Remembering George’s first years in Brooklyn

September 26, 2016

George Gershwin Gershwin Songs Ira Gershwin
Arthur and Frankie 1963

September 26, 2016 marks the 118th anniversary of the birth of George Gershwin, who arrived in the world at the home of his parents at 242 Snediker Avenue in Brooklyn, New York.

To mark the occasion, on this date 53 years ago, the composer’s younger brother and sister, Arthur Gershwin and Frances Gershwin Godowsky (pictured above), were on hand to help unveil a bronze plaque mounted on the building and donated by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). Also in attendance that day were Gershwin’s friends and colleagues, lyricist Irving Caesar (“Swanee”) and composer and conductor Morton Gould.

The Snediker Avenue residence was just one of the many addresses of the peripatetic Gershwins. (By 1916, there had been at least twenty-eight.) The two-story house, Ira recalled in a New York Times article about the plaque dedication, “was surrounded by trees” when the family lived there, and he remembered eating “grapes from a vine that grew in the fenced yard” that surrounded the property. Just a few months after brother Arthur was born in March of 1900, the Gershwin family was listed on that year’s federal census as living at 1310 8th Avenue in Brooklyn, five miles away, on the other side of Prospect Park, and it wasn’t long before they were all back on the island of Manhattan.

Unfortunately, neither the plaque that commemorated Gershwin’s birth, nor the building at 242 Snediker Avenue in which it occurred, has survived. By the 1970s, the neighborhood had fallen victim to rampant crime, the plaque had been stolen on a number of occasions and the house had been vandalized. Finally destroyed in a 1987 fire, nothing remains of the site.

But we still have the music. Here’s one of the earliest known recordings of George Gershwin himself, a 1916 piano roll performance of “The Kangaroo Hop,” the popular fox-trot by composer Melville Morris.

— Michael Owen