A monument to Mayor Marvin
is long overdue
June 21, 2004
Not along ago, a question was put to Charlie Marvin by
Mark Muench, one of his grown nephews:
"How come," he asked, "nobody's ever recognized
Mark lives in suburban Rochester, but his question is a
good one for Central New York. His "grandpa" was Charlie's father,
Rolland Marvin, mayor of Syracuse from 1930 to 1941. "Rollie" led the
city during the worst years of the Great Depression, one of the few
historical periods that was even rougher, in a broad scale, than today's
economic crisis in Syracuse.
As the years roll on, one truth is unmistakably clear:
Rollie was among the greatest mayors - arguably the
greatest mayor - to ever walk up the steps of City Hall.
Mark Muench, then, has a valid point. While the names of
such 20th-century mayors as Thomas Corcoran, Anthony Henninger and Bill
Walsh have all gone up on prominent city buildings, Rollie Marvin's
municipal tribute consists of a little street off Valley Drive named in
Charlie Marvin, 78, always thinks about his dad on
Father's Day. But he doesn't dwell on the lack of a public monument. At
Charlie's home in Fayetteville, he often pages through some books on
Republican history in which his dad's name appears.
Beyond all else, Charlie said, his father's legacy is
easy to spot in Syracuse:
Amid the Depression, Rollie helped to put together a
$23.5 million deal in which two private railroads elevated the tracks
that for years had cluttered downtown streets. Not only did the project
beautify the city, it created jobs when they were desperately needed.
The old New York Central train station on Erie
Boulevard, recently renovated to become home to Time Warner's 24-hour
news station, was a result of that project. So was the New York Central
bridge across South Geddes Street, whose retaining walls are now being
restored by the city.
Rollie was among the local officials who aggressively
courted Carrier Corp., which moved its corporate headquarters from New
Jersey to Syracuse during his tenure. He was also a key figure in
bringing professional baseball back to the city.
In 1934, owner Jack Corbett offered to move his Jersey
City team to Syracuse - but only if the city put up a stadium. With no
time for the planning or demolition needed to put the ballpark in a
bustling district, Marvin managed to get Municipal Stadium - later
renamed as MacArthur Stadium - built in three months on a piece of
marshy land on the city's North Side.
Rollie was mayor when Pioneer Homes, one of the state's
first public housing projects, was built near downtown. He was mayor for
extensive improvements at several city parks, improvements done by
federal laborers put to work by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's
In other words, it is almost impossible to do anything
in this city without touching Rollie's handiwork - whether you're buying
a ticket for a SkyChiefs game or hiking along the old stone trails of
Yet he remains the greatest mayor whose name you've
Charlie Marvin has a theory about that. His dad's years
in City Hall ended in a tangle of political hostility. At the 1940
Republican National Convention, Marvin bucked the New York delegation to
choose Wendell Willkie for president over Thomas Dewey, the famed
prosecutor who would become governor of New York.
That was the beginning of the political end for Marvin.
Once he left office, Charlie said, local Republicans weren't itching to
build a monument to this guy who walked away from New York's favorite
For decades after he served as mayor, Rollie turned his
energy to gardening at his home on Robineau Road. "He'd be on his hands
and knees planting tulips by 6 a.m.," Charlie recalled.
Rollie died in 1979. In his final years, Charlie sensed
his father "was maybe a little melancholy" about a decline in the beauty
of some parks and neighborhoods around the city. "It certainly wasn't as
vibrant as when he was in office," the son said.
Charlie spoke of that last week, in the days leading up
to Father's Day. He often pages through books on political history in
which his father's name is mentioned. And every time he climbs into his
car and drives into Syracuse, he sees some landmark that went up when
his dad was mayor.
"That's worth far more than having your name on a
building," Charlie said.
Maybe so, but let's face it: Rollie Marvin deserves
© 2004 The Post-Standard.