New York Architecture Images-Gramercy Park

The Players


Stanford White of McKim, Mead and White


16 Gramercy Park South
















In the center of the park, a statue of Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth, brother of Abraham Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth, faces the Players Club, which he founded in 1887. A private club for actors and devotees of the theater, it is ensconced in a magnificent building dating from 1844. Noted architect Stanford White, who designed houses for many of America's most famous families, including the Astors and the Vanderbilts, volunteered to redesign the building as his contribution to the club.

     As the snow continued to fall in a veritable blizzard, I was reminded that it was only yesterday, when the sun was shining brightly, that I stood on the opposite side of the park, near Lexington Avenue, which Ruggles named after the battle of Lexington in the American Revolution.

     The Gramercy Park Hotel is on that northwest corner of Lexington Avenue and Gramercy Park North. Construction on the hotel that towers over the green park began in 1923, and in the years since, the hotel has been associated with notables such as the Kennedy family patriarch, Joseph Kennedy, who lived there for a while with his family, including the son who later was President John F. Kennedy. Humphrey Bogart married Helen Menken in 1926 on the hotel's Roof Garden (Lauren Bacall came later); humorist S.J. Perelman called it home his last few years; and baseball legend Babe Ruth was, as the hotel's Web site puts it, "politely asked on more than one occasion to leave our famous bar."

The land on which the hotel stands was once the site of the home of Stanford White, where his wife lived and he apparently visited from time to time. In addition to his architectural legacy, White leaves another, more notorious one. He was a womanizer who led a double life, one with his wife and the other with countless girlfriends, whom he took to his "bachelor" pad -- complete with a red velvet swing -- on the second floor of Madison Square Garden, which he designed. His sensational 1906 murder by a jealous husband of a former mistress took place in a rooftop supper club theater at Madison Square Garden, and is credited with being part of the inspiration behind E.L. Doctorow's novel and later the play and movie "Ragtime," as well as "The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing."

     When I slipped into the Gramercy Park Hotel's lobby, I was delighted to see it had changed little since Stella and I last stayed there. Recently restored, it still looked like the set for a 1930s movie.

      Back outside, I recalled that in yesterday's sunlight, the Chrysler Building had seemed to shimmer in the distance; joggers, with strain showing in their faces, ran monotonous circles around Gramercy Park; and a woman pushed a grocery basket piled high with clothes, atop of which sat a tiny dog, looking condescendingly regal. "Riding your dog?" I couldn't help but ask. She smiled and continued on her way.

     In today's snow, I didn't see a single jogger, nor did I see the smug little dog.

Rolland Golden