Faces of New York Copyright 2013 Walter Judy Photography

FoNY Weeks 21-22, the Keys to the Castle, er, Garden

Revisiting one of my favorite little spots in my neighborhood in this edition of Faces of New York. Today we have the white terra-cotta façade of 36 Gramercy Park East adjacent the dark, shaded sandstone of number 34. Both buildings are residential blocks, and are, according to Wikipedia, among the first apartment buildings in the city. They have both played home to the rich and famous, most recently Jimmy Fallon in number 34. Such greats as James Cagney and Gregory Peck also lived in number 34, and to go along with the circus that is New York, Alfred Ringling (one of 7 Ringling Brothers) used to reside in number 36 (where they have chambers in lieu of bedrooms).

Number 34 is supposedly the oldest cooperative condominium building in the city. If you aren’t from New York and are from a part of the country with sane and affordable property norms, you’ve heard of a co-op. A farmer’s co-op. A cooperative grocery store. This is not the same thing as a New York co-op. In New York and a few other places, a co-op is a residential building made up of condominiums, flats, apartments, etc., where there is a co-op board. Sound familiar? Think of the most restrictive, nit-picky and asinine neighborhood association or condo board and you’ll get close to some of the co-op horror stories out there. As the saying goes, you can’t pick your family but you can pick your friends. Or your neighbors, if you live in a co-op.

Rather, they get to pick you.

Then your neighbors can approve your purchase… and your paint colors, and any renovation that may affect the other units’ listing prices. So, Mrs. Smith, let’s say, has a lot of pull on the board, and she’s not a fan of brown. Mrs. Smith gets to naysay a young couple’s modern, classy paint scheme because, well, too much brown. So sorry.

Where in other cities, renters look for apartments on Craigslist and condos are a dime a dozen, New Yorkers will often lay out thousands for a broker just to rent a place, or go through a co-op board for the privilege of paying millions of dollars to buy the (tiny, tiny) home of their dreams. At 34 or 36 Gramercy Park East, you may have paid millions for your pad, but at least the views are nice. And you do get a much-sought-after key to Gramercy Park.

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