JOHN BENZ FENTNER, a lawyer from Unionville, Conn., is a serious Marx Brothers fan, if the word “serious” can properly be applied to devotees of that madcap comedy family. Mr. Fentner can name all six brothers — a true litmus test of Marx fandom, he said — and collects even underwhelming Marx Brothers movies like the 1968 Otto Preminger flop “Skidoo,” which featured Groucho as a crime boss named God.
So it was understandable that a few years ago, on a trip to New York with fellow Marx Brothers fans, Mr. Fentner found his way to 179 East 93rd Street, between Lexington and Third Avenues, to the stoop of the house where the brothers spent much of their youth around the turn of the previous century.
“It’s like going to Gettysburg just to stand on the battlefield,” Mr. Fentner said the other day. “There’s a slight difference in quality there, but it’s the same kind of pilgrimage. If you’re really interested in something, you want to go and stand on the ground.”
The house is one of the few remaining links to the brothers in the area, since the old theaters and vaudeville houses where they got their start are almost entirely gone.
Now, residents of East 93rd Street, unhappy about new development that they say is changing the character of the area, are seeking to have the block where the Marx Brothers house is located added to a nearby historic district to keep it, too, from changing.
Susan Kathryn Hefti, a chairwoman of the 93rd Street Beautification Association, hopes her group can persuade the Landmarks Preservation Commission to extend the Carnegie Hill Historic District, which currently ends just to the west of the block. And in a more symbolic move, the neighbors of the house hope to have the block ceremonially named Marx Brothers Place.
According to Ms. Hefti, the association formed in response to the demolition of two town houses from the 1880s that were across from the Marx Brothers house. A third house on the block was later torn down.
“We were all out on the sidewalk,” Ms. Hefti said. “Most of us didn’t know about it until it happened, and most of us were just in a state of shock.” Without landmark protection, she added, “the Marx Brothers house could, theoretically, go down tomorrow if it were sold.”
That possibility was enough to alarm the filmmaker Woody Allen, who is a former resident of the area and a Marx Brothers devotee. In a letter to Ms. Hefti, Mr. Allen wrote that “in countries that place a high value on cultural contributions as opposed to simply bulldozing things in the name of progress, the Marx Brothers home would remain standing and affixed with a plaque.”
But Barry Rice, the architect whose firm designed the seven-story condominium that is replacing the three demolished town houses, said that extending the historic district might not provide the control over development that residents expect. New development in such a district is still possible, he said, if care is taken with design and scale.
“My conscience is clear,” Mr. Rice said. “I didn’t knock down the Marx Brothers house, and I think I’m doing something that’s in context with the street.”