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Gramercy Park - A different kind of community park/garden


Gramercy Park is a gated private park/garden rectangle on the east side of
Manhattan. Keys have been  available since the mid 19th century to residents
whose property faces this square, only. Gardening here is generally done by
professional grounds keepers who are in the employ of the Gramercy Park

I am forwarding this because it is a stellar example of what can happen when
governance of open space becomes elitist and because there is a Federal
lawsuit here that bears watching by all members of gated gardens and open
space in urban areas.

Happy gardening,
Adam Honigman
> New York Times 
>  <A HREF="http://www.nytimes.com/2001/01/18/nyregion/18GRAM.html">Click
> Federal Lawsuit Charges Racial Exclusion at Gated Gramercy Park</A>  
> January 18, 2001  Single-Page Format  
> Federal Lawsuit Charges Racial Exclusion at Gated Gramercy Park 
> Gramercy Park, a two-acre haven of pastoral charm, has long been a
> oddity, a private park in an elegant Manhattan neighborhood that is  
> accessible only to bordering property owners who possess keys to its  
> wrought-iron gates. 
> Over the years, there has been periodic agitation over park rules and  
> outbursts over trees being pruned and birds being poisoned. A lawsuit
> yesterday, however, introduced the specter of racial exclusion and
> fundamental changes in how the park is governed. A group of children,  
> parents, teachers and one of the property owners contended that the park's

> administrative body tried to bar invited schoolchildren from using the
> because of their race. 
> According to the suit, filed yesterday in Federal District Court two
> of largely minority schoolchildren who were invited to use the park on  
> separate occasions last year by the National Arts Club, an institution
> abuts the park and is entitled to keys, were ordered to leave by the  
> chairwoman of the Gramercy Park Trust, which has sovereignty over the
> In one of the incidents, the suit alleges, teachers and students heard her

> say "the park is not for these kind of kids." 
> The suit, which charges that the actions violated civil rights law,
> to be the first actually to ask that the park's governing structure be  
> declared illegal. The action is principally paid for by a neighborhood  
> resident who hired Kaye, Scholer, Fierman, Hays & Handler, a prominent New

> York law firm, to handle it. The plaintiffs said they did not want to  
> transform the park into a public facility, but hoped to declare the
> Park Trust invalid and replace it with a nonprofit body whose directors
> be elected on a regular basis. Park trustees have always been elected for

> life. The three current ones took office in 1990.  
> In addition to financial damages, the suit seeks to remove Sharen S.  
> Benenson, the chairwoman, and Arthur N. Abbey, a second trustee that the
> says supported her behavior. The third trustee, Steven U. Leitner, was not

> named, because he opposed the actions. 
> The suit suggests that the two incidents with the children represent a  
> pattern of racial exclusion. Kerry Scanlon, one of the lawyers
> the plaintiffs, said the case was "reminiscent of the way
> were often excluded from parks, swimming pools and other facilities 40
> ago." 
> Mr. Scanlon, however, said he was unaware of earlier discriminatory
> and emphasized that he did not believe the community in general was  
> prejudiced. 
> Ms. Benenson denounced the charges as "personally insulting." She said
> she never made any discriminatory remarks, and that she asked the first
> of students to leave because groups that size are against park rules. She

> said she did not recall the second incident. She characterized the suit as

> the latest attack in a longstanding dispute with the head of the National

> Arts Club, who she called "a sort of harebrained nut. He's just determined
> run Gramercy Park."  
> O. Aldon James Jr., the arts club president and a plaintiff in the case,
> been a feisty opponent of Ms. Benenson and advocates much wider use of the

> park than she does. Of Ms. Benenson's response, he said she was trying to

> sidestep the issue. He said he did not want to get into personal attacks,
> mentioned, "I don't think she's a happy person."  
> Mr. Abbey and Mr. Leitner did not return calls seeking comment. 
> While the Gramercy Park trustees have been embroiled in disputes before,  
> racial discrimination does not appear to have been raised. Arlene
> the president of the Gramercy Park Block Association, criticized the case
> not a civil rights issue but another effort by the National Arts Club "to

> gain control of our private park."  
> January 18, 2001  Single-Page Format  
> Federal Lawsuit Charges Racial Exclusion at Gated Gramercy Park  
> Many residents would like to see changes in how the park operates, but as

