After coming home to a pile of rubble, where two side-by-side historic houses had proudly stood for over a century, a group of neighbors, stunned and dispirited by the City’s failure to protect our collective history and what little green space remains in the residential neighborhoods of NYC, got together and formed the 93rd Street Beautification Association.
We thought, “If this could happen here in Carnegie Hill, it could happen anywhere”. Since the obvious endgame of such reckless demolition is the ruination of our entire block, and so much of the city’s history, we realized that we needed to partner with Historic Preservation organizations in order to best defend against such an unacceptable result.
While the dramatic odyssey journeyed by the ill-fated ‘sister houses’, as described above, is not entirely unique, it remains a sad and senseless waste of historic properties and the incomparable stories they tell of our collective humanity and culture. Any city that destroys it owns history compromises its cultural identity, and along with it its viability. It has been said that in the post-industrial era, a city’s face is its fortune.
For our elected officials to allow the ornate beauty of these historic homes to be demolished and trashed significantly diminishes our city’s great fortune. For our elected officials to fail to encourage the revitalization of such historic houses, which bring tourists and buyers from all over the globe, is fiscally irresponsible. For any municipality to sell short its future at the behest of eager developers who see nothing but short-term profits is reprehensible.
The remarkable collection of historic homes on East 93rd Street evokes a chapter in our great city’s history that only these particular houses can tell. Houses stood on this block before there ever existed a street now known worldwide as Lexington Avenue. Houses on this block were home to some of the most New York of all New Yorkers.
These houses are all pages in a story that should not be ripped from the spine of the book we all call New York City. The 93rd Street Beautification Association is working hard to protect the houses that remain, along with the stories they tell. Echoed in the shape of a lintel, the width of a stoop and the height of a ceiling are the tastes and aspirations of an era (reflecting everything from economic optimism to cultural heritage), community standards and values (a place to sit and greet neighbors and passersby, not to mention a place for the milkman to pick-up and leave the bottles) and the practical needs of a generation that lived without the benefits of central air conditioning (air circulation).
Contemplating the fate of those two buildings within the context of our city’s architectural inventory (which has maintained only a scarce number of historic structures by comparison to the ratio of new vs. historic building stock in places like Boston, Philadelphia, etc.) renders the result shameless, at best. As historic Marx Brothers Place is a block where residents not only know their neighbors names, but their neighbors dogs names, we care quite deeply about preserving the village-like atmosphere for future generations.
We also care about protecting the NYC history, which is told by these historic homes. In addition to the lovely old buildings, the majority of which are being restored to the beauty of their antiquity, our streetscape also informs the character and atmosphere of the block.
The tree pits on East 93rd Street sport crocuses and daffodils in the springtime. Fragrant trusses of lilac follow in May. And the sultry scent of the Magnolia Grandiflora flower, which flourishes mid-block, wafts through the summertime air, mingling with the sweet smell of the Corner Bakery (formerly Yura’s).
All of these wonderful botanicals were donated and planted by neighborhood residents. They are part of what defines the character of our neighborhood and helps to give it the special feel it evokes to all. This historic village-like block in Carnegie Hill has a unique sense of place that is like no other. The shock of this senseless demolition of irreplaceable 19th century houses has pierced the serenity of our lovely little block and, for the moment, cast a sad pall over historic Marx Brothers Place.
But soon the daffodils will be back, and their intrepid perennial blooms will remind us all that we must continue our fight to protect historic East 93rd Street. This unfortunate chapter, recounting the dreadful results of a confluence of overly aggressive development and a failure of historic preservation, is one of the most compelling issues that led to our creation of the 93rd Street Beautification Association.
It has become abundantly clear the only way this neighborhood will be able to maintain its small town atmosphere is through the constant vigilance of community organizations and preservation groups. With the NYC Mayoral race looming over the city, public disclosure laws have revealed the fact that developers and real estate lobbyists, hungry to demolish more historic buildings, and hoping to guarantee themselves a green light for their projects, are funneling an unprecedented amount of money to the Members of the New York City Council as no one knows, yet, who will run, much less who might emerge as the front runner.
So hedging their bets, the real estate and construction industries are spreading money thick and wide over a vast number of city officials. These are the same officials who were elected to be the stewards of our great city, to protect the future of our great city, and to protect its proud history. But as we all know, greening-lighting incompatible development projects, inherently out of context with the history and character of a neighborhood, at the expense of valuable cultural and architectural history will, ultimately, leave our beloved city both bankrupt and sterile.
Given what we’re up against there can be no doubt that we need all the help & support we can get. Please help the 93rd Street Beautification Association save historic Marx Brothers Place!