Teddy Roosevelt’s Birthplace: “It’s Kind Of One Of Those Things”Posted: May 31, 2011
Pictured above: East 20th Street, between Park and Broadway. Here are two important facts to know about this block:
- President Theodore Roosevelt was born here on October 27, 1858.
- Absolutely nothing has happened here since October 27, 1858.
Today, most passersby walk straight past the recreated brownstone, entirely oblivious to its historic value. But don’t take my word for it—watch this video I filmed from TR’s front stoop. Like everything about this block, it is unfathomably uneventful. (My working title was “Stoop Kid’s Afraid to Leave His Reconstructed Historic Brownstone.”)
So yes, the site is closed. Conveniently, the announcement came on May 11—exactly two weeks before I began this project. I have sent off some questions to Darren Boch of the U.S. Department of the Interior regarding the nature of this closing. An update should be forthcoming; my investigation will be unflinching and brutal.
But for now, a closed birthplace is better than no birthplace: I caught the 4 Lexington Avenue Express train downtown and explored the recreated Brownstone with my friend Rachel. I’ve seen classier scotch-taped “CLOSED” signs on canceled college classroom doors:
Here is an image of the front steps. These dudes seem pretty bummed by the state of affairs:
As for the surrounding neighborhood: it’s not much. There’s a Hamachi Japanese Restaurant, a Greek Bistro, a Quick Color photo lab. A few blocks down we literally stumbled upon another National Historic Landmark to which we were denied entry: the Samuel J. Tilden House, which eventually became the site of a National Arts Club including future presidents Woodrow Wilson and, yes, TR himself.
I was somewhat startled to find this modern art monstrosity directly across the street from President Roosevelt’s childhood home. No, it is not a Beetlejuice set piece; it is an advertisement for Trixie + Peanut, the equally grotesque “pet boutique” presently in operation across the street from a U.S. president’s house. Trixie + Peanut “offers a wide array of upscale merchandise for dogs, cats and pet lovers worldwide.” It is also a probable cause why dogs and cats maul their owners to death worldwide.
I asked the clerk of Trixie + Peanut about the reality of operating a business across from a historic presidential birthplace. I did not catch her name. Her attitude could not be more representative of most of the eight million people presently residing in Teddy Roosevelt’s hometown: she don’t give a fuck.
What exactly does the store sell?
Dog toys and things.
Have you ever visited the Teddy Roosevelt birthplace?
I’ve walked past it, never actually visited it. I’m from New York, so it’s kind of one of those things…
Did you grow up in Manhattan?
Have you always known that a president was born here?
That I did know. But I didn’t know where.
When the TR site was open to the public, do you think it helped attract business to your store?
It’s possible, but no one has ever said anything like that.
And who could blame her? The more notable a presidential hometown is, I’ve observed, the less likely its residents will care that a president was born there. New York City is the most populous city in the country, a primary hub of financial, commercial, cultural, and artistic activity on a global scale. So who cares that the Teddy Roosevelt birthplace is in disrepair? Who cares that a U.S. president was born here? So was I. So were you. So was Lou Reed. Nahmean?
For the opposite side of this pattern, see Plymouth, Vermont. Everyone in Plymouth, Vermont, cares that a president was born in Plymouth, Vermont, because, well—what else is there to say about Plymouth, Vermont?
Anyway. I got dem photoz.