PARK 81 – OSCAR B. MARX

BEGINNINGS OF A TRADITION:  THE DETROIT CITY CHRISTMAS TREE 

Oscar Marx was born on July 14, 1866 in Detroit.  His parents, Stephen Marx and wife Eleanor [Busch] were German immigrants turned dairy farmers living on the cusp of Hamtramck Twp. and Detroit.

The Marx farm faced Gratiot Road with acreage running north along Mount Elliot. It was quite close to the small town of St. Anthony which was annexed by Detroit in 1891.   Image:  Wayne County Atlas, 1876.
Stephen Marx makes front page news.  Apparently vehicle theft has always been a Detroit problem. Source:   1.31.1868, Detroit Free Press.

The hard work and discipline of his farm based upbringing along with a touch of seminary school gave Marx the determination needed to become a successful civic leader and Detroit businessman.  

Oscar Marx as featured in Notable Men of MI, 1901.

Marx had a 20+ year tenure in Detroit politics and knew city business well.  Beginning in 1894, he served as the Estimator-at-Large; then Alderman of the 15th ward and City Assessor.  In 1912, Marx became the  Mayor of Detroit.  He enjoyed re-election to three consecutive terms through 1918.

As mayor, he appointed women and prominent businessmen to boards and commissions to aid city development. Marx unsuccessfully pushed for city ownership of the street railway system.  His politics were progressive and marked with controversy, yet he remained a beloved Mayor.

On the business side, Marx began working for the Michigan Optical Company in the early 1890’s becoming company president in 1902.  He was a Vice President of the Robert Oakman Land Company and sat on the Board of Directors at Michigan Scale. He was well-connected to Detroit’s most successful and élite business players.  The Dodge Brothers, Horace and John were close friends.

O CHRISTMAS TREE, O CHRISTMAS TREE 

The City Christmas Tree in 1915 per the 24th Annual Report of Det Parks and Boulevards.

Mayor Oscar Marx ushered in a grand tradition of the City of Detroit Christmas tree.  The first festivities included a big parade from Grand Circus Park to the steps of the Old City Hall.

His five-year-old son and namesake Oscar B. Marx, Jr. often flipped the switch at the tree lighting ceremony.  “There was a hollowed-out space in the ground under the tree and we had to crawl under to push a knife switch.  It was so heavy, someone had to help me,” recounted Oscar Jr. to reporters.

Marx Sr. was a dutiful son who cared for his mother Eleanor in her last years. Both mother and son passed within two months of one another in 1923.

View an interesting bit of footage of Oscar’s funeral video courtesy of Wayne State University Library.  The video slate indicates filming occurred at his personal residence.  Records show this address as 465 E. Grand Boulevard.   http://library.wayne.edu/resources/digital/vmc_newsreels/video.php?vid=5_06

THE PLAYGROUND 

Oscar B. Marx playground has a large grassy field perfect for sports practice as well as a newer playscape. It’s awaiting renovation.

This is a really old photo; the garbage can impressed me – it’s the little things.  The park honoring Oscar B. Marx came to fruition in early 1955.  This field was donated to the city by the Thomas B. Livernois, Inc. and was formerly known as Greenview-Pickford Playground.

©Andrea Gallucci, 2017.