The approximately 2-acre (0.8 ha) park, located in the Gramercy Park Historic District, is one of two private parks in New York City – the other is Sunnyside Gardens Park in Queens – as well as one of only three in the state; only people residing around the park who pay an annual fee have a key, and the public is not generally allowed in – although the sidewalks of the streets around the park are a popular jogging, strolling and dog-walking route.
The neighborhood, associated historic district, and park have generally received positive reviews. Calling it "a Victorian gentleman who has refused to die", Charlotte Devree in The New York Times said that "There is nothing else quite like Gramercy Park in the country." When the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission created the Gramercy Park Historic District in 1966, they quoted from John B. Pine's 1921 book, The Story of Gramercy Park:
The laying out of Gramercy Park represents one of the earliest attempts in this country at 'City Planning'. ... As a park given to the prospective owners of the land surrounding it and held in trust for those who made their homes around it, Gramercy Park is unique in this City, and perhaps in this country, and represents the only neighborhood, with possibly one exception, which has remained comparatively unchanged for eighty years — the Park is one of the City's Landmarks.
The boundaries of the Historic District, set in 1966 and extended in 1988, are irregular, lying within the neighborhood, and can be seen in the map in the infobox on the right. A proposed extension to the district would include more than 40 additional buildings on Gramercy Park East and North, Lexington Avenue, Park Avenue South, East 22nd and East 19th Streets, and Irving Place.
The area received its name as an anglicization of "Crommessie", which is derived from the DutchKrom Moerasje, meaning "little crooked swamp", or Krom Mesje, meaning "little crooked knife", describing the shape of the swamp, brook and hill on the site. The brook, which later become known as Crommessie Vly, flowed in a 40-foot gully along what is now 21st Street into the East River at 18th Street. "Krom Moerasje"/"Krom Mesje" became corrupted to "Crommessie" or "Crommashie". Mayor James Duane – for whom the city's Duane Street is named – acquired the site in 1761 from Gerardus Stuyvesant and named it "Gramercy Seat". "Gramercy" is an archaic English word meaning "many thanks".
Flagstone near west gate to Gramercy Park bearing the words "Gramercy Park Founded By Samuel B. Ruggles 1831 Commemorated By This Tablet Imbedded In The Gramercy Farm By John Ruggles Strong 1875
Origin and development
The area which is now Gramercy Park was once in the middle of a swamp. In 1831 Samuel B. Ruggles, a developer and advocate of open space, proposed the idea for the park due to the northward growth of Manhattan. He bought the property, 22 acres of what was then a farm called "Gramercy Farm", from the heirs of James Duane, son of the former mayor, father of James Chatham Duane, and a descendant of Peter Stuyvesant. Ruggles then deeded the land on December 17, 1832 to five trustees, who pledge to hold 42 lots in trust to be used as parkland. To develop the property, Ruggles spent $180,000 to landscape it, draining the swamp and causing about a million horsecart loads of earth to be moved. He then laid out "Gramercy Square", deeding possession of the square to the owners of the 66 parcels of land he had plotted to surround it, and sought tax-exempt status for the park, which the city's Board of Aldermen granted in 1832. It was the second private square created in the city, after Hudson Square, also known as St. John's Park, which was laid out by the parish of Trinity Church. Numbering of the lots began at #1 on the northwest corner, on Gramercy Park West, and continued counter-clockwise: south down Gramercy Park West, then west to east along Gramercy Park South (East 20th Street), north up Gramercy Park East, and finally east to west along Gramercy Park North (East 21st Street).
As part of his overall plan for the square, Ruggles received permission on January 28, 1833 from the Board of Alderman to open up Fourth Avenue, which had been limited to use by trains, to vehicular traffic. He also brought about the creation by the state legislature of Lexington Avenue and Irving Place,[note 3] two new north-south roads laid out between Third and Fourth Avenues and feeding into his development at the top and bottom of the park. The new streets reduced the number of lots around the park from 66 to 60.
Some of the original townhouses surrounding the park, these at #1 through #4 Gramercy Park were built between 1844 and 1850
Gramercy Park was enclosed by a fence in 1833, but construction on the surrounding lots did not begin until the 1840s, due to the Panic of 1837. In one regard this was fortunate, since the opening of the Croton Aqueduct in 1842 allowed new townhouses to be constructed with indoor plumbing.
