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Thread: Gramercy Park

  1. #1

    Default Gramercy Park

    New York Times
    November 19, 2006

    With the Gate Ajar, a Kingdom in Danger?


    In a neighborhood whose jewel is a famously exclusive park, few things involving that park go unnoticed.

    This was apparent last Sunday, when Sallie Scripter, a local resident who was leaving Gramercy Park with her 19-month-old daughter, saw that the north gate of the park was standing wide open.

    This was not the first time in recent months that Ms. Scripter had noticed the wrought-iron gate ajar. In August, Ian Schrager reopened the Gramercy Park Hotel, equipped with Italian linen, art by Andy Warhol, and keys to the park. Ever since then, local residents, who also possess keys to the park, have occasionally remarked that the gate had been left open.

    An open gate may not seem a terribly pressing issue, but keys to this kingdom are highly prized. The hotel keeps its six keys for guest use on giant silver rings, each about the diameter of a Frisbee and decorated with a showy gold tassel.

    Arlene Harrison, a park trustee, says she thought that hotel guests occasionally left the gate open because it was too heavy to close, or simply because they didn’t realize that according to park rules, it must be closed and locked even when visitors are inside.

    And anxiety about the open gate may have less to do with the presence of guests at the hotel, where prices start at $525 a night, than of other people. “The terrible threat,” Ms. Harrison said, “is that with the gate wide open, hordes of people may come in.”

    Last week, in response to complaints, the hotel set forth what may be one of the most formal procedures ever devised for a walk in a green space. According to Ellis O’Connor, the hotel’s general manager, park-bound guests will be escorted there by a hotel worker, then educated about the park’s history and rules, including its bans on alcohol, pets, and groups larger than six. The worker will open the gate, close it behind the guests, and give them a key to let themselves out.

    Still, Ms. Harrison intends to keep close tabs on it. “I speak to the managers there once or twice daily,” she said. ”And I talk to Ian Schrager at least twice a week.”

    But if the park key holders are now happy that their space is safely private again, Courtney Spencer, a marketing executive who was walking nearby one day last week, was not. “I’m not nuts about the fact that it’s so exclusive,” he said. “It’s a nice-looking park, but it feels a little like a fortress.”

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

  2. #2
    Forum Veteran MidtownGuy's Avatar
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    Mar 2005
    East Midtown


    "Ms. Harrison" should go jump in the river.
    with silver rings and gold tassssssels attached.

  3. #3
    Senior Member
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    Apr 2006


    Pompous and funny..."hordes...."

    But to put it in perspective, I lived on E 18th St. for many years in the 70's and 80's. I walked by Gramercy Park almost every day and nobody invited me in so I just never got too worked up about it. It looked fabulous and quaint and if that was the way it was...OK by me...

    I don't have any issues with this being a private park. If it were open, it wouldn't take much time for it to resemble any other public space in New York...and that would be a damn shame.

    I bought a membership to an airline club after many years and, well....membership does have privledges. I get it.

  4. #4


    The Guardian of Gramercy Park’s Leafy Seclusion

    Librado Romero/The New York Times
    Arlene Harrison at the gate of Gramercy Park, one of two private parks in the city. Only those who live adjacent to the park have access.

    Published: June 19, 2008

    Arlene Harrison calls herself the mayor of Gramercy Park, and she does not just mean that she knows almost everybody who walks through the lush, private two-acre expanse in the East 20s enough to say hello. Ms. Harrison’s influence over that particular piece of prime Manhattan green space and its neighbors — some 900 units in 39 buildings border the park — is felt in the “Keep off the grass” signs and the holly bushes she had installed recently “to block out the streets and the sidewalk.”

    Librado Romero/The New York Times
    Gramercy Park, two acres in the East 20s, at a level of use that is close to typical, even when the weather is good.

    Since Ms. Harrison started the Gramercy Park Block Association in 1994, after her son was attacked and beaten up in front of their apartment building at 34 Gramercy Park, she has effectively remade the area in her own image.

    She has added to a list of regulations (no dogs, no feeding of birds, no groups larger than six people, no Frisbees or soccer balls or “hard balls” of any kind) that, in turn, have served to dictate how the park is — and is not — used. Most recently, she helped pave the way for Zeckendorf Realty to redevelop a 17-story Salvation Army boarding house on the south side of the park, and for the company’s plan to convert the 300 rooms into 14 floor-through apartments plus a penthouse duplex. The company would not confirm the transaction.

    “One of Will Zeckendorf’s best friends lives in my building and I liked him,” she said. “I like what they did with 15 Central Park West. I think they’re the best developers for the job.”

    She added: “It will change the neighborhood for the better. It will be less use on the park.”

    Indeed, while a key to Gramercy Park — or, more precisely, an address that entitles one to such a key — is among the most coveted items of New York real estate, under Ms. Harrison’s stewardship, the park has become perhaps the least-used patch of open space in the city. Most days, in nice weather, one would be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of people in the park at once, and few linger.

    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.
    Each of the 63 lots on which the current 39 buildings sit gets two keys, which residents (and guests at the Gramercy Park Hotel) may borrow from their doormen. In addition, residents of those buildings — but only those — may purchase keys for $350 per year; the keys are all but impossible to copy and cost $1,000 to replace.

    About 400 people now have keys, but many of them apparently sit unused in junk drawers in the grand foyers in the apartments overlooking the park. One sunny morning last week, as Ms. Harrison chatted with the Rev. Thomas F. Pike, rector of Calvary-St. George’s Church, there were three others in the park: a woman checking her BlackBerry, a custodial worker and a jogger. On a Saturday morning three days later, about two dozen people could be spotted in the park over the course of four hours, and never more than six or eight at a time.

    “Honestly, we don’t use it that much,” said Gale Rundquist, a real estate broker who has lived on the park for five years. Still, she said, access “adds a lot to a listing; it’s panache.”

    “Because we work during the day, and we leave town on the weekends,” she explained of her own nonusage. “But it’s beautiful to look at.”

    Actual use of the park is not Ms. Harrison’s measure. “It was always an ornamental park,” she said. “A lot of people don’t even go in to enjoy it.

    They’re so thrilled just to see it. It’s like a hotel room with a view of the ocean.”

    Mr. Pike, who like Ms. Harrison is on the park’s five-member elected board of trustees, noted that his dogs were not allowed inside, “but they love to walk around it.”

    Over the years, Ms. Harrison and her supporters have feuded with O. Aldon James Jr., president of the National Arts Club (which is on the park and thus is entitled to a few keys), and his supporters. There have been fights over regulations, pruning and birds. There has been a discrimination lawsuit (quietly settled). Today, the rift has essentially come down to access (he is for more, imagining the space as a delightful one for arts club functions).

    For years the two were friends, but after a falling-out Ms. Harrison aligned herself with Sharen S. Benenson, a park trustee who up to then had been the primary object of Mr. James’s populist agitations.

    “There used to be concerts and dance recitals in the park, but Arlene Harrison is afraid of who’ll show up,” Mr. James said in an interview last week. “It would be much truer to the spirit of the place if more people from the community could use it.”

    The park is beautiful and tranquil. There are well-manicured flower beds, statuary, grand American elms, plenty of usually empty benches, and those holly bushes. “It creates seclusion,” Ms. Harrison said, adding that night club traffic along 21st Street is “too much.”

    Ms. Harrison, a smallish, high-spirited woman, patrols the park and its surroundings every day from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., clipboard in hand. “I talk to the all the buildings’ supers about their concern,” she explained. “Quality of life issues. Individual renovations. Noise.”

    She knows the rhythms of the park intimately. “Between 5:30 and 6:30 in the morning, there are two people here,” she said. “One walks, the other breaks into a jog and stretches occasionally. Two women walk here at 7, and then a third joins them at 7:15. The nannies come in with the small kids around 11, and then again around 4.

    “Saturday, it’s empty,” she added. “People are doing their errands.”
    There is, to be frank, not much to do in the park. Music is forbidden. So are alcoholic beverages, bicycles and furniture. A gravel path around the perimeter provides the only opportunity for low-impact play, or, for that matter, running or walking. Ms. Harrison said parents constantly offer to donate playground components for the park, but she won’t have it.

    “Too much wear and tear,” she said. “But do you know what? The children who grow up here learn to use their imagination.”

    Just past noon on Saturday, a maintenance worker asked two young women enjoying a picnic lunch to produce their keys, and, when they could not, politely asked them to leave. They politely agreed and headed for the gate, but had to be let out by a stranger with a key.

    “I didn’t know it was a private park — we just followed somebody in,” said Elizabeth Heyman. “I’ve heard of Gramercy Park. Which is the one with all those rent-stabilized apartments with the old people?”

    Ms. Harrison, who worked for decades as a special-education teacher in the public schools, supervises the block association’s extensive philanthropic projects and community advocacy. These have ranged from preventing a disco from opening in the neighborhood to volunteering with the local police precinct and raising money for Hurricane Katrina victims.
    She has lived on the park since 1971, when she and her ex-husband, a financier, bought an apartment for “around $68,000,” she said, adding that it is worth “millions” today.

    Steven Leitner, the longest-serving park trustee, said that as Manhattan real estate values have increased, most residents of the buildings on the park are not very interested in park governance and see the debate as quaint.

    “We live in an era when people are so concerned with making money,” he added. “These people don’t have time to use the park or to make much of a fuss about it.”

    Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

  5. #5
    Forum Veteran MidtownGuy's Avatar
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    East Midtown


    I think Harrison's a total nutcase with her little clipboard. Poor thing was probably never the same since her son was attacked. Now she is afraid of people.

    Someone should blow the gates apart and bring in a classroom of laughing children and a busload of old folks from the nearest nursing home.

  6. #6


    I understand the advantages of a private park - and don't have a problem with it being private... I do find it amusing that Ms. Harrison is so concerned about "hordes" of people coming into the park, though.

    However, what is really sad, is all of the restrictions put on the people that have access to the park. It's as though they can look at it, but don't you dare have fun in it. Those poor little kids... kids like to run & play in parks. Ms. Harrison's comment about how they do not need playthings in a park, that they should just "use their immagination", simply makes her look like the Grinch of Gramercy Park. I bet she bought heirloom toys for her son when he was growing up, that he was able to "look" at, but not "play" with... which is just how she is running the park.

    It is very sad that such a beautiful space can not be fully enjoyed by it's members, especially considering that they pay such a high price to live there. Then again, I guess if they really cared, they would have exiled Ms. Harrison long ago... I know I would have.

    What a shame.

  7. #7


    Quote Originally Posted by brianac View Post
    no dogs, no feeding of birds, no groups larger than six people
    Get the f*** outta here.

  8. #8


    Streetscapes | Lexington Avenue at Gramercy Park North

    On the Trail of Stanford White

    Left, Bettman/Corbis; Right, from "Stanford White, Architect"/Rizzoli - Museum of the City of New York
    GILDED AGE The sumptuous interior of Stanford White's renovated brownstone on Gramercy Park was a virtual advertisement for his decorating style. The house, its exterior shown at left, no longer stands.

    Published: October 24, 2008

    STANFORD WHITE, Architect,” a book published this month by Rizzoli, is a sumptuous look at the designer’s most inventive commissions, from the Lovely Lane Methodist Church in Baltimore to the Century Association in New York.

    From "Stanford White, Architect"/Rizzoli - Museum of the City of New York
    Stanford White

    Andrea Mohin/The New York Times
    Samuel White, a grandson of the architect, and his wife, Elizabeth, below center at White's Washington Square Arch, have written a book on his work.

    Jonathan Wallen
    Exterior detail from an 1882 White house.

    But one project the authors, Samuel White, a great-grandson of the architect, and his wife, Elizabeth White, feature prominently in the book is long gone: Stanford White’s own residence, a renovated brownstone on Lexington Avenue at Gramercy Park North.

    Born in New York on Nov. 9, 1853, Stanford White was accomplished early at drawing and painting, and soon showed remarkable design ability. He joined forces with Charles McKim and William Mead in 1879, and within a short time the firm was at or near the top of architectural practice in America, with contracts even in its earliest years for the Newport Casino, the Villard Houses and other major projects.

    Throughout their partnership McKim played the intellectual, learned classicist, poring over reference books; Mead, the steady hand on the business side; and White, the impulsive creative genius, always in a hurry but completely assured in his ideas.

    Samuel White is an architect, and his wife, Elizabeth, is an editor. Their book is particularly notable for Jonathan Wallen’s photographs. Their close-in views allow the reader to get nose-to-nose with the brilliant details emblematic of White’s originality. And ill-lighted interiors seldom seen by the public, like the rooms at the Seventh Regiment Armory, at Park Avenue and 66th Street, with their intricate chain and other decorations, are brought out of their usual smoky gloom.

    At the shingle-style Alden house in Cornwall, Pa., the Whites pay tribute to tiny matters like two stucco panels, one filled with pebbles and bits of glass, the other with painted wooden leaves and anthracite coal.

    Out of such humble materials, Stanford White could conjure elegance. Marine serpents for porch brackets, a Colonial bed warmer used as a panel decoration, inch-worm-shaped screen perforations, keystones bursting into flames: these were the products of his genius as much as majestically proportioned ballrooms or Renaissance-style facades.

    The Villard houses, at Madison Avenue and 50th Street, feature dreamy blue- and white-veined marble, cut in one instance into a great scallop shell — a hypnotic quarter-sphere of blue cheese.

    And the astonishing mirrored Venetian Room in the house built for Payne Whitney, at Fifth Avenue and 78th Street, has a series of porcelain flowers woven into the gilt basket-weave screen that forms the ceiling.

    White’s own house on Gramercy Park is presented in black and white; it was demolished in the 1920s, for what is now Ian Schrager’s Gramercy Park Hotel. White moved into the half-century old brownstone in 1898 and proceeded to rebuild it into a temple of decorative art.

    The parlor was practically a salesroom for European decorative arts, walls of antique red velvet flanking a colossal fireplace assemblage: an Egyptian-style mantel, topped with an intricate gilt screen over a mirror, and flanked by bulbous twisted columns crowned with improbably small Corinthian capitals. The third-floor picture gallery had a beamed, skylighted ceiling; a baroque-style doorway; and an iron grille guarding White’s collection of Renaissance and contemporary art.

    Anyone enthralled with the romance of Stanford White should read as a complement Paul R. Baker’s sobering “Stanny: The Gilded Life of Stanford White” (Free Press, 1989). The last decade of White’s life was a maelstrom of spiraling debt, compulsive buying and troubled health, masked all too well by an exuberant good nature.

    Prof. Baker quotes a letter from White in 1899 saying he faced “debtor’s prison” over cost overruns on the Gramercy Park house. In 1905 a warehouse fire destroyed $250,000 worth of furniture and artwork which he had planned to sell to offset bills of over half a million dollars. Prof. Baker’s book recounts how White was in “stony misery” for two days, and then broke down and sobbed “like a child.”

    White was shot and killed in 1906 by Harry K. Thaw, the jealous husband of a former lover. According to an autopsy, his health was so fragile that he was unlikely to have survived another year.


    Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

  9. #9


    Quote Originally Posted by brianac View Post
    Sam is one of the partners at the firm I used to work for, great guy.

  10. #10
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Oct 2002


    Two Sides Square Off Behind Locked Gramercy Park Gates

    Gramercy Park is lovely in the full bloom of spring, but what goes on around the park isn't always so pretty.

    For those with keys to its iron gates, Manhattan's only private park is very much a small town, complete with bitter squabbles and decades-long grudges. The neighbors have gathered into two main camps of combatants.

    In the official corner are the park's five trustees. Elected to lifetime terms by the owners of lots along the park, they interpret and enforce the 1831 deed created by developer Samuel B. Ruggles. Although James M. Clark Jr. is the trust's chairman, its most visible member is Arlene Harrison, who in 1994 founded the Gramercy Park Block Association, a nonprofit community group.

    Leading the opposition is O. Aldon James, president of the National Arts Club, at 15 Gramercy Park. Mr. James, who lives in one of the club's 48 residential units, has objected—sometimes with legal action—to many of the trustees' moves over the years. His most recent frustrations: The park was double-locked for five days in April, preventing even key holders from entering; and on May 5, Mr. Clark reprimanded him for bringing 20 architecture and art history graduate students from Columbia University into the park.

    Park rules stipulate that the maximum number of guests is six (for events not organized by the trust), of which Mr. James was reminded in a letter signed by Mr. Clark—accompanied by a photograph of the tour group in the park.

    "It's Big Brother stuff," Mr. James exclaimed.

    "I just reminded him that he was breaking the rules," Mr. Clark said.

    Mr. James acknowledges that the rules exist, but he wants them loosened to encourage greater use and enjoyment of the shared space. (He does not, however, argue that the park should be made public.)

    One former resident, who lived on the park for five years, describes the scene inside the gates: "Unfortunately, the park itself is not that functional for younger residents. I spent little time there, which is a shame considering it is a beautiful place with lots of history, as well as interesting art. You are not able to walk or relax on the grass, and the benches are definitely not intended for socializing."

    Mr. James's ire is directed squarely at Ms. Harrison, though she considers this a one-sided fight. "This is a peaceful community," she said. "It's not the least bit of a war."

    In addition to her official capacities, Ms. Harrison is a self-appointed warden. She walks the park every morning at 6:30 a.m., making notes on the conditions inside. She circles around to the doormen of park buildings—then circles back in case there is any news that needs to be shared. She returns to the park interior again later. "I come in from 3 to 5:30 to be with the children and the nannies. I talk to them," she said. "I work seven days a week."

    She regularly e-mails news and photographs—of anything from gardeners at work to children at Easter—to about 700 residents on the park. She is also now leading the charge against a proposed bar at 38 Gramercy Park. "I am devoted to this neighborhood. Every inch of it," she said.

    But in Mr. James's view, Ms. Harrison's devotion doesn't necessarily confers legitimacy: "She does not speak for the trust. James Clark is the chairman."

    According to Mr. Clark, the tensions are, at least partially, left over from another era of leadership. In 2001, Mr. James sued the trust and its chairwoman at the time, Sharen Benenson, claiming she prevented him from escorting a group of minority schoolchildren into the park. "The current trustees were not the trustees when the National Arts Club president brought the lawsuit," Mr. Clark said. "But because of the lawsuit and what it has cost to settle that, there is some animosity."

    The suit was settled out of court in September 2003 and the terms were sealed.
    It was not the first such tussle. In 1994, Mr. James and others objected to the removal of 10 trees (he still refers to it as "arboricide"), and accusations of pigeon poisoning followed, in 1998.

    During the recent lockouts, Mr. James chose physical, rather than legal, action. On April 29, he scaled the tall, iron fence with two ladders—just as he did on April 13, when he was confronted with signs reading: "For your safety, the park is closed today."

    Ms. Harrison confirms that the park was closed five times—for a routine spring cleanup and for tree management. "We had 12 crab apple trees that were in various stages of decay and dying. It was in danger of spreading to other trees," she said, adding that the tree experts tried "various techniques" that necessitated closing the park, lest children should be put in danger.

    Mr. James said he wasn't informed that the park would be closed. Ms. Harrison says that's because he has not asked to be on the e-mail list. Mr. James confirms he is not on the list—as a matter of representation.

    "To get her e-mails, you have to belong to the Gramercy Park Block Association," he said. "We are members of the Gramercy Neighborhood Associates."

    The GNA, which Ms. Harrison was a part of before splitting off to start her own group, includes residents on the park and in the surrounding neighborhood. GNA's president, Alan Krevis, declined to comment on the differences between his group and Ms. Harrison's. He did, however, praise one of his constituents: "Aldon James has been very generous to our organization."

    Ms. Harrison says she started her group—it has 1,600 members on the park and beyond, she says—to reach out to new residents and young families. The difference between the two groups, she says, is based on the breadth of activities: "They are into historic preservation. We work on safety, security and quality-of-life issues."

    Thomas F. Pike, a trustee for three years and a resident of the area for 40, defends Ms. Harrison's work for the neighborhood, which he says has the tensions of any family—one with "discretionary money and discretionary time."

    "Arlene can walk into the park and name every child in there. She's like a grandmother to everyone," said Mr. Pike. "She's vigilant in protecting the park. She's also a civic activist—and because she's an activist, she can be gristly."

    Elected in 2003, Ms. Harrison says the trustees emphasize communication because previous leaders did not. "There was never communication. Nothing that I can remember," she said.

    When elected, she and Mr. Clark started sending annual reports to all residents. After the 2001 lawsuit was settled, the trustees drafted formal rules for the park and had them approved by lot owners. The rules—which are posted—are also sent annually. They include: No standing or sitting on the grass. No alcohol. No pets. No Frisbees, soccer balls, footballs or baseballs. No musical, theatrical or other entertainment unless organized by the trust. Wedding parties (no guests) may take photos—while standing only on the graveled areas.

    Keys to the park cost $350 per year, and there is only one per residential unit. Buildings may buy two keys per year at $1,000 apiece. In addition, lot owners pay $3,000 a year for normal operating expenses and $2,500 for capital assessment.

    Mr. Clark says the rules are an interpretation of the original deed. Written in 1831, it does not ban Frisbees. It does, however, offer specifics on what types of business are not permitted: no tanneries, no brass foundries, no museums, no circus.

    Clubs, however, pass muster. And new residents quickly discover that the trust is more closely allied to The Players—the club founded by Edwin Booth in 1888 that is located at 16 Gramercy Park—than the National Arts Club. "It's very low-profile," Ms. Harrison said of The Players. "The community has a caring relationship toward it. We don't want it to disappear."

    Although the National Arts Club itself may receive the same consideration, its president does not. "I don't think I spend 10 minutes a year thinking about Aldon James, except when he pulls these stunts," said Mr. Clark. "There's not much you can do about it."

  11. #11


    Maybe it's time for the city to take this by eminent domain, and make it public?

  12. #12


    on what grounds?

  13. #13
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Jun 2005
    NYC - Downtown


    incessant bickering.

  14. #14


    Because I was staying at the hotel, I was given a key. My kids loved it in the snow --up to a point. They understood their privileges were conditional.

  15. #15


    They should open it up for croquet matches.

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