Marxism on the Grand Boulevard

July 31, 2012

Our subject today is the graystone three-flat at 4512 South King Drive.

The street where the three-flat stands used to be called South Park Way. Before that, in the early 20th Century, it was known as Grand Boulevard.

The neighborhood was German-Jewish then. From 1912 through 1920, the building was home to Sam and Minnie Marx and their sons Leonard, Adolph, Julius, Milton and Herbert.

The sons are better known by their stage names – Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Gummo and Zeppo.

The Marxes were New Yorkers. Sam was an easy-going tailor. Minnie had the brains and brass of the family. A performer herself, she raised her sons for careers in show business.

During the first years of the new century, when the older boys were teens, they started singing in vaudeville. In 1910 Minnie decided that Chicago would be a more central location for travel on the circuit. So the family moved.

For two years they all lived in an apartment at 4649 South Calumet Avenue. Late in 1912 Minnie scraped together a $1,000 down-payment for the graystone on the boulevard. The purchase price was $20,000 – about $450,000 in today’s money.

The mortgage was held by a man named Greenbaum. He became the family bogeyman. Whenever the brothers complained about their hectic life on the road, all Minnie would have to do is say the magic word “Greenbaum.” Then they’d shut up and get back to business.

By now the oldest brothers were young men. Their act gradually evolved into less singing and more comedy. During these years, when they collected their mail in Chicago, the Marx Brothers developed their familiar stage persona.
 
Just when the act was becoming successful, America entered World War One. The brothers weren’t enthusiastic about getting drafted. But Minnie had read that farmers were exempt from military service. She bought a farm in La Grange, and for a while the very urban Marxes raised chickens, rabbits, and guinea pigs.
 
Gummo was drafted, anyway. He hadn’t been much of a performer, and didn’t like being on stage, so it was no great loss to the act. In later years he became an agent.
 
Minnie sold the Grand Boulevard home in 1920. The Four Marx Brothers wanted to develop their act for the Broadway stage, and a move back to New York was in order. When their Broadway shows were successful, movies followed.
 
A few years ago the Goodman Theatre presented a revival of Marx Brothers’ 1928 stage hit, Animal Crackers. The family’s onetime Chicago home, an official city landmark, is a private residence.
 
It is not known whether the current owner is named Greenbaum.