The first formal meeting of the park's trustees took place in 1844 at 17 Union Square (West), the mansion of James W. Gerard, which is no longer extant, having been demolished in 1938. By that time, landscaping had already begun with the hiring of James Virtue in 1838, who planted privet inside the fence as a border; by 1839 pathways had been laid out and trees and shrubs planted. Major planting also took place in 1844 – the same year the park's gates were first locked – followed by additional landscaping by Brinley & Holbrook in 1916. These plantings had the effect of softening the parks' prim formal design.
Later 19th century events
In 1863, in an unprecedented gesture, Gramercy Park was opened to Union soldiers involved in putting down the violent Draft Riots which broke out in New York, after conscription was introduced for the Civil War. Gramercy Park itself had been protected with howitzers by troops from the Eighth Regiment Artillery, while the 152nd New York Volunteers encamped in nearby Stuyvesant Square.
At #34 and #36 Gramercy Park (East) are two of New York's first apartment buildings, designed in 1883 and 1905. In addition, #34 is the oldest existing co-operative apartment building in the city. Elsewhere in the neighborhood, nineteenth century brownstones and carriage houses abound, though the 1920s brought the onset of tenant apartments and skyscrapers to the area.
In 1890 an attempt was made to run a cable car through the park to connect Irving Place to Lexington Avenue. The bill passed the New York State Legislature, but was vetoed by Governor David B. Hill. Twenty-two years later, in 1912, another proposal would have connected Irving Place and Lexington Avenue, bisecting the park, but was defeated through the efforts of the Gramercy Park Association, now called Gramercy Neighborhood Associates.
In the late 19th century, numerous charitable institutions influential in setting social policy were located on 23rd Street, and some, such as the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, still remain in the area. Calvary Church on Gramercy Park North has a food pantry that opens its doors once a week for one hour, and the Brotherhood Synagogue on Gramercy Park South served as an Underground Railroad station before the Civil War, when the building was a Quaker meeting house, established in 1859.
20th and 21st centuries
The Hotel Irving, at 26 Gramercy Park South, was constructed c.1903. Among its guests was a young Preston Sturges, who stayed there in 1914 while his mother lived with Isadora Duncan at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. A townhouse on the north side of the Park was provided for Duncan's dancing school, and their studio was nearby on the northeast corner of Park Avenue South (then Fourth Avenue) and 23rd Street. The Hotel Irving was converted to a co-op in 1986.
In the center of the park is a statue of one of the area's most famous residents, Edwin Booth, which was dedicated on November 13, 1918. Booth was one of the great Shakespearean actors of 19th Century America, as well as the brother of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln. The mansion at #16 Gramercy Park (South) was purchased by Booth and renovated by Stanford White at his request to be the home of the Players' Club, which Booth founded. He turned over the deed to the building on New Year's Eve 1888. Next door at #15 Gramercy Park (South) is the National Arts Club, established in 1884 in a Victorian Gothic mansion which was originally home to the New York Governor and 1876 Presidential Candidate, Samuel J. Tilden. Tilden had steel doors and an escape tunnel to East 19th Street to protect himself from the sometimes violent politics of the day.
In 2012, 18 Gramercy Park South – formerly the Salvation Army's Parkside Evangeline Residence for Women and then a facility of the School of Visual Arts – was sold to Eyal Ofer's Global Holdings and the Zeckendorf brothers for $60 million for conversion into condominium apartments by Robert A. M. Stern, including a $42 million penthouse duplex. The 17-story building is the tallest around the park and dates from 1927.
Ownership and access to the park
Interior of the park, as seen through the fence from Gramercy Park East
As a private park, Gramercy Park is held in common by the owners of the 39 surrounding structures, as it has been since December 31, 1831. Two keys are allocated to each of the original lots surrounding the park, and the owners may buy keys for a fee, which was originally $10 per key, but as of 2008[update] was $350, with a $1,000 fee for lost keys, which rises to $2,000 for a second instance. The Medeco locks are changed annually, and any property that does not pay the annual assessment of $7,500 per lot has its key privileges revoked; additionally, the keys are very hard to duplicate. As of 2012[update], there were 383 keys in circulation, each individually numbered and coded.
Members of the Players Club and the National Arts Club as well as guests of the Gramercy Park Hotel, which has 12 keys, have access, as does Calvary Church and the Brotherhood Synagogue; hotel guests are escorted to the park and picked up later by hotel staff. In addition, the owners of the luxury condominium apartments at 57 Irving Place, completed in 2012, can obtain key access to the park by becoming members of the Players Club, even though the building is located several blocks from the park.
