Posts Tagged ‘old Yorkville’

There’s a Marx Brothers Playground in Yorkville

October 1, 2018

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?

Harpo Marx: a poor street kid on East 93rd Street

November 21, 2011

As many New Yorkers know, the Marx Brothers, including Adolph “Harpo” Marx, grew up in a crowded tenement at 179 East 93rd Street, off Third Avenue.

That’s in upscale Carnegie Hill today. But in the 1890s, during Harpo’s childhood, it was “a small Jewish neighborhood squeezed in between the Irish to the north and the Germans to the South in Yorkville,” he writes in 1961’s Harpo Speaks…About New York.

His recollections offer a glimpse into life as a poor Manhattan street kid circa 1900, when ethnic background determined everything.

“If you were caught trying to sneak through a foreign block, the first thing the Irishers or Germans would ask was “Hey kid! What Streeter?” he recalls. “I learned it saved time and trouble to tell the truth. I was a 93rd Streeter, I would confess.”

“The worst thing you could do was run from Other Streeters. But if you didn’t have anything to fork over for ransom you were just dead.”

“I learned never to leave my block without some kind of boodle in my pocket—a dead tennis ball, an empty thread spool, a penny, anything.”

Life in New York at that time wasn’t all about being bullied. After quitting P.S. 86 when he was eight, Harpo watched tennis games in Central Park, went sledding with a dishpan, and swam off the East River docks.

He also dodged the ticket takers on trolley cars so he get around without paying the fare, and he watched Giants games for free at Coogan’s Bluff above the Polo Grounds near 155th Street.

And he learned to tell time by “the only timepiece available to our family, the clock on the tower of Ehret’s Brewery (above) at 93rd and Second Avenue, which we could see from the front window, if Grandpa hadn’t pulled the shade.”

[Image of Ehret’s Brewery: Beerhistory.org]