The Gratz Park Neighborhood Association was officially incorporated in August of 1999, which among other things gives it 501(c)-3 status as a tax-exempt non-profit organization. However, the residents of Gratz Park and the adjacent streets had been functioning as a neighborhood association long before then. The neighbors had come together in the mid-fifties in support of the Blue Grass Trust when it purchased the Hunt-Morgan House at 201 North Mill Street.
In 1954, the Hart-Bradford house at the southwest corner of Second and Mill Streets had just been demolished to make way for a parking lot. The owner of the parking lot had an option to purchase the Hunt-Morgan House, and many feared its eminent destruction for additional parking. Civic-minded historic preservationists formed the Trust and borrowed the money to purchase the house. Realizing that all of Gratz Park could have been in danger, the park residents rallied behind the efforts of the Blue Grass Trust to save the Hunt-Morgan House.
The park residents had many fundraisers with the purpose of helping pay off the Hunt-Morgan House mortgage and pay for repairs and upkeep on the house. They also sought historic zoning that would protect the neighborhood in the future. As a result, in 1958 Gratz Park was named the first local historic district in Lexington, as well as of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
This symbiotic relationship between the Trust and the neighborhood continued into the late 1980s and early 90s. With the success of the Blue Grass Trust as the preeminent historic preservation group in the state, the residents began to turn their attention toward making improvements in the park.
Although the park is open to the public and owned by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government (LFUCG), the residents view it as their “front yard” and work to maintain its beauty and ambience accordingly. Proceeds from all fund-raising projects go directly into park improvements. During the ten-year period of 1999-2009, GPNA initiatives have resulted in over $150,000 being invested in park planning and improvements. Prominent among these is the construction of a metal arch, which is an exact replica of one of four arches that stood at the corners of the park during the last quarter of the 19th century. The GPNA located a set of the original gates for the arch, purchased them, and attached them to the arch. Other projects have been the construction of a brick retaining wall along the east boundary of the Carnegie Center; the construction of a brick walk around the east and south sides of the “Kitchen” building; and replacement of trees that were deemed hazardous and were removed in the spring of 2009.
Designated in 2006 as one of the nation’s first seven Preserve America Neighborhoods, Gratz Park received a $90,000+ matching grant from the National Park Service, which allowed the GPNA to create a master plan for the park and create a kiosk, which tells of the park’s history as well as providing information about the homes around the park. The Gratz Park Neighborhood Association takes great pride in this little patch of green space, which has a long and illustrious history. The GPNA is eager to share the park with all visitors from near and far.