He purchased swampy land from James Duane's Gramercy Farm then spent an additional $180,000 -- an incredible sum in those days -- to drain the swamp and haul away cart load after cart load of earth. Gramercy Square was laid out -- 60 plots surrounding the central park. In 1832 he obtained tax exempt status for the park and a year later he surrounded it with a heavy cast iron fence. Landscaping of the park started in 1844 and shortly thereafter the refined brownstone mansions began appearing around it.
|Gramercy Park in 1905 -- NYPL Collection|
Ruggles' successful speculation was matched by Charles A. Gerlach who in the early 1880s got the idea for a co-op apartment house on the park -- the first cooperative apartment in the city. His 1883 Queen-Anne style building was designed by New Jersey architect George W. DaCunha. DaCunha incorporated elaborate floral carvings, stained glass overlights, heavy leaded and beveled glass doors and other costly finishes. The latest in residential design, the building had to entice wealthy New Yorkers who were unused to apartment living. Mrs. Caroline Astor, after all, derided apartment houses as "living on a shelf."
Today The Gramercy remains a co-op apartment, having boasted over the years such residents as Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch of the West) and James Cagney. As they did in 1881 the owners receive a key to the Park -- the last private park in Manhattan. The keys are numbered and kept track of and the locks are changed every October 1st.