When describing Gramercy Park to someone who's never been there, certain words immediately spring to mind. Historic, posh, and elegant would be good words to start with. "Star-studded" and "exclusive" might be useful, too.
For the tourist or New York City newcomer, Gramercy is one of those neighborhoods that define their vision of the city's classy, moneyed elite; women with tiny dogs and expensive manicures stroll the sidewalks, and the park itself is gated - with only those lucky enough to live in a building facing onto the park being given keys - proving that it's something worth locking up. If you squint your eyes and look at Gramercy, you might think you were walking around the Upper East Side. In fact, Gramercy and its namesake park are some distance downtown from the Upper East Side, but both neighborhoods have many characteristics in common.
And Gramercy isn't just a pretty face - with its rich architectural history and fascinating cultural background, the neighborhood offers more to its residents than just an impressive mailing address.
Back in 1831, what is now Gramercy Park and the surrounding tree-lined neighborhood was a marshy swampland. The area was reclaimed in the 1830s and saw much of its initial development happen in the 1840s and 1850s. Brick and brownstone row houses were erected, along with several lavish mansions. This was all pre-Civil War Victorian-style architecture; even then, the Gramercy area was pretty exclusive. Through the years of economic change and development of the neighborhood, that quality has remained - the last 150 years have been very kind to Gramercy and its park.
In the 1870s, Richard Morris designed the Stuyvesant Apartments, which - though now demolished - was considered to be the first real "apartment building" in the city. Of course there was tenement housing before that, but Morris' building catered to the middle- and upper-class New York family, and in doing so created a whole new clientele.