Sunday, July 18, 2010

Upper East Siders Push to Landmark the Marx Brothers' Childhood Home by Gabriela Resto-Montero -

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Shortly before his death in 1977, Groucho Marx surprised the family living in his childhood home at 179 East 93rd St. with a visit.

Back in the early 1900s, Groucho and brothers Chico, Harpo, Zeppo and Gummo lived on the fourth floor of the four-story walk-up with five other relatives. As the story goes, after the aging star looked around his former home, he left without saying a word.

The house remained in remarkable shape over the years since Groucho lived there — except for the floor. Shortly after his visit, crews arrived at the home to replace the worn-out floor with brand new Italian tile. Although he never took credit for the floor, the so-called "Groucho Tiles" remain today.

Now, proponents of preserving the Marx Brothers' childhood home are pushing to include the block on East 93rd Street between Lexington and Third avenues, which they call "Marx Brothers Place," in the Carnegie Hill Historical District.

The effort has the support of Harpo's son, Bill Marx.

"Marx Brothers Place shall at last become the historical site of monumental proportions it so justly deserves, and then nobody ever again will have to request that it should be anything but just that, and finally the good folks of both Manhattan and Freedonia can then get some sleep," Marx said.

The East 93rd Street Beautification Association began working on landmarking the block in 2008 after developers tore down several brownstones to make room for condos on the street, said Susan Kathryn Hefti, co-chair of the association.

"It's remarkable," Hefti said of the building's preservation preservation.

"If Groucho walked through the door today the house would look the same except for the cornices [they were removed decades ago]," Hefti said.

Before Groucho's reported tile intervention on the fourth floor, Marx brother Harpo wrote about the role of the home in his 1961 autobiography, "Harpo Speaks!"

In his memoir, Harpo said he learned to tell time time from the tower clock then in place at the Ehret Brewery on East 93rd Street.

By 1910, the talented family had moved to Chicago and was already on the road to super stardom, the New York Times reported.

Eventually, the vaudevillian family made 14 films together as the Marx Brothers including the classics, "A Night at the Opera," "Duck Soup" and "A Day at the Races."

The neighborhood association will speak before the Landmarks Committee at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, July 19 at the Hunter College School of Social Work.