At one time, the park was open to the public on Gramercy Day – which changed yearly, but was often the first Saturday in May. In 2007, the trustees announced that the park would no longer be open for Gramercy Day because it "had turned into a street fair". The park, however, continues to be open to the public on Christmas Eve. Visitors to the park may not at any time drink alcohol, smoke, ride a bicycle, walk a dog, play ball or Frisbee, or feed the birds and squirrels.
In 2001, Aldon James of the National Arts Club that adjoins the park brought about 40 children, mostly minorities, into the park from the nearby Washington Irving High School on Irving Place. The trustee at the time, Sharen Benenson, called police alleging that the children were trespassing. The police refused to take action. Later, a suit was filed against the park's administration in Federal Court. The suit was settled out of court in 2003. Most of the children settled for $36,000 each, while one received $50,000.
In December 2014, it was revealed in The New York Times that 360-degree panoramic pictures of the interior of the park – taken using Photo Sphere, a Google app within Google Street View, by Shawn Christopher from the Pittsburgh area – had been posted to Google Maps. Christopher got access to the park by renting a room through the Airbnb service and using the key to the park which came with the room. The Gramercy Park Block Association – which did not know about the photographs until informed by a Times reporter – did not give Christopher permission to shoot in the park, and he was unaware that photography was generally forbidden.
An 1853 real estate map of the area around Gramercy Park
Based on data from the 2010 United States Census, the population of Gramercy Park was 27,988, an increase of 1,804 (6.9%) from the 26,184 counted in 2000. Covering an area of 171.71 acres (69.49 ha), the neighborhood had a population density of 163.0 inhabitants per acre (104,300/sq mi; 40,300/km2). The racial makeup of the neighborhood was 73.7% (20,623) White, 3.3% (923) African American, 0.1% (19) Native American, 13.4% (3,740) Asian, 0.0% (10) Pacific Islander, 0.3% (77) from other races, and 2.0% (573) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 7.2% (2,023) of the population.
The neighborhood, which is called either "Gramercy Park" or "Gramercy", is generally considered to be a quiet and safe area. While real estate in Manhattan is rarely stable, the apartments in the neighborhood around Gramercy Park have experienced little turmoil. East 19th Street between Third Avenue and Irving has been called "Block Beautiful" for its wide array of architecture and pristine aesthetic. Townhouses with generous backyards and smaller apartments alike coincide in a collage of architecture in Gramercy Park. The largest private house in the neighborhood, a 42-room mansion on Gramercy Park South, was on sale for $7 million in 1993.
The Gramercy Park neighborhood is located in the part of Manhattan where the bedrockManhattan schist is located deeper underground than it is above 29th Street and below Canal Street, and as a result, and under the influence of zoning laws, the tallest buildings in the area top out at around 20 stories, and older buildings of 3-6 floors are numerous, especially on the side streets, but even on the avenues.
The quiet streets perpendicular to Irving Place have maintained their status as fashionable residential blocks reminiscent of London's West End. In 1912, a multiple dwelling planned specifically for bachelors appeared at 52 Irving Place. A Colonial Revival style structure with suites of rooms that lacked kitchen facilities was one of a small group of New York apartment houses planned for single men in the early years of the 20th century.
Gramercy Park Hotel was originally designed by Robert T. Lyons and built by Bing & Bing in 1925, replacing a row of townhouses. It was managed for many years by hotelier Herbert Weissberg, and in 2006 underwent a massive makeover by Ian Schrager, who in 2010 sold his interests and is no longer associated with the hotel. Interiors were designed by artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel. The Hotel has views of Gramercy Park, and guests have access to the hotel's 12 keys to the park during their stay. Dining venues include the Rose Bar and Jade Bar, and rooftop Gramercy Terrace restaurant; Danny Meyer's Maialino is also in the Hotel.
An assortment of restaurants, bars, and establishments line Irving Place, the main thoroughfare of the neighborhood south of the park. Pete's Tavern, New York's oldest surviving saloon, and where O. Henry is often erroneously said to have written The Gift of the Magi, survived Prohibition disguised as a flower shop. Irving Plaza, at East 15th Street and Irving, hosts numerous concerts for both well-known and indie bands and draws a crowd almost every night. There are also a number of clinics and official city buildings on Irving Place.
P.S. 40, the Augustus Saint-Gaudens School, serving grades Pre-K to 5, is the only general public elementary school in the neighborhood; it is located on East 20th Street between First and Second Avenues, near the Augustus Saint-Gaudens Playground, Peter's Field, and the park at Stuyvesant Square. The building also houses a middle school named after Jonas Salk: the Salk School of Science, serving grades 6-8. M.S. 104 the Simon Baruch Middle School, which also serves grades 6-8, is located one block west of P.S. 40 and the Salk School. Nearby, on East 23rd Street, is the American Sign Language and English School, a public elementary and middle school which provides American Sign Language immersion education for deaf and hearing children. The ASL and English School building also hosts other public school programs.
Also located in the neighborhood is The Epiphany School, a Catholic elementary school on 22nd Street at Second Avenue. Founded in 1885 for religious instruction in the parish of the Epiphany, the school has been a landmark – gutted and rebuilt – in the neighborhood for generations. At 20th Street and Second Avenue is a new building for the Learning Spring School, a private school for high-functioning autistic children funded by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative. The building houses an elementary and middle school, grades K-8.
The buildings of Baruch College of the City University of New York (CUNY) are located in the neighborhood or nearby. Baruch College's Lawrence and Eris Field Building is located at the southeast corner of Lexington Avenue and 23rd Street in Gramercy. The facilities of The School of Visual Arts are located on East 23rd Street and elsewhere. SVA students are housed in Gramercy Park Women's Residence, George Washington Hotel and the New Residence. In addition, New York University's Gramercy Green dormitory is located in Gramercy.
The New York Public Library (NYPL)'s Epiphany branch is located at 228 East 23rd Street. The Epiphany branch opened in 1887 and moved to its current structure, a two-story Carnegie library, in 1907. It was renovated from 1982 to 1984.
Police and crime
Gramercy, along with Stuyvesant Town and Madison Square, is patrolled by the 13th Precinct of the NYPD, located at 230 East 21st Street. The 13th Precinct and neighboring 17th Precinct ranked 57th safest out of 69 patrol areas for per-capita crime in 2010. The high per-capita crime rate is attributed to the precincts' high number of property crimes.
The 13th Precinct has a lower crime rate than in the 1990s, with crimes across all categories having decreased by 80.7% between 1990 and 2018. The precinct saw 2 murders, 18 rapes, 152 robberies, 174 felony assaults, 195 burglaries, 1,376 grand larcenies, and 37 grand larcenies auto in 2018.
#3&4 – James Harper – an original resident, 1847–1869,Mayor of New York from 1844–1845 and one of the founders of the Harper publishing firm; the two iron lamps outside #4 were placed there by the city in Harper's honor: the custom was that mayor's residences were so distinguished so that he would be available for nighttime emergencies
Oscar Wilde took rooms at 47 Irving Place for a while in 1882, some ten years before his future literary agent in America, Elisabeth Marbury set up home next door at 49 Irving Place with interior designer Elsie de Wolfe. De Wolfe and Marbury were said to be the most fashionable lesbian couple of Victorian New York.
1892: John Seymour Wood's Gramercy Park: A Story of New York may be one of the first literary works set in the area
1945: In E. B. White's children's book Stuart Little, the Little family live at "22 Gramercy Park", which White describes as "[A] pleasant place near a park in New York City." White also wrote a poem called "Gramercy Park", which was published in The New Yorker, about him and a friend climbing over the fence into the park.
1949: Henry Noble MacCracken's The Family on Gramercy Park is set in the neighborhood.
1982: In The Brownstone House of Nero Wolfe by Ken Darby, the character Archie Goodwin states that Nero Wolfe's townhouse was actually on East 22nd Street in the Gramercy Park district rather than the fictional West 35th street address(es) given in the novels to protect Wolfe's privacy.
1983: Bruce Nicolaysen's The Pirate of Gramercy Park is part of the Novel of New York multi-generation family historical fiction series.
1988: In the book Changes for Samantha, part of the American Girl series, Samantha stays at her Uncle Gardner and Aunt Cordelia's brownstone house in Gramercy Park.
2001: The mystery novel Murder on Gramercy Park by Victoria Thompson is part of the Gaslight Mystery series
2005:The Monsters of Gramercy Park by Danny Leigh is a psychological thriller.
2006: Several key scenes of Jed Rubenfeld's historical thriller The Interpretation of Murder, which is set in New York in 1909, take place in the park itself and the houses nearby, where one of the book's main protagonists lives.
2010: In his memoir Assholes Finish First, Tucker Max recounts that he gained access to Gramercy Park to win a bet with a female acquaintance. To satisfy her end of the bet, she was required to give him fellatio while he was sitting on a bench in the park.
