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Gershwin House Demolished

By Dan Foliart

I trust that you have all heard that George Gershwin's house was demolished recently. There was an article on the front page of the LA Times California section on August 12th with dramatic shots of the destruction. Marilyn Bergman, Nancy Gershwin and many concerned citizens including myself wrote letters to the Beverly Hills Planning Commission and Beverly Hills Mayor Briskman urging them to rethink issuing a demolition permit. Before we were given a forum to voice our concerns, the permit had been issued and the house was gone. I enclose a letter to the editor that I sent to the Los Angeles Times.

No Rhapsody on Roxbury or
"They Can't Take that Away from Me"

I would like to thank Martha Groves for making the public aware of the tragedy that occurred last week, when George Gershwin's former residence at 1019 Roxbury, in Beverly Hills was needlessly demolished. I am writing today as the President of the Society of Composers and Lyricists, an organization representing over eight hundred professionals in the field of film music. The former residence of George Gershwin and later the home of Rosemary Clooney was the subject of a two year campaign, culminating in letters to Mayor Linda Briskman and Audrey Arlington of the Beverly Hills Planning Department.We were shocked to learn that the home had been demolished without the opportunity for public comment or advance notice of the demolition.

Few individuals can be considered icons in their professions, but even fewer can attain the status of icons of a country. George Gershwin's legacy is clear and irrefutable. In the course of his brief lifetime he achieved more and left us more as a society than any other figure in his profession. His sonorous melodies will forever be a part of our cultural history. His accomplishments would have been legend if only confined to his popular songs. However his achievements in cinema, Broadway and the concert hall have so defined excellence in each genre that his legacy is synonymous with American music wherever it is heard throughout the world.

As an individual he was revered and loved by his peers. They visited his home in Beverly Hills and many of his most famous works were conceived there. Recently I traveled to Charleston, SC, 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.

Ira and George moved into the home at 1019 Roxbury when they relocated to Los Angeles in 1936. It was during this period that his "Three Preludes" were composed that have become a staple of the concert hall repertoire. However, it is George and Ira's work in Hollywood that will be forever associated with the home. The films of Fred Astaire "Shall We Dance" and "Damsel in Distress" provided George and Ira a platform for some of the classic songs of the American Songbook.

In the spacious living room, George was known to return from the glamorous parties of the day and spend hours at the piano entertaining friends such as the great composer, Arnold Schoenberg as well as all the celebrities of the day. It was on one such evening that he sat down and in a very short period he had composed "A Foggy Day In London Town." Other classics that were conceived in the livingroom were "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," and "Nice Work If You Can Get It." Perhaps the most poignant melody to have been written there was "Love Is Here To Stay," which Ira completed shortly after George's death on July 11, 1937. This song along with the classic "Love Walked In" were to be the collaboration of these two giants of American song written for the Goldwyn Follies.

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 moved into the house with her husband, Jose Ferrer. Her biography even mentions the home: "...in the summer of 1953 she and her husband moved into a glamorous Beverly Hills home." While she lived and raised her children here, she starred in her own series, The Rosemary Clooney Show from 1956-57. Frank Sinatra wrote, "Rosemary Clooney has that great talent which exudes warmth and feeling." Ms. Clooney received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 2002 and had a complete resurgence of her career after signing with Concord Records and recording numerous records for them. At the risk of seeming jingoistic, I feel that Los Angeles and its surrounding communities are among the greatest in the country. Too often, however I believe that we are short sighted in celebrating our own cultural landmarks. Perhaps we are too close to appreciate the greatness that has been created here. However, if we can't save the home of one of our most famous Americans from the wrecking ball, then I think that we must take a long hard look at our civic pride.

Dan Foliart
The Society of Composers and Lyricists

Coming Soon....A History of 1019 N. Roxbury Drive