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Gramercy Park Historic District
Roughly bounded by:
|Architectural style||Greek Revival, Italianate, Gothic Revival|
|NRHP Reference #||80002691|
|Added to NRHP||January 23, 1980|
Gramercy Park Historic District
Roughly bounded by:
|Architectural style||Greek Revival, Italianate, Gothic Revival|
|NRHP Reference #||80002691|
|Added to NRHP||January 23, 1980|
Gramercy Park / / is a small, fenced-in private park in the borough of Manhattan in New York City, United States. The park is at the core of both the neighborhood referred to as either Gramercy or Gramercy Park and the Gramercy Park Historic District. The approximately 2 acre (0.8 hectare) park is the only private park in New York City, and one of only two 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.
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 neighborhood around Gramercy Park, which is divided between New York City's Manhattan Community Board 5  and Manhattan Community Board 6, is generally perceived to be a quiet and safe area.
Gramercy Park itself is located between East 20th Street, called Gramercy Park South at the park, and East 21st Street called Gramercy Park North, and between Gramercy Park West and Gramercy Park East, two mid-block streets which lie between Park Avenue South and Third Avenue. Irving Place commences at the southern end of Gramercy Park, running to 14th Street, and Lexington Avenue, a major north-south thoroughfare on the East Side of Manhattan, terminates at the northern end.
The neighborhood's boundaries are roughly 14th Street to the south, First Avenue to the east, 23rd Street to the north, and Park Avenue South to the west. To the west is the Flatiron District, with Union Square to the southwest, to the south is the East Village, to the east are Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, and to the north are Rose Hill on the northwest and Kips Bay on the northeast.
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 Dutch Krom 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".
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, which was then a farm called "Gramercy Farm", from James Duane, son of the former mayor, father of James Chatham Duane, and a descendant of Peter Stuyvesant. 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 also brought about the creation by the state legislature of Lexington Avenue and Irving Place, 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.
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 shrub 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.
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. Thirteen 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.
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 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.
On September 20, 1966, a part of the Gramercy Park neighborhood was designated an historic district, the boundaries of which were extended on July 12, 1988. The district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. A proposed extension of the district would include nearby buildings such as the Manhattan Trade School for Girls, now the School of the Future, and the Children's Court and Family Court buildings, now part of Baruch College, all on East 22nd Street.
In 1983, Fantasy Fountain, a 4.5 ton bronze sculpture by Greg Wyatt was installed in the park.
One of the most significant steam explosions in New York City occurred near Gramercy Park in 1989, killing two Consolidated Edison workers and one bystander, and causing damage of several million dollars to area buildings.
In 2012, 18 Gramercy Park (South) – formerly the Salvation Army's Parkside Evangeline Residence for Women and most recently 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.
Gramercy Park is held in common as one of the city's two privately owned parks – Sunnyside Gardens in Queens is the other – 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 2005 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. As of 2012 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, which was completed in 2012, will have key access to the park, despite being located several blocks from the park, by becoming members of the Players Club.
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.
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.
Whether the neighborhood is called "Gramercy Park" or "Gramercy," it 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, sold for $7 million in 1993.
The Gramercy Park neighborhood is located in the part of Manhattan where the bedrock Manhattan 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. This handsome 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 wrote 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, is the only general public elementary school in the neighborhood, 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, the Salk School of Science, named after Jonas Salk. Down the street is M.S. 104 the Simon Baruch Middle 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 building for which 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, as are the facilities of The School of Visual Arts, on East 23rd Street and elsewhere. The Gramercy Park Women's Residence, George Washington Hotel and the New Residence house students from the school.
The neighborhood is served by the Epiphany branch of the New York Public Library on East 23rd Street.
Although the neighborhood is not far from "hospital row" on First Avenue above 23rd Street, the primary medical center in its boundaries is Beth Israel Medical Center between East 15th and 17th Streets off of First Avenue. Nearby is the Hospital for Joint Diseases, part of the NYU Medical Center, and the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary on 14th Street. Cabrini Medical Center, on East 19th and 20th Streets, closed down in 2008, but the buildings were purchased by Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in 2010, for use as a cancer outpatient facility.
Around the park
Around the neighborhood
Many actors, actresses and artists live in the district including Kate Hudson, Whitney Port, Joshua Bell, and Amanda Lepore. Amanda Peet grew up in the neighborhood. Winona Ryder used to live in Gramercy Park, but she sold her co-operative apartment in 2008. The fashion designer Narciso Rodriguez has his studio on Irving Place and the neighborhood is home to numerous models' apartments from nearby agencies on Broadway. NBC News anchor Ann Curry also lives in the neighborhood.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gramercy Park neighborhood.|