> Steven Steinberg, the president of a large co-op at 60 Gramercy Park who  
> favors change, explained, there is an underlying fear that if the private

> trust is attacked the park could become public.  
> Gramercy Park is the cloistered centerpiece of the Gramercy Park  
> neighborhood, a predominantly white area stretching from 14th Street to
> Street and Park Avenue South to Third Avenue. Gramercy Park and Sunnyside

> Gardens Park in Queens are the only private parks in New York City. 
> From its inception, Gramercy Park has retained the flavor of a secret  
> society. Created out of farmland by the developer Samuel Ruggles in 1831,
> is restricted to the 38 owners of the 61 lots that border the property,
> their guests. Keys entrusted to owners are numbered and monitored. Each
> gets two keys, though individual apartment dwellers can buy their own for

> $275. Once a year, the locks are changed and new keys are distributed.  
> Property owners pay annual assessments for upkeep of the park.  
> The park is owned mostly by owners of residential buildings, but also by  
> institutions like the Gramercy Park Hotel, the Brotherhood Synagogue, the

> Players Club and the Salvation Army's Large Housing Residence. These  
> institutions permit their guests and members to use the park. 
> The suit contends that the park's administrative structure, in which
> are elected by property owners for life, is illegal. According to the
> the trust violates the rule against perpetuities, an arcane law that  
> stipulates that a private trust must terminate after a certain time. It
> New York law specifies that a trust must end within approximately one  
> person's lifetime. The Gramercy Park Trust has endured for 170 years. 
> The case originated when William Samuels, a businessman who had recently  
> moved into the neighborhood though not on the park, read about the first  
> incident in The Villager newspaper and was disturbed enough to hire Kaye,

> Scholer to investigate it. Mr. Samuels, the son of Howard J. Samuels, the

> late businessman and politician, is the principal financial supporter of
> suit. 
> According to the lawsuit, announced yesterday at a news conference at the

> National Arts Club attended by the plaintiffs, the two incidents that  
> prompted the suit occurred last April and June. 
> On the morning of April 4, the suit said, a group of 55 students, four  
> teachers and a chaperon from nearby Washington Irving High School went to
> the park as guests of the National Arts Club. The students, predominantly

> members of racial minorities, belonged to biology classes that planned to

> examine plants and wildlife in the park. 
> Using a key loaned by the arts club, the students entered the park and
> their lesson. According to the suit, Ms. Benenson, who is white, came and

> told them to leave. The suit says that when a teacher said they were  
> participating in a learning activity, Ms. Benenson replied, "It doesn't
> like a learning group to me." 
> She then approached Mr. James, the suit said, and told him the children
> to go, emphasizing they were not their "kind of kids."  
> When the teachers refused to leave, Ms. Benenson called the police. The  
> police took no action after confirming the group was invited by the arts
> The suit said the students were humiliated by the incident. Mayra Young,
> of the students who is a plaintiff, said she transferred to another school

> uptown within a month, because she didn't want to be in an inhospitable  
> neighborhood. 
> The second incident occurred on June 9, when 15 minority fifth-grade
> from Public School/Intermediate School 217, a school on Roosevelt Island,

> were invited to show their writing at a writing festival at the National
> Club. While they were there, they were escorted across the street to see
> park by their host, Beki Kraynak, an author, makeup artist and hair
> who belongs to the National Arts Club.  
> The suit says they were told to leave. When Ms. Kraynak asked Ms. Benenson

> why, she said she was told the park "is not for outside people." The group

> returned to the arts club. According to the suit, some of the children
> shaken, and one girl was in tears. 
> Shortly after the first incident, the suit says, Ms. Benenson conferred
> the two other trustees, and she and Mr. Abbey voted to send a letter to
> James contending that he had violated park rules. Mr. Leitner disagreed.
> the past, he has clashed with the other trustees and has suggested selling

> keys, like health club memberships, to whomever wanted them. 
> The plaintiffs in the case include five students, two parents, a teacher,
> National Arts Club, Mr. James and Ms. Kraynak. 

Adam Honigman
Bowne Publishing Division
345 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014
Tel: (212) 414-8933
Fax: (212) 229-3421
email: adam.honigman@bowne.com

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