David Patrick Columbia's New York Social Diary

6 May, 2010

The 28th annual Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon

May 6, 2010. Yesterday was a very warm, very sunny Spring day in New York. It was a perfect day for the biggest social event in New York's Spring season – the 28th annual Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon in the Conservatory Garden of Central Park at 105th Street and Fifth Avenue.

This luncheon, also known as “the Central Park Conservancy luncheon,” or more frequently these days as the Hat Luncheon, was the biggest in its now long history – 1236 guests, and from it they raised $2,450,000 – possibly a record. It is staged by the Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy and the monies raised go to the Conservancy, which is a private-not-for-profit organization founded in 1980 to restore Central Park to its former splendor.

Thanks to the generosity of individuals, corporations, foundations, and the City, the Conservancy has invested more than $530 million into the Park. Today the Conservancy provides 85% of Central Park’s annual $26 million operating budget, and it is responsible for all basic care of the Park.

An entire generation has grown to adulthood never knowing the state of the Park before the Conservancy got involved. That is good but it is also good for everyone to realize that the beauty and the condition of the Park that millions and millions of New Yorkers enjoy year round is the result of the hard work the Conservancy and its volunteers and contributors put into keeping it up.

Those of us who were in New York before Betsy Barlow Rogers founded the Conservancy remember how decrepit and even dangerous the Park could be. JH, who grew close to the Park, recalls how even in the early days of the Conservancy, it could be dangerous for kids to play in the Park because of roving gangs.

The Hat luncheon was not a “hat” luncheon when it was first begun. The Women’s Committee was founded by four women – Mrs. Howard L. Clark, Mrs. Richard Purnell, Mrs. Charles Dana Jr. and Phyllis Cerf Wagner. The first luncheons were also not large. By the mid-1990s these women, along with their committee members and volunteers, lifted those numbers into the hundreds. They also used their influence and connections to bring in funding from individuals and corporations and for special projects to refurbish and clean up the Park. They also created a tradition.

Now it’s one of the most remarkable “scenes” of the Spring season in New York. Guests start arriving at the Vanderbilt gates a little after 11 o’clock. A reception line organizes briefly on the steps leading down to the Garden.

By noontime they are trying to herd the hundreds into the big tent. The fashion parade runs the gamut from couture to vintage, to milliner’s creations to homemade. There were women wearing veritable gardens on their heads and there were even women wearing major jewels so large and spectacular, they were easily taken for costume.

By 12:30 the tables in the tent filled up and everyone was settled in for the Abigail Kirsch catered menu beginning with Chilled Cucumber Soup with Dill Goat Cheese Panna Cotta. This was followed by a main course of Porcini Dusted Chicken Salad on an Enoki Soft Herb Nest Truffled Black Quinoa and Barley. And finally Triple Chocolate Mousse Box, Raspberry Lemon Granita with Almond Nougatine. Teensy, if you’re wondering how BIG was the “triple” was although the Raspberry Lemon Granita (which was also teensy) was really good.

The wine: Primavera Placido Pinot Grigio. The favors: a little zip-up makeup case with an Estee Lauder “Brasil dream” Lip and Eye Color Palette.

As they do every year, the Wathne Sisters provided umbrellas (green ones and lavendar ones) for the guests, although they weren't needed this time around.

At about 1:15, Gillian Miniter, the President of the Women’s Committee (this is her first year of a two-year term) took the podium and announced this year’s totals. Then she introduced Tom Glocer, the CEO of Thomson Reuters, who was Corporate Chairman of the Benefit Committee and responsible for raising many great contributions. Mr. Glocer has been coming to the Park since he was a kid living just a few blocks away.

Then Gillian made two presentations of the Frederick Law Olmsted Award – the first to Betsy Messerschmitt, the outgoing President of the Women’s Committee. Ms. Messerschmitt has long been active in the restoration and preservation of the Park. She’s been an active member of the Committee for more than twenty years and a member of the board since 1994.

Among her notable achievements was the re-creation of the informative and entertaining tour of Central Park given for potential donors by Committee members. Under her leadership, the Committee raised more than $13 million for the Park.

Kathleen Giordano, Alison Minton, Melissa Morris & Barbara Regna.