickly in protecting the incomparable historic block known as Marx Brothers Place in Carnegie Hill.

The deliberate emphasis here on the word hill may seem self-evident, since the unique topography of Marx Brothers Place, and the incomparable architecture it inspired, has been celebrated by many - and is even featured on the web site Place Matters - a preservation partnership of City Lore & the Municipal Arts Society. But, for some inexplicable reason, this wildly significant fact of history continues to completely allude NYC Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Perhaps they should all carve out some time from their busy schedules and stroll on uptown for a cultural visit with our good neighbors, just north on Fifth Avenue, at the Museum of the City of New York. For, what Mannahatta literally puts into very sharp and colorful relief is precisely what the 93rd Street Beautification Association has been telling Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and LPC for YEARS!

The Lenape Indians, who up until the 17th century had free reign of the island's terrestrial crops along with the plentiful oyster beds that ringed its coastline, gave this glorious (but now sadly fragile) island it's name precisely because of its many hills.

If the island were discovered by fresh eyes today, a more likely moniker for Mannahatta, A.K.A. "The Island of Many Hills", would sadly have to be something more along the lines of: "Fill & Dale".

For, as the very dramatic images at the heart of Mannahatta attest, most of the island's hills were shaved long ago while the low ground areas (or dales), along with the many wetlands and streams, were filled in - making it easier to build on level ground. This instinct to develop against the grain of the land left behind a very different topography than the one that Henry Hudson first spied from his ship in 1609 as he skillfully avoided the island's treacherous shoals.

Marx Brothers Place is one of the very few extant hills remaining in our city's collection, providing a rare example of our beloved island's physical history (one of the many important points made to LPC in our RFE). You see, here on our little summit, the architect, George Beale, whether to save money or out of some prescient respect for nature's own dictates, chose not to do battle with the land. Instead, Beale embraced the hill and let it dictate his architectural designs rather than the other way around.

What's even more amazing is that, unlike the 21st century developers determined to forever change the face of this beloved little block, the 19th century architects that followed Beale onto East 93rd Street, also followed his design lead, continuing Beale's vision of a stepped-down roofscape up and down both sides of the Marx Brothers Place (the Marx Brothers' childhood house forms one-third of the uninterrupted stepped-down roofscape remaining on the north side of the block!).

Building the first Brownstones in Carnegie Hill (houses here pre-date any of the Brownstones ALREADY IN THE CARNEGIE HILL HISTORIC DISTRICT!) in, what has come to be called, a stepped-down configuration - where the roofs actually descend one beneath the other down the hill in succession - George Beale created the most marvelous roofscape in all of Carnegie Hill!

The 93rd Street Beautification Association is deeply grateful for the impressive scholarship and research that went into the MCNY'S Mannahatta exhibit, an exhibit infused with the historic significance of Manhattan's early hills and which unabashedly celebrates these steep eruptions of nature while drawing our attention to their sad eclipse.

This important exhibit, so close to our dear little block both physically and thematically, is also a poignant reminder that the time has come for the City of New York to finally protect this historically significant block before it, too, goes the way of the Lenapes and their hills.

Please help NYC Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg & LPC Chair, Robert Tierney, better appreciate our city's unique history and the value of preserving its architectural, cultural and physical heritage by clicking on this link and sending the message to LPC asking Chairman Tierney to finally calendar for a public hearing the 93rd Street Beautification Association's Request for Evaluation (RFE) today!!!

Thanks for your help, and please be sure to share this email with all your friends and colleagues!


Thanks for your continued interest in historic Marx Brothers Place !

For more information about the 93rd Street Beautification Association or Marx Brothers Place, please contact us at or 212.969.8138 or visit our blogs at: Save Marx Brothers Place or The Marx Brothers Place Report.

If you wish to make a tax-deductible contribution to help keep the preservation campaign alive, please just click on this link.

And please don't forget to visit our YouTube Channel Page for all of our latest videos and movies. We also invite you to join us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter or view our Marx Brothers Place MySpace profile.

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