Filming of “Marshall”, the movie based on the life of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, moved to a new location yesterday in Buffalo. Trucks and equipment lined North and Mariner Streets as cast and crew began production at 230 North Street, an EB Green masterwork and Green’s place of residence.
“Marshall” is set in 1940’s Harlem, an area rich in extravagant and beautiful architecture. Location Manager, Michael Nickodem, has roots in Buffalo and knew he would be able to find suitable locations that would do the period justice. One of the first calls Nickodem made was to Myron Robbins, President of Buffalo Management Group. Robbins owns multiple buildings around town and Nickodem was impressed by the wealth of historically maintained properties Robbins held. “It was wonderful to find someone who took pride in restoring buildings to their original detail.” Nickodem says, “It is great to see how much this city has to offer, but so much has been lost too. It was wonderful to run into someone like Myron.” Nickodem and his team looked at three or four buildings in the area, but when they saw 230 North they knew immediately it was the place. “EB Green’s attention to detail on everything from the moldings to the ornate fireplaces is very special.”
This architectural beauty did not happen overnight. Turn-of-the-century and cutting edge architect EB Green spent three years working on the building, from 1914-1917. It was built for his personal residence along with other apartments. The 25,000 square foot building is composed of a basement and three levels. Robbins purchased the building in 1983 and has spent the last 33 years painstakingly restoring it to its original glory.
Robbins states that back in the 1980’s, like much of Buffalo’s West Side, the building was in different states of disrepair. He explains, “I had been working with rentals for years, but I saw things here I had never seen before. It scared me a little bit,” he said with a grin, “so much needed to be done. I’m still working on it to this day.” Quite a statement. In a society of instant gratification that can at times sacrifice craftsmanship and quality for production and quantity, it is remarkable to think that one building has been in a continuous state of restoration for such a long time. But I will tell you that the result of this labor of love and obsession is an exquisite building and a sense of pride that is palpable.
Robbins owns and manages many properties with over 900 residences, but he did not hesitate to admit that while he loves all of his buildings, 230 North is very special to him. In the beginning he says it was not that easy, “There was a long time period when I felt I was an island out on the water. There was a lot of crime around here and we had a lot of forces working against us. Back then we did not have a lot of cooperation from government, but we found ways to deal with it. Over time things improved.”
I found myself going to antique shops and salvage stores, buying back the original doors and hardware that had been taken off of the building.
Robbins began the long journey of restoration, insisting that he replace everything with absolute authenticity. He says, “I found myself going to antique shops and salvage stores, buying back the original doors and hardware that had been taken off of the building.” He said he recently found a wall sconce at a shop in Miami that used to belong to 230 North. I asked him how he knows what he is even looking for. He said that over the years much research has gone in to learning what went where. Robbins has the learned eye to be able to identify dates to almost any piece of hardware he comes across. He does not install anything that is not authentic to the period. He would rather have, and does in some rooms, doors with no knobs at all than knock-offs of any sort.
According to Robbins the majority of the woodwork in the building has been restored, walnut doors have been refinished, bronze hardware pieces have been reclaimed, the 20-plus ornate fire places that were once painted over have been renewed with the exception of a few that are still works in progress. Robbins’ attention to detail is truly as keen as that of EB Green himself. When making decisions on the building, Robbins contemplates, “What would Green do, would he like me to do this?” Robbins team of dedicated craftsmen respect and share his insistence on authenticity. Moldings and casing are repaired, restored and recreated with the utmost care and attention to detail.
As for Green’s apartment, the residence originally spanned four floors. The lower level contained a billiards room; the first floor was used as a reception and entertainment space; the second floor was his private residence with living room, dining room, and kitchen; and on the third floor were sleeping quarters and day maids’ rooms. These areas are now home to eight apartments. The third floor apartment, once Green’s sleeping quarters, has been worked on for six years, but is now nearing completion as a two bedroom/two bath unit with three working fireplaces and a hand-made walnut paneled foyer from floor up to and including ceiling.
As for the shooting of “Marshall”, the living room of an occupied apartment at the front of the building has been converted into Marshall’s bedroom, fitted with period furniture and accessories.
Robbins is visibly nervous with all the activity surrounding his beloved building, but his pride is more than evident. I think, Mr. Robbins, EB Green would not only approve, but would be proud, very proud indeed.
The cast and crew from “Marshall” will be in Buffalo through the end of June.
Below is a shot of the filming at City Hall: