Gramercy Park, a patch of land so up its own ass that a key is required to stroll its grounds, has an ambassador worthy of its snotty reputation. Meet Arlene Harrison, who makes $140,000 a year growling at visitors to stay off the lawn.
So invested is Arlene in her job that she’s had business cards printed up declaring herself not only the Mayor of Gramercy Park, but the Trustee of Gramercy Park and President of the Gramercy Park Block Association. According to an interview on NY1, she rises each day at 4 a.m. and is on the prowl by 7, canvassing the neighborhood with a clipboard and “checking the bluestone for trip hazards,” which really seems like a once-a-month job, at most. (Harrison did not respond to the Voice’s requests for comment for this story, but later agreed to an interview which you can read here.)
When she’s done sweeping undesirables from the exterior, Harrison stations herself on one of the park’s benches, spending her day monitoring the grounds for break-in attempts and ensuring that key-holders follow the park’s litany of rules, which ban everything from music to beach attire to eating.
Only guests at Gramercy Park Hotel and residents of the park’s 39 adjacent buildings are eligible to enter, but if residents think they’re getting in for free, they’re sorely mistaken. The cost of renting a key is $350 per year, with a $1,000 replacement fee if you lose it. (Perhaps this is why Harrison says she never removes hers from her wrist — not to shower, not to sleep.) A 2004 article in New York magazine recalled one resident who was scolded for trying to eat a sandwich on the grass. “I feel like I need a nanny or a nurse when I’m in there,” he said at the time. “You have to be 3 or 300.”
It should go without saying that groups aren’t allowed on the park’s militaristic grounds, though one notable incident occurred in 2001 after a trustee booted out a handful of minority schoolchildren brought to the park by the National Arts Club. The kids filed a lawsuit, which alleged that the trustee informed the group that “this park is not for these types of kids.”
The schoolchildren got theirs, though, settling in 2003 for $36,000 each, with one boy who was blatantly confronted getting $50,000.
But all is not lost for slovenly outsiders desperate to caper on the park’s manicured grounds just once before they die. Each year, for one day only, Gramercy’s residents are forced to share their walled-off Eden with any filthy commoner able to haul him- or herself past its usually ironclad gate. As Gothamist’s John Del Signore memorably put it:
Sadly, the park’s pristine sanctity is desecrated every 24th of December, when, in keeping with pagan tradition, any mouth-breathing villager from the outer boroughs is invited to drag his knuckles about inside, tossing excrement through the fence at mortified passersby.
Here’s a scene from last year’s spectacle:
The tradition will be upheld again this year, confirmed an employee at the Parish of Calvary–St. George, so may this serve as a reminder that if you have any business to attend to in the park — a stealth weed garden that needs planting, for example, or a speedily executed orgy — then December 24 is your day. Otherwise, Harrison generally doesn’t mind if you gaze at the park from the safe distance of the sidewalk, though we’re told that if you so much as poke a single finger inside to stroke the grass, she has permission to shoot you.
“If you look at the ocean from a hotel room, it gives you joy,” she reasoned to NY1, just as the Little Match Girl’s dying hallucinations of Christmas dinners gave her joy before she froze to death on the unforgiving street.
If you’re unwilling or unable to travel there yourself, you can also take a look from the safety of your computer screen, confirming what most of us probably suspected in the first place: It’s just a fucking park.