The most exclusive club in New York isn’t guarded with a velvet rope, instead, members are given a key to the high iron gates and it’s only with proof of address that one is allowed access. Ever since 1832, when landowner Samuel Ruggles first pled his case to the New York City government to grant him permission to turn a muddy creak into high income housing, has Gramercy Park been a club that few have been admitted to but many covet. Julia Roberts, Victor Herbert, John Steinbeck, Thomas Edison, John Barrymore and Stanford White are just some of the many acclaimed individuals past and present who owned a key to this private park. And don’t even think of begging your way in, all residents adhere to the strict code that does not allow interlopers into the only private park in New York City.
Gramercy Park took over a decade to landscape, digging out the creek which ran through the property. The lots surrounding the park were sold to some of America’s most powerful men who in turn, hired some of the world’s most renowned architects to help them build their dream homes. These first residents include architect Stanford White, who redesigned many Gramercy Park interiors; Richard Morris Hunt, architect of the Metropolitan Museum; Cyrus Field, who laid the first transatlantic cable; inventor Peter Cooper, who earned a fortune on the B&O railroad and later built Cooper Union; authors Edith Wharton, Herman Melville, Stephen Crane, Nathanael West and O. Henry; composers Victor Herbert and Antonin Dvorák; and the 19th century’s most acclaimed actor, Edwin Booth. Along with Mark Twain and Stanford White, Booth formed the Players Club, purchasing 16 Gramercy Park in 1888 for $75,000, which White remodeled into a clubhouse. It was Booth’s home for the final five years of his life, and remains one of Gramercy Park’s highlights.
James Renwick, famed for his design of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, designed the Calvary Church on the north side of the park and Calvert Vaux, co-designer of Central Park, built an opulent house at 15 Gramercy Park for Samuel Tilden, who lost the Presidential election in 1876 by one Electoral College vote. To this day, that mansion is one of the most famous buildings on the square, and is now the National Arts Club. The interiors of the club can be seen in Martin Scorsese’s film The Age of Innocence starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder and past members have included artists Frederick Remington and Robert Henri, and presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.