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'Guerrilla Weddings' on the Rise as Couples Tie the Knot on the Cheap

By DNAinfo Staff on July 9, 2012 6:58am

Elena and Dennis Grundmann, at St. Luke in the Fields. in the West Village, June 2012.
Elena and Dennis Grundmann, at St. Luke in the Fields. in the West Village, June 2012.
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DNAinfo/Farran Powell

By Farran Powell

Special to DNAinfo.com New York

WEST VILLAGE — Elena Grundmann spent the day before her wedding on the phone with her guests, warning them that the ceremony would have to be pushed back by a day. Gloomy weather reports threatened a torrential downpour and she needed a dry sunny day to complete her plans to trespass onto private grounds for a guerrilla wedding ceremony.

"The problem would have been the garden would have been closed with a lock on the gate," said Grundmann, 46, a real estate agent who lives in the West Village. She had her guests rearrange their schedules to attend their unsanctioned ceremony in private gardens belonging to St. Luke in the Fields on Barrow and Hudson streets on May 31 because, "We worried about the rain."

The Grundmanns are one of a growing number of New Yorkers who are skipping a traditional wedding in favor of an intimate or guerrilla-style wedding, holding small ceremonies in public or private property without reservation fees or permission. The rogue-style weddings are most popular during the summer months, when weather is more cooperative, and can take place at public spots from Central Park, the High Line and Brooklyn Bridge to private property on Top of the Rock or in front of the Ferris wheel at Coney Island.

Allison Dolan Hall, a 41-year-old New York wedding officiant of Always New York Wedding who specializes in elopement-style weddings estimates that "about half of my local clients now are seeking this style of wedding."

"A lot of couples are thinking [a traditional wedding] is a lot of money to spend and so this is where a lot great ideas come in," added Hall, who has been officiating weddings in New York since 2005.

The typical price of an average Manhattan wedding costs $65,000, according to a survey conducted by the Knot.com earlier this year.

But guerrilla weddings, sometimes referred as intimate or elopement-style weddings, range from completely free for those who eschew the minimal cost of a permit, or approximately $25 for NYC parks.

There has been a steady rise in locals choosing this style of wedding over the last year, Hall said.

"More and more couples are moving out of Central Park as is it becomes more crowded and finding beautiful alternative places off the beaten path," she said. "New York is great backdrop for picking an unassuming spot."

Grundmann wanted an alternative to a civil ceremony at City Hall. She decided to hold her wedding inside the private gardens of St. Luke in the Fields near her apartment in the West Village after stumbling across the site ElopeNewYork.com and its how-to-guide for planning a guerrilla wedding.

"We always said we wanted to get married in this garden…it's like a secret garden," Dennis Grundmann said.

They were inspired by the movie "The Vow," in which Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams held a guerrilla wedding ceremony at the Chicago Art Institute before being chased out by security. The scene shows McAdams fleeing the museum in a short, peach wedding dress.

"We wanted to be different than the other people and we also saw the movie 'The Vow' too,"  said Dennis Grundmann.

Elopement and guerrilla wedding sites and officiants often recommend for brides to wear short wedding dresses to look unassuming to security, such as those marrying on high-security locations like the Empire State Building or a museum.

Beth Lamont, an 83-year-old wedding celebrant who has been marrying couples since 1971, advises couples to wear casual attire if marrying at the Empire State Building Observatory, where security is tighter than other New York tourist spots.

And, no guests.

"If you have an entourage that's a dead giveaway," Lamont said. "Sometimes we snatch a passerby as a witness, so it can be very exciting."

The Grundmanns approached the maintenance men at St. Luke in the Fields for permission, following the guidelines posted on ElopeNewYork.com in planning a guerrilla style-wedding.

"If you've invited over 20 people, always try to get a permit for a location or talk to security in advance," according to rule No. 1 on ElopeNewYork.com. "Never try to do a large wedding without a permit, or the poor security guards will have to act."

Then they and their 10 guests held a brief, but beautiful, guerrilla ceremony, she said.

Kristin Karp, 23, and her fiancé Jose Martinez, 32, event caterers from Westchester, decided to apply for a wedding permit for their September ceremony at the Lady's Pavilion in Central Park, but they fear a torrential downpour could wash out their plans. As a backup, the couple plans to get married on the top of the "W" Hotel on Lexington Avenue where some of their wedding party is staying.

The couple asked the W Hotel whether they could hold a ceremony in the lobby if it rains, but the hotel manager suggested the glassed-in rooftop area as an alternative, which most hotel guests cannot access.

"We could have booked the conservatory by the museum for $400, but the hotel where we're staying offered up their rooftop area," Karp said. "They've never had a wedding up there, but because there are only 13 of us they said OK."

Most bars and rooftop spaces around the city are willing to set aside some space at no charge for a couple marrying with a small party because they will buy bottles of champagne and drinks afterwards, Hall said.

"They will make a little room for you," Hall said.

Every couple wants their big day to be special and those with elopement or guerrilla-style ceremonies are adding an extra twist — rain or shine.

"We really wanted it to be a New York moment," said Elena Grundmann, who rode the subway in her wedding dress. "We had four, clear umbrellas. If it rained, I didn't care. It's New York."