For many, Gramercy Park is considered one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the city, lined by pre-war buildings and village feel. Its location is ideal, surrounded by the East Village, Soho, Union Square, and Flatiron. Yet, with all the hustle and bustle surrounding it, the neighborhood remains quiet and picturesque, where only a select few have the pleasure of living.
Gramercy Park, one of Manhattan’s most prestigious neighborhoods, was developed by Samuel B. Ruggles with that idea of prestige and exclusivity in mind.
In the early 1800s, New York City was surging in population due to a massive influx of German and Irish immigrants fleeing poverty in their own homelands. With this population growth, the city started to expand northward with wealthier residents moving to the outskirts of the then city limits to escape the dirty conditions and find more space to live. This trend was putting more and more pressure on the city of New York to establish a more exclusive neighborhood within its borders to keep the exodus of people from happening.
In 1832 Samuel B Ruggles, a lawyer who then tried his luck in real estate, had an idea which could fill demand from the city. Ruggles bought 22 acres of land around what is now 20th street. These 22 acres were mostly swamp and in no way desirable. Ruggles drained the swamp and split up the area. Sixty-six parcels were for construction, and 42 parcels in the center were distributed to trustees who would then pledge the land to be used for the park that could only be accessed by the purchasers of the parcels encircling it. Like most developers nowadays, Ruggles had to offer some incentives for wealthy people to invest in the project. With a lot of lobbying among his high placed peers, Ruggles was able to get the private park tax free status by claiming that the open space would be a gift to the city as it would allow for better air circulation a significant health concern back then. Of course, giving tax-free status to privately owned land was hard to push and did create a lot of backlash during the years. One of the key factors to the city allowing this along with its health benefits was that the taxes collected on the residents would be much higher in the long run than collecting them on the ownership of the park as there was more of a premium on owning along the park. Lastly, a set of rules were put in place for development in the neighborhood. No businesses were to be allowed in any of the homes, making an exception for churches and institutions, and there was size restriction on buildings—all these predated city zoning laws by 85 years.
Nowadays, most of the neighborhood has been designated a historic district.
Many neighborhoods in New York are known for a single, distinctive style of architecture. This cannot be said for Gramercy, which displays a wide array of different styles. On Gramercy West, several Italianate style townhouses can be found while right next door to them are several Greek Revival style townhouses. On Gramercy South, there is the National Arts Club, which is located in two brownstones of the Victorian Gothic style, while next door, the Players club is in a Gothic revival townhouse. Though there are so many styles, they all seem to blend together well due to the zoning laws put in place. Each townhouse is five stories high and has a width permitting three windows only. Then comes Gramercy East, standing at 12 stories high and with Gothic style is one of the areas first apartment complexes. The white U-shaped building has a facade made from glazed terra-cotta showing intricate detail of twisted ropes climbing the building, and nights defending the entrance to the building.
In some sorts visiting Gramercy is an architectural safari, which somehow all works together and gives the neighborhood a feeling of completion.
During most of its existence up until recent years, the park’s tenants’ only status has brought up many issues with locals in NYC.
In 1934, a 22-year-old student rammed his car through the gates of the park and circled through it several times in protest. Rather than call out the young man on his actions, many newspapers and New Yorkers called the student a hero for defying the park’s status.
In 2001, the National Arts Club brought students from a nearby school to the park on a field trip. Some shareholders called the police because they thought the children were trespassing. This ended up with a lawsuit filed against the park’s shareholders, which was eventually settled with payments up to $36,000 per student.
Today, Gramercy Park has not changed much from what it was initially envisioned to be. The neighborhood is populated with a lot of the city’s most prominent residents. As New York’s real estate has had its ups and downs, Gramercy has consistently remained stable with very little inventory available at one given time. In terms of access to the park, there are a total of 380 keys. Some belong to the Gramercy Park Hotel, while many others are in the hands of coops, which rent them out to their residents. Only a small portion of the residents have their own key.
In the past few years, there have been some changes in the neighborhood. Depending on who you ask, they might be welcome or unwelcome. Commencing in 2016, construction began at Gramercy Square, a massive new luxury condominium project. The project includes a complex of four buildings, including the former Cabrini Medical Center, which is being converted. This new development has brought an influx of 223 new units to the neighborhood.
- The park was protected by Union Soldiers during the civil war when a huge revolt happened due to mandatory conscription being passed. Howitzer cannons were brought to the park.
- The city’s oldest coop is in Gramercy.
- Replacing lost keys costs $1,000.
- The locks to the park are replaced every year.
- Both Theodore Roosevelt and JFK played in the park as children.
- Due to the number of forgeries, Medeco makes the keys for shareholders.
- The park is open to the public on Christmas Eve.
- You can not walk your pets, play any games, drink alcoholic beverages, or play loud music in the park.
- Edwin Booth, a notable resident of the area who’s statue is erected in the park by the city of New York, was the brother of Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth.
- Gramercy was one of the first planned communities in NYC.
The National Arts Club: Keep an eye on their schedule for free art exhibitions, performances, lectures, and classes.
The Players Club: Maybe this one might be hard to get into if you don’t know a member. Located inside a beautiful townhouse, this is one of NYC’s oldest clubs.
Gramercy Theatre: Currently outfitted for concerts, the Gramercy Theatre use to be a place to catch an Off-Broadway show. Now you can catch a concert, previously hosting shows from Jay-Z, Macy Grey, and The Jonas Brothers.
Sidney Mishkin Gallery: With over 600 permanent works of art, the Sidney Mishkin Gallery holds five shows a year. The Gallery is open to the public during the academic year.
The Stand Comedy Club: Voted one of New York’s best comedy clubs, the Stand features a lot of up and coming comedians and veterans such as Dave Attell, Dane Cook, Gilbert Gottfried, and Bill Burr.
Pete’s Tavern: Open since 1864 and disguised as a flower shop during the Prohibition era, Pete’s is one of the handfuls of establishments which claims to be the longest-running bars in the city. This is a great place to grab a beer and soak in the neighborhood.
Rose Bar: Located inside the Gramercy Park Hotel, the Rose Bar is a great place to take a date to and grab a cocktail on a Friday night.
Maialino: Serving Roman cuisine, this restaurant is operated by Dan Meyer, the same guy who brought us Shake Shack.
The Winslow: This English Style Pub offers everything from cocktails, many beers on tap, and British inspired bar food. This is a great place to catch a sporting event with its vast collection of flat-screen TVs.
Halal Guys: Do you want to skip on the alcohol and grab something quick to go? Halal Guys might not be a neighborhood veteran, but it is where this legendary street food restaurant decided to open its very first brick and mortar location. With a small menu and a quick service, it’s an ideal place to refuel for your day of exploring.
Vintage Thrift: Seeing that Gramercy is known for its upscale lifestyle, it might surprise you that it has some great Vintage Stores. Vintage Thrift has great assortments of furniture and vintage clothing.
Article written by Alexander Kellerhals & Leah Azizian, Licensed Real Estate Salespersons of LG Fairmont Real Estate. Leah and Alex specialize in helping buyers and sellers purchase and sell in New York City.