David Patrick Columbia's New York Social Diary

8 May 2014

The 32nd annual Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon

Thursday, May 8, 2014. Yesterday was the perfect Spring day for the annual Hat Lunch at the Conservatory Garden in Central Park. The official name is the Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon, and it was its 32nd annual event, but it’s also the post-modern successor to the Easter Parade.

It was started in 1982 by a group of women who had also started the Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy: Jean Clark, Norma Dana, Marguerite Purnell, and Phyllis Cerf Wagner. Mrs. Wagner died several years ago but the Mmes. Dana, Purnell and Clark are still with us. I saw Norma Dana there yesterday.  I don’t know about the other two founding members but it’s quite possible they were there too.

Seeing Norma Dana, I could only wonder what she thinks of what she and her co-founders have achieved and accomplished. The effect and influence of the work of that small group of women is now visible to any and everyone who even walks by Central Park or sees the photographs of it.

When I left the luncheon yesterday at about 2:15, I walked from 104th Street down Fifth, alongside the Park wall to 96th Street, just so I could look at the Park. It’s beauty is astounding. The Park right now is just glorious. It looks like a photograph of a perfect pastoral setting. I kept thinking I should be taking some photographs of it. Except. JH, the other (more circumspect) half of the NYSD and its primo photographer, had also been there to photograph the opening, and I knew he’d catch the Park in his reportage.

Meanwhile, the FLO Awards lunch honored former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. When Mr. Bloomberg was introduced by the Women’s Committee president Anne Harrison, the entire crowd of more than a thousand guests let out a whoop as if the man had just won re-election. And there were not a few under the tent who were wishing that were so. He was clearly energized by the experience. Michael Bloomberg has been in on the Women’s Committee’s project for decades and was one of their biggest (if not the biggest) early supporters financially.

This year’s luncheon had the biggest group ever. Not sure of the number, but last year it was more than 1200. The first one back in ’82 had a couple of dozen or a comparably small number. This year they also raised the most money: $3.5 million. The money all goes for the maintenance and refurbishing of the Park. The luncheon itself was underwritten by several individuals and business organizations: Elizabeth H. Atwood, Suzanne L. Chute, Stephanie Coleman, Andrea Henderson Fahnestock, Amy Griffin, Anne S. Harrison, Mres. Craig A. Huff, J. Up Mortan, Amie James, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Kempner Jr., The Estee Lauder Companies, Inc., Alexia Leuschen, Jenny Paulson, Prestone Media Group, Scalamandre, Margaret Smith, Wathne, Ltd.      

As desirable as the founders and the succeeding Women’s Committee Members have made the Park, they’ve also made this luncheon a hot ticket every year. Whereas it was once a women’s luncheon and basically still is, there are a lot of men attending now too. It is also one of the top social events of the Spring social season in New York. And that’s because it’s fun to be there, and good to look at. For a lot of people, including this writer, it’s fun because a great majority of the women really get into it. It’s about the pictures.

Jeff Hirsch made one of his rare public appearances at an event with his NYSD camera and he gets the story visually, so today’s Diary is really Jeff’s. I was there also, and I had my handy little battered Canon S100, but whereas Jeff gives you the whole story, I mainly took in the hats for your looking pleasure. You’ll see the results of my lens on the Party Pictures page today.

So I turn the day over to Jeff ...

Alison Minton