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New York City's oldest co-op celebrates 120th anniversary. (Profile of the Week: The Gramercy at 34 Gramercy Park).

Residents of New York's oldest co-op, The Gramercy,. at 34 Gramercy Park, gathered to-celebrate the building's 120th anniversary on April 11.

"It's a very convivial building, so it was a very enjoyable occasion," said Marjorie Longley, chair of the Past Presidents Committee, which organized the event.

"The Gramercy has always been a very friendly building -- I've lived there 30 years -- so everyone had a wonderful time reflecting on the building's colorful history."

Colorful it' certainly is. When it was first built in 1883, the Admissions Committee -- which still considers all applications to live in the building -- decided actors were not acceptable residents.

In 1899, according to historic documents held by Jacqueline Nelson, the committee archivist, a Mr. Young, manager of Distinguished Artists and ConcertTours, applied for admission. His reply from the building superintendent prompted him to write: "I have nothing whatever to do with actors or actresses and have no use for them. I deal only with the best people."

The Gramercy was built by The Gramercy Company -- whose incorporators included Haley Fiske, first president of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company on three of the 66 lots surrounding Gramercy Park, a project realized in 1831 by enlightened developer, Samuel B. Ruggles.

He bought the land from Jane Renwick, the grandmother of the architect, James Renwick. The title to the land, known as Gramercy Farm, can be traced back to Peter Stuyvesant, who bought the land from the West India Company in 1651.

The Gramercy has ten floors. Originally, there were 27 apartments; 19 for the stockholders and the remaining eight, as well as the rooms at the top of the house (for domestic staff and bachelors) were to be rented out. It also included a restaurant on the eighth floor, which operated for just one year, unable to compete with the nearby hotspot, Delmonico's. In 1958, The Gramercy sold the apartments still owned by the Company.

Original apartments had seven to 11 rooms, with bath and kitchen, although most have since been divided and the top floor, was eventually consolidated into regular apartments.

Over the years, The Gramercy cast aside its bias against actors and opened its polished granite and carved, brownstone entrance, porch to such notable film folk as Oscar nominee, Mildred Dunnock, of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Margaret Hamilton, better known as The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, and movie icon, James Cagney.

Other famous residents included concert singer Emma Thursby, who bought one of the first apartments in 1883, soprano, Estelle Harris, Mr. and Mrs. DuBoise Heyward, authors of Porgy, which opened on Broadway in 1927.

More recently, those who made The Gramercy their home have included Harvey Lichtenstein, executive and artistic director of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the late author and scriptwriter, Hector Chevigny, Jaws III producer, Rupert Hitzig, designer, George Nelson and Edward Wax, CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi Advertising.

The Gramercy was built in the Queen Anne style at a cost of $420,000 -- the price tag on a moderate one-bedroom alone today.

It was worth every penny, according to those who have witnessed the grandmother of the park's apartment houses weather more than its share of storms.

Over the years, the original white marble floor in the lobby had to be replaced with the current black and white Belgian tiles; the building is on its third roof; repointing and restoration of the brownstone is carried out every 20 years and three new water tanks have been put in place in the last century.

As a key element of the Gramercy Park Historic District, the Landmarks Preservation Committee had to approve the replacement of the original wood windows with metal windows in 1987.

On August 19, 1989, the building withstood its most severe test when a Con Edison steamline exploded on 20th Street, spewing out a 19-story geyser of steam filled with mud and asbestos and leaving a ten foot crater. The explosion shook the building and forced it to withstand temperatures which rose to 400 degrees.

Engineers who later examined the building found the structure to be totally unaffected, although a major asbestos cleanup was carried out in the area, lasting several months and costing some $40 million.

Today, The Gramercy sits proudly on the west side of the private park, surrounded by some of the most prestigious homes in the city in the area first designated a Historic District in 1966.

Guests at last week's anniversary party arrived in the apartments of Margot and Jeremy Judge and Dawn Lille, whose apartments are on the fifth floor, via the passenger elevator which, was re-created in 1996 to preserve some of the original wood panelings and carvings.

In addition to the 45 families that currently' live in The Gramercy, the celebration was attended by City Council Member Margarita Lopez, Barbara White, of the offices of Congresswoman Carolyn Malony, the Trustees of Gramercy Park and the president of the Gramercy Neighborhood Associates.

As the celebration went on into the night, the guests were able to enjoy the view of the city oasis, which flourished thanks to Ruggles foresight.

He deeded Gramercy Park to five trustees who were to ensure its administration for the benefit of the 'owners of the surrounding lots.

He also requested a ban on the building of "any livery, stable, slaughterhouse, smith shop, 'forge furnace, brass foundry, manufactory of gunpowder, glue, varnish, vitriol, ink or turpentine..."
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Author:Barr, Linda
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:May 14, 2003
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