New York's last remaining private green space, Gramercy Park's lush gardens and serene resting spots tease passersby from behind wrought-iron gates. The property began as swampland and passed through owners like Peter Stuyvesant and 19th century mayor James Duane before eventually falling into the hands of lawyer Samuel Ruggles in 1831. Although the area was considered too far north to live in at the time, Ruggles steadfastly set about draining the swamps. Then, adopting a European-style development plan, he divided the land into 66 lots, with a park in the middle and two thoroughfares (Lexington Ave. and Irving Pl.) at either end. As an added incentive for buyers, Ruggles decreed that the park would belong to the adjacent homeowners—a policy that still holds true today, though the lucky few must now also pay a substantial "key fee" for the privilege. Originally called Crommessie (from Krom Mesje, Dutch for "crooked little knife"), Gramercy Park has been known as both a fashionable enclave and a haven for artists; notable residents have included Oscar Wilde, Herman Melville, Mary McCarthy and Humphrey Bogart. The statue in the middle of the park depicts Edwin Booth (brother of Lincoln assassin John Wilkes), who was one of the foremost Shakespearean actors of his day. Booth's home at 16 Gramercy Park South—which boasted additions by another area resident, Stanford White—was eventually turned into The Players private theater club, while next door, the National Arts Club has held court in Victorian splendor since 1906. Over on the north side, the historic Gramercy Park Hotel began a massive, Ian Schrager-sanctioned makeover in 2005, bringing a bit of modernity to the otherwise brownstone-heavy surroundings. One thing that probably won't ever change, though, is the park's key-only policy. Fiercely guarded by the trustees, the park is opened to the public only on Christmas Eve; the rest of the time, those who are granted golden keys still have to follow a host of rules: no Frisbees, no jogging on the grass, no feeding the birds.Gaining Access
Determined to make it in with out ponying-up for an apartment? Guests of the Gramercy Park Hotel and members of the National Arts Club enjoy limited access. The park is open to the public only on Christmas Eve.