A Fascinating Look At New York’s Exclusive Gramercy Park

Gramercy Park

Feature Photo: Erika Cross / Shutterstock.com

Gramercy Park is a privately-owned park in Manhattan, New York. It’s famous for its beautiful trees, well-groomed greenery, and vintage green benches. Taking a stroll in this park feels like you’re in an exclusive gated community despite being in downtown Manhattan. There are also numerous restaurants and shopping destinations, making it the perfect destination to spend your leisure time. This quiet sanctuary has a rich history that dates back to the 19th century. Here’s what you should know about the history of New York’s Gramercy Park.

Swampy Beginnings

Gramercy Park lovers may have difficulty picturing how their beloved park started. However, one thing they should know is that it’s not what they know about it now. This park was initially a swamp, meaning “little crooked swamp” or “Krom Moersje” in Dutch.

In 1831, Samuel Ruggles saw potential in the 22-acre swampy piece of land and chose to buy it. During this time, an increasing number of Irish and German immigrants were settling in New York, forcing affluent dwellers out of the city in search of exclusive spaces. Mr. Ruggles sought to meet their demand by developing an upscale neighborhood that would give them solace but would still be within New York.

Then, the land was not ready for development. Therefore, Mr. Ruggles set out to make the land habitable by draining the swamp. He spent a total of $180,000 (over $5 million after inflation adjustment) to transport dirt to the land to make it usable.

Establishment of the Park

Once the swamp had been filled with dirt, Mr. Ruggles divided the land into 110 parcels. He sold 66 parcels for the construction of buildings and deeded the remaining 42 parcels to five trustees who pledged to develop a park. He then limited its access to those who bought the park’s surrounding land.

Samuel Ruggles took time to convince investors to buy, but luckily, his lobbying succeeded. He erected a fence on the parcel, and surrounding homeowners created a board of trustees. This board of mandate is still mandated to oversee the park’s well-being till now.

Center of Conflict

Gramercy has had its share of struggles over the years. For instance, there was a time it was opened and used as an encampment for troops during the civil war. The park was also earmarked to have a street run through it to connect Lexington Avenue and Irving Place, although these plans didn’t fall through.

Members of the New York Assembly had even passed a bill to have a railroad pass through Gramercy Park, but these plans also didn’t fall through, thanks to the efforts of local activities. Another attempt was made to make the park public in 1912 but failed.

Home to Celebrities

Gramercy has been home to celebrities and presidents. One of Gramercy’s famous residents was Edwin Booth, one of the most accomplished Shakespearean Actors ever to grace the stage. His performances earned him numerous fans all over the country.

However, his reputation was somewhat tarnished by his infamous brother John Wilkes Booth who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. His theatrical works nevertheless earned him a statue in his honor at the center of Gramercy Park.

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, also called this place home. He lived on 20th Street. The Gramercy district was also home to famous artists such as Julia Roberts and inventor Thomas Edison. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian have also name-dropped their favorite restaurant in the Gramercy Park Neighborhood.

What You Should Know About Accessing Gramercy Park

Gramercy Park is only accessible to property owners next to the park. Other institutions key to the park includes the National Arts Club, the Players Club, and the Brotherhood Synagogue.

Guests at the Gramercy Park Hotel can go into the park but must be allowed in and out by hotel staff. If you live in the Gramercy neighborhood, you can only have a maximum of five guests in the park. Since 2003, visitors are not allowed to the park once darkness sets in.

Activities such as cycling or other sports are not permitted at the park. You’re not allowed to smoke, drink alcohol, take pictures or walk your dog at the park. However, the park is open to caroling thanks to St George’s Church for an hour.

Keys to the Park

Gramercy Park is accessible through the keys given to the original lot owners. Each owner was given two keys made of solid gold, a testament to the park’s exclusivity. Today, there are only 383 coded keys, limited to those living around the park who have to pay an annual fee. Anyone who loses these keys has to pay a $1000 fee. The locks to the park’s four gates are changed annually, and any property that does not pay the $7500 assessment fee will have their garden privileges revoked.

Architecture Around Gramercy Park

Gramercy District is known for its vintage buildings, which are over a century old. These buildings also use different architectural styles, contrasting with other New York buildings. However, these buildings blend perfectly, thanks to the zoning laws enacted.

For example, the Players Club townhouse employs a Gothic revival style, while the National Arts Club has a Victorian style. Several townhouses on Gramercy West are Italianate style, while others are Greek Revival style townhouses. Despite their different architectural styles, each townhouse has a width allowing three windows and is usually five stories high.

Public Amenities Around Gramercy Park

Gramercy Park is surrounded by several amenities that make the neighborhood vibrant. Restaurants such as Gramercy Tavern, L’ Express, and Casa Mono will offer you fine dining no matter the time.

The Gramercy Park Hotel is an excellent place to stay if you’re visiting New York. Many iconic events have been witnessed, and you might run into David Bowie or Bob Dylan while at the hotel. You could also catch a concert at the Gramercy theater or an art exhibition at the National Arts Club.

Wrap Up

Gramercy Park had lived up to the expectations set by Samuel Ruggles when he bought the swampy land. The park provides an exclusive place for Gramercy District residents to unwind and enjoy a little bit of nature in downtown Manhattan. With all the park’s beauty and the vibrant community around it, it’s amazing to see what one man’s dream has become.

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