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May 28, 2008

This Side of the Rainbow

A Delaware home served as inspiration for a Hollywood musical; and this month a historic marker was placed to mark the spot…

This house at 311 N. Washington Street, where Vincente Minnelli once spent winters with his grandparents, was the inspiration for the family home featured in the musical Meet me in St. Louis.
Photo by Kathy Baird
A small part of Delaware served as a Hollywood inspiration; and this month, a Delaware Bicentennial plaque was placed to mark the spot. The home at 311 North Washington Street, where MGM movie director Vincente Minnelli—the father of Liza Minnelli and husband of Judy Garland—spent childhood winters with his grandparents, was dedicated with a historic marker on May 17.

Minnelli’s affinity for music and show business came naturally. His grandfather taught music at Ohio Wesleyan, while living in the Washington Street home. Vincente visited his grandparents there periodically, as his parents traveled the Midwest with a tent show business during the vaudeville era, says Brent Carson, president of the Delaware Historical Society, who also serves on the Delaware Bicentennial Commission.

A time of change eventually forced the Minnellis’ traveling show to close, Carson says. “Ironically, what put them out of business was the advent of movies; and that’s what (later) made Vince Minnelli famous,” he notes. The Minnellis faced additional losses when the flood of 1913 destroyed their entertainment equipment stored near the river on the site where Mingo Park stands today.

With the end of their tent show, the Minnellis moved to a neighboring home on Fountain Street. Vincente’s father wrote music. His mother taught dance. Together they ran a costume shop and put on productions in Delaware and throughout Ohio. Meanwhile, Vincente Minnelli attended fourth grade through high school in Delaware, leaving town after graduation from Delaware High School, Carson says.

Several years ago, Carson presented Liza Minnelli with a songbook and other items related to her father’s time in Delaware.  He recalls her excitement when she saw a photo of the house on Washington Street. “‘It’s the house that Daddy copied the movie (Meet Me in St. Louis) after,’” Carson recalls Minnelli said. “She said it had a rolling front yard and big front porch just as (her father) described it.”

That movie, according to Carson, “was the first of the big musicals.” It launched Minnelli’s career as a director. “Judy Garland starred in that movie, and a year later, he married Judy Garland.”

The plaque marking the Minnelli home was one of ten historic plaques placed at various sites around Delaware this month.  An eleventh will be dedicated in September at the Delaware County Fairgrounds. Three of the plaques are on the Ohio Wesleyan campus, marking University Hall, Edwards Gymnasium, and the field near the sulfur spring where Ohio Wesleyan and The Ohio State University played their first college football game. (See related story in this issue.)

– Kathy Baird