out at the Hudson River from the promenade. Sunday, August 3rd,
2003. 5:20 PM.
had been the forecast. Cloudiness, humidity and
occasional showers. Groan. Only the second weekend out there
for me and no sun. Groan. Nevertheless, I had intended to go
down there to visit a friend and, while I was at it, to hit
the annual Southampton Hospital Summer Party Benefit.
My friend has a house on property that was once part of the Murray-McDonnell parcel,
originally 300 acres, going back sixty, seventy years. In those days,
the notion of “society” was still tightly wound around
what are now referred to as the WASPs. By the 1920s, Southampton,
which had been settled thirty years before (the 1890s), by the “old
families” as a shooting resort, had become a mecca for the
wealthy and prosperous Others (and soon thereafter, everybody) such
as the Irish-Catholics and other “arrivistes.”
Mrs. McDonnell, wife of the prominent stockbroker (McDonnell & Co.,
now defunct) was born a Murray and there were two houses built side
by side on the beach, with a swimming pool in the middle. The McDonnells
had fifteen children and the Murrays had eleven. “They didn’t
need anybody else, there were so many of them,” a family member
once said. Although by the second generation, they’d spread
out and even into the bright lights of society: one of the Murray
girls married Alfred Vanderbilt, one of the McDonnell
girls married Henry Ford II.
At one point, Mrs. McDonnell gave each of her children three acres.
Some sold after prices started ascending in the 1960s; others stayed
and remain to this day, so that to this day there Murray-McDonnell
cousins still occupying the original family land. The main family
parcel, however, was broken up long ago into quite a few “mini-estates,” now
occupied by a number of wealthy and prominent individuals and families,
including George Soros, Terry Allen Kramer and John
Old Mrs. McDonnell’s original house went into the sea in 1961
at the insistence of a nor’easter. Southampton’s been
free of such violent storms in decades, but they do come from time
to time and they take back to the sea with them whatever’s