There’s a Marx Brothers Playground in Yorkville

When the Marx Brothers lived at 179 East 93rd Street, the playground nearby that would eventually be named for them was just a car barn for the new electric trolleys owned by the Second Avenue Railway.

That was in the 1890s and early 1900s. Back then, Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and Gummo lived with their parents, immigrants Minnie and Frenchie, plus assorted relatives in a cramped but lively apartment.

The future vaudeville and movie stars were coming of age in “a small Jewish neighborhood squeezed in between the Irish to the north and the Germans to the south in Yorkville,” according to 1961’s Harpo Speaks…About New York.

In the 1930s, after the brothers had achieved stardom and left tenement life behind, buses replaced the electric trolleys on Second Avenue

The car barn was abandoned and soon torn down, explains NYC Parks. In 1947, the land it once occupied was turned into grassy playing fields and made over into what the Parks Department called “Playground 96.”

It’s unclear exactly when the playground was renamed in honor of the local boys who became comedy legends.

But now that we have Marx Brothers Playground in the once rough and tumble neighborhood that inspired their characters and gags, perhaps city officials could add a plaque to the still-standing tenement where the brothers were raised?

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7 Responses to “There’s a Marx Brothers Playground in Yorkville”

  1. Dymoon Says:

    hi, why the maple leaf, do you know?

    • Beth Says:

      It’s actually a London Plane tree leaf. There’s a story that says that the London Plane was Robert Moses’ favorite tree and he chose the leaf for the Parks Department logo. I’ve tried to verify this but haven’t had any luck. Moses did plant thousands of these plane trees in the parks and all over the city so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

  2. David H Lippman Says:

    Harpo went to grade school with my grandfather. At that time, he was the loudest and noisiest of the brothers, annoying the heck out of their teacher, Ms. Flatto, who would sternly wag her finger at Harpo, saying, “Some day, young man, you will learn!”

    When Harpo became a big-name star, his pal Alexander Woolcott heard this story, and said, “We have to track down Ms. Flatto, and show her she was wrong.”

    So he did, through his manifold contacts…to a Catholic cemetery, where she was buried. Alex and Harpo trooped there anyway, and scrutinized the tombstone in silence for a while, then trekked their way out.

    On the way back, Woolcott saw a small tombstone that had the name “Goldberg” on it.

    Woolcott pointed it out to Harpo and said, “Spy.”

    It’s in Harpo’s book, “Harpo Speaks.”

  3. Barry Rivadue Says:

    Top photo–young fellow at bottom is not a Marx but another performer (his name escapes me).

  4. Madeline Scherman Says:

    I hope New York City leaves a plaque on the grounds of the tenement where the Marx brothers lived.

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