Two residents of New York City‘s exclusive Gramercy Park neighborhood are in a bitter feud over strict rules in Manhattan’s only private park, which ban photography, ball games, smoking and walking the dog.
Arlene Harrison, president of the Gramercy Park Block Association has been in a years-long rivalry with Aldon James, the former president of the Gramercy Park National Arts Club, the New York Post reports.
James has accused Harrison of applying ‘outrageous’ rules to the two-acre park where Gramercy Park residents like Jimmy Fallon and heiress Tara Rockefeller have access via a paid key.
The nearly 200- year-old park is held in common by the residents in 39 surrounding townhouses, apartment buildings, and clubs and is managed by five trustees of the Gramercy Park Trust.
Gramercy Park is held in common by the residents in 39 surrounding townhouses, apartment buildings, and clubs and is managed by five trustees of the Gramercy Park Trust
Inside view of Grammercy Park, the nearly 200-year-old park at the center of a feud between local residents
Arlene Harrison (left), president of the Gramercy Park Block Association has been in a years-long rivalry with Aldon James (right), the former president of the Gramercy Park National Arts Club
No booze, no games, no pets, no entertainment – and keep off the grass: The rules for those with keys to Gramercy Park
Plaques and signs in the park give a long list of rules for those residents who have handed over $350 for a key. These include:
- Use of the park ‘is limited to daylight hours and the graveled paths only’
- No alcoholic beverages or illegal substances
- No ‘injuring or destroying’ plants
- No feeding birds or other wildlife
- No dogs or other animals
- No frisbees, footballs, baseballs, tennis balls or soccer balls
- No professional photos or films
- No tours, groups or parties
- No musical, theatrical or other entertainment
- No furniture such as chairs
- Children must be accompanied by an adult who supervises their behavior
Gramercy Park residents pay $350 for an individual key, while buildings in the park radius pay $10,000 for two keys, the Post reported.
James says Harrison patrols the park on a daily basis with a clipboard to ensure the rules, which are outlined in a plaque both outside and inside the park, are being followed.
The long list of rules forbid smoking, drinking alcohol, bike riding, taking photos, walking a dog, playing sports, throwing a frisbee or feeding wildlife, the Post reported.
Most recently added to the list is a ban on any type of musical entertainment, James said.
Now James is pushing back against Harrison, raising the question if the 78-year-old, who has dubbed herself the ‘mayor of Gramercy Park’ has earned her six-figure salary as head of the non-profit Gramercy Park Block Association.
Harrison says she works 70 hours a week at the park, including outreach on behalf of the non-profit.
But James told the Post: ‘All my friends in the area tell me they only see her out there in the morning for an hour or so at a time sitting around.
‘I’ve never seen her there 70 hours a week. She hasn’t picked up a rake or a shovel.
‘They have cameras all over the park. Get the video from them. Can they prove she’s there 70 hours a week? I’d lay my life down to say no.’
The Post reported that the gravel paths looked as though they hadn’t been raked in weeks, the foliage and plantings looked neglected .
A reporter said many of the park benches, including one containing a plaque in memory of Constance Gibson, the legendary park trustee who oversaw the park for about 50 years until her death at age 94 in 1997, was smudged with bird droppings or dirt.
Gramercy Park residents pay $350 for an individual key to access the park, while buildings in the park radius pay $10,000 for two keys
Historic plaque outside Gramercy Park, the center of a long-lasting feud between residents of the exclusive New York City neighborhood
According to the non-profit’s tax filings, Harrison earned $119,312 in 2019.
In 2015, when the association took in $368,966 in donations, Harrison’s salary was $165,385, the Post reported.
The non-profit’s website says it’s stated mission is ‘to educate the population of the area known as Gramercy Park as to the safety and security issues in this historic neighborhood, and to bring about civic betterment in order to promote the well-being of those who live and/or work in the greater Gramercy Park area.’
But the Post reports that the association made a $15,000 donation to pro-police Blue Lives Matter in Staten Island in 2018.
When reached for comment by the Post regarding the financial statements, Harrison, association vice president Tara Rockefeller, treasurer Norman Kurlan and officer Kamel Boutros did not reply, the paper said.
James says the lack of transparency is not surprise.
‘Arlene and her pals are very secretive,’ James said. ‘They run this place like the Mafia.’
And this is not the first time James has called Harrison and other park trustees out.
James said 21 years ago when he helped lead a field trip of minority kids from a nearby public school to the park, one of the trustees called the police to report the students because the trustee said ‘this is a private trust not for these kind of kids.’
When James contacted a local paper about the incident, businessman and political activist Bill Samuels, who was on the board of the Arts Club for years, read the story and confronted the chairman of the park trustees.
Harrison, who at the time was president of the Block Association ‘supported all of them in throwing the kids out of the park,’ Samuels said. ‘I was in shock that this kind of racism was happening right out in the open.’
‘I spoke to some of the parents at the time,’ Samuels said. ‘Their kids came home in tears.’
An outraged Samuels ended up filing a suit in federal court against the Gramercy Park Trust alleging they discriminated against the children.
Samuels sought a $15,000 settlement for each of the children and for the right for them to visit the park every Martin Luther King Day.
Instead the park trustees coughed up $40,000 for each student in exchange for not having the right to come visit once a year, the Post reported.
‘Arlene was one of the key people who didn’t want the kids there,’ Samuels said. ‘Aldon James is a hero.’
James is not universally beloved though. He was fired as the National Arts Club’s president and ended up paying $950,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging that he ran the club for his own benefit.
James claims he did nothing wrong and said his feud with Harrison is partly to blame for what he said was ill will toward him.