RELEASE August 10, 2005
Contacts: Jay Platt, (213) 623-2489
Dan Foliart, Society of Composers and Lyricists,
Los Angeles Conservancy Press Release
The City of Beverly Hills has issued a demolition permit for 1019 North Roxbury Drive -- the home where George Gershwin and his brother Ira wrote some of the most important American songs ever composed. The one-time shrine to American music is now largely a pile of rubble.
The City's action, taken with no public hearing nor any notification of community members who had launched a campaign of letters and pleas to Beverly Hills Mayor Linda Briskman and the Beverly Hills City Council, clears the way for a new home to be built by Hamid Omrani, who has developed dozens of new mansions in Beverly Hills.
The house at 1019 North Roxbury Drive was the last home of George Gershwin, where he resided and composed with his brother, Ira, and where he lived up to his tragic death from a brain tumor in 1937. After George's death, Ira Gershwin moved next door to make 1021 North Roxbury his home. The noted performer Rosemary Clooney also lived at 1019 North Roxbury for over 50 years.
"This is about far more than the loss of just another celebrity home," said Ken Bernstein, Director of Preservation Issues for the Los Angeles Conservancy. "This site was truly the wellspring of the American popular song. And its demolition was wholly avoidable: it occurred because the City of Beverly Hills, unlike all of its neighboring cities, lacks a historic preservation ordinance. Despite repeated pleas from local residents, Beverly Hills still has no mechanism to protect its historic and cultural treasures."
Gershwin's "Hollywood" work was an extremely important chapter in his overall career. From this house, Gershwin and his brother, Ira, created a remarkable collection of songs that included such standards as: "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "Shall We Dance," "Nice Work If You Can Get It," "Love Walked In," "Our Love Is Here to Stay," and numerous other classics.
It was at 1019 North Roxbury Drive that George came bounding down the stairs of the sunken living room to the piano saying jubilantly, "Hey Ira, it can't be A Foggy Day in London. It's got to be "A Foggy Day in London Town!" The home became a social center for Hollywood's (and New York's) most creative forces of the 1930's - including Moss Hart, Lillian Hellman, Harold Arlen and Oscar Levant.
Marilyn Bergman, President and Chairman of the Board for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, described evenings around the piano with Rosemary Clooney as well as the musical contribution of the Gershwins. "To songwriters, this house is like a shrine." Bergman wrote in a recent letter to Beverly Hills Mayor Linda J. Briskman. "As President of ASCAP, I speak for over 200,000 songwriter, composer, publisher members for whom the preservation of the Gershwin House is an important recognition of George and Ira Gershwin and their work which will continue to enrich the world of music for generations to come"
"The loss of this house is the final chapter of a two year campaign to save one of the historic homes in our community," said Dan Foliart, President of the Society of Composers and Lyricists. "But on a grander scale we endeavored to save a place of musical history. Recently I traveled to Charleston where Mr. Gershwin lived for only a brief time, but the home where he stayed during the writing of Porgy and Bess is considered a city treasure. If having George and Ira as residents were not enough, Rosemary Clooney, who was recognized by Life Magazine as one of the preeminent singers of the twentieth century, lived there for fifty years. We have certainly lost a piece of our cultural history that can never be reclaimed."
The Gershwin-Clooney house was one of the last remaining historic houses on the legendary street of North Roxbury Drive which once boasted the likes of Lucille Ball, Jack Benny and Jimmy Stewart. Nick Clooney, brother of Rosemary, remembers a very different world: "When I was a very young man, I often was invited to that house and was surprised by the people whom I met there...I once sat on the floor leaning against the back of a chair where Bing Crosby was sitting as he sang "White Christmas" for an audience of seven."
In stark contrast to this Beverly Hills demolition site, the former Gershwin residence on 103rd Street in New York City boasts a bright blue awning saying "Gershwin House" that is accompanied by a plaque reading, "Gershwin Family Residence, 1925-1931, George Gershwin - Composer, Ira Gershwin - Lyricist. Created many memorable works here." There is also a plaque on their former penthouse residence at 33 Riverside Drive. And, ironically, this week's Parade Magazine features a building on West 110th Street where Gershwin wrote "Rhapsody in Blue" as an example of a nationally significant historic site that should be identified and preserved as part of a new program called "Tell America's Story."
Nancy Gershwin, a third generation member of the family, grew up in New York but spent considerable time in Beverly Hills at 1021 North Roxbury Drive, the home Ira and Lee Gershwin moved to after George's untimely death. She still maintains residences in both New York and Los Angeles and is aware of the different takes on preservation. "The East Coast definition of "history" is not necessarily, "You're gone. Next." When I first came to Beverly Hills over 25 years ago, I was struck by its magic. While so many of the legendary people were gone, the houses remained and a drive or stroll up North Roxbury Drive could still bring back memories and inspire fantasies of the lives lived behind those walls. But with no preservation ordinance to protect its history, the city's cultural and historic legacy has been left to the whims of homebuyers with cash and these historic houses have been razed with the ease of dismantling yesterday's movie set."
EXCERPTS FROM LETTERS SENT TO THE CITY OF BEVERLY HILLS IN A 2-YEAR CAMPAIGN TO SAVE 1019 N. ROXBURY DRIVE