Photo: Julie Zeveloff/Business Insider
Gramercy Park, the gated oasis wedged into a square block on the east side of Manhattan, has the distinction of being Manhattan’s only private park.That means the average tourist—and even most neighbourhood residents—can’t get in: only people who live in one of the 39 townhouses or buildings surrounding the park can access the keys that unlock the wrought iron gates.
The park is steeped in history. It’s surrounded by some of the city’s oldest apartment buildings, and the roster of former and current residents of the neighbourhood include architect Stanford White and Oscar Wilde. Two presidents, Teddy Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, played in the park as children.
We recently sat down with Arlene Harrison, one of five park trustees and the founder of the Gramercy Park Block Association, and Tom Pike, another trustee and a former New York City Landmarks Commissioner, to uncloak some of the mystery surrounding the two-acre plot.
The neighbourhood surrounding the park was once a swamp. Gramercy Park was conceived by developer Samuel Ruggles in 1831; the fence appeared two years later and the original still stands.
In 1863, the park was opened to Union soldiers to thank them for protecting the area during the Civil War.
Today, the park is still co-owned by the owners of the properties that surround it. The only other private park in the city is Sunnyside Gardens, in Queens.
Residents of the 1,200 or so units surrounding the park can purchase individual keys for $350 per year. Lost keys cost $1,000 to replace.
We expected to see big antique skeleton keys, but the keys to the park are actually pretty standard and would blend in on any key ring. Obviously, you're not allowed to replicate them.
Part of the neighbourhood immediately surrounding the park is in a historic district. 34 Gramercy Park East is the city's oldest co-op.
Once a year—on Christmas Eve—the park opens to the public for caroling. It used to open for everyone on Gramercy Park Day, but that event stopped in 2010.
Wedding photography was also recently banned in the park. In fact, no commercial photography or video is allowed at all. Of course, photos from outside looking in are fair game.
The 'no pictures' rule is nothing new. Artists were banned from sketching subjects in the park back in the 19th century.
Alcohol, furniture, and most sports equipment are also banned, as are dogs and music. 'Suitable attire' is, of course, required at all times, per the park's rules.
Since the park is off limits to nearly everyone in New York, it's become a popular spot for art exhibitions. A large work by Alexander Calder is currently on a one-year loan to the park.
A statue of Edwin Booth, brother of John Wilkes Boothe and founder of the Players' Club, is the centrepiece of the park. We're told his head is a popular perch for a hawk that recently made Gramercy Park its home.
While all the real estate on the park is spectacular, the best views are from 18 Gramercy Park South, according to the trustees. The 17-story building is currently under construction; it will eventually have 15 full-floor apartments and two duplexes.
There are actually a few ways for a non-resident to get inside the gates. Join the church, synagogue, or one of the arts clubs on the park, which all have at least one key. Or book a room at the Gramercy Park hotel, which has 6 keys for guests to use.
Or, come visit Business Insider's headquarters on Park Avenue. It turns out we have a great view of the park from our bathroom window.
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