2010: Author Danielle Steel writes about Gramercy Park in her novel Big Girl [ISBN978-0-440-24521-6 Dell 2010]
Note: Gramercy Park is a private park, and film companies are not usually allowed to shoot there.
1973: In the science fiction film Soylent Green, which is set in New York in 2022, a corrupt New York governor escorts some children into a tent, saying, "This was once called Gramercy Park, boys. Now it's the only tree sanctuary in New York."
1979: In the film The Warriors, one of the fictional gangs featured is the Gramercy Riffs, the biggest gang in New York.
1993: The exterior of the park can be seen in the Woody Allen film Manhattan Murder Mystery. The characters in the film comment on the beauty of the park from a wine tasting filmed in the National Arts Club. Later in the film Diane Keaton and Alan Alda walk into the street directly in front of the park as they try to track a bus route.
1999: In the film Notting Hill, a famous actress, played by Julia Roberts, is shown starring in a film called Gramercy Park, which was also the name of the production company for Notting Hill.
^Neighborhoods in New York City do not have official status, and their boundaries are not specifically set by the city. (There are a number of Community Boards, whose boundaries are officially set, but these are fairly large and generally contain a number of neighborhoods, and the neighborhood mapArchived September 15, 2012, at the Wayback Machine issued by the Department of City Planning only shows the largest ones.)
^Ruggles named Irving Place after Washington Irving, but Irving never lived there, although he frequently visited a nephew who lived nearby.
^ abKugel, Seth (July 23, 2006). "The Ultimate Neighborhood Park". The New York Times. Retrieved February 11, 2019. A visit to the Gramercy Park neighborhood, on the East Side of Manhattan, can be frustrating ... But the easily walkable neighborhood deserves a tour ...
^Konigsberg, Eric (June 19, 2008). "The Guardian of Gramercy Park". The New York Times. Retrieved February 11, 2019. Gramercy is one of two private parks in New York City (the other, in Queens, is Sunnyside Gardens Park) and a key is required not only to enter, but to leave through a gate in its wraparound wrought-iron fence.
^Wilkinson, Christina (September 12, 2005). "Sunnyside, Queens". Forgotten New York. Retrieved February 11, 2019. Sunnyside Gardens Park is one of only two private residential parks in the city. The other is Gramercy Park in Manhattan, which is much more elite and whose owners would probably scoff at the idea of extending access to outsiders.
^Devree, Charlotte (December 8, 1957). "Private Life of a Park". The New York Times. Retrieved February 11, 2019. More or less at the center of New York's current binge of tearing down the old and putting up the new, a small sector successfully resists, much like a Victorian gentleman who has refused to die.
^Kleinfeld, N. R. "Federal Lawsuit Charges Racial Exclusion at Gated Gramercy Park", The New York Times, January 18, 2001. Accessed March 28, 2017. "According to the suit, filed yesterday in Federal District Court two groups of largely minority schoolchildren who were invited to use the park on separate occasions last year by the National Arts Club, an institution that abuts the park and is entitled to keys, were ordered to leave by the chairwoman of the Gramercy Park Trust, which has sovereignty over the park."
^Cooper, Michael. "Skeptic Takes Sword To Bars' Myths", The New York Times, September 29, 1996. Accessed March 28, 2017. "Pete's Tavern, and guidebooks, have long claimed that O. Henry wrote his most famous story, Gift of the Magi, in its first booth. In fact William Sidney Porter, better known as O. Henry, did live across Irving Place from the saloon, then called Healey's Tavern. And he did drink there frequently. But he apparently did not write his most famous plot twist there."
^Diamond, Jason. "Edith Wharton by Design", Paris Review, January 24, 2013. Accessed March 28, 2017. "That night I noticed the red plaque on a doorway next to a Starbucks at 14 W. Twenty-Third Street that read, 'This was the childhood home of Edith Jones Wharton, one of America's most important authors.'"
^Staff. "Dr. Henry Noble MacCracken, Ex‐Vassar President, 89, Dies", The New York Times, May 8, 1970. Accessed March 28, 2017. "While still president of Vassar, Dr. MacCracken decided that upon retirement he would write books, not in his own field, which was English literature, but in another, preferably history. The first of these was The Family on Gramercy Park, reminiscences of him self as a 12‐year‐old in that neighborhood."
^Foundas, Scott. "Film Review: That Awkward Moment", Variety (magazine), January 28, 2014. Accessed July 18, 2016. "Gormican begins and ends That Awkward Moment with Efron's Jason sitting alone and forlorn on a bench in Gramercy Park on a chilly winter's night, and in between flashes back to show us how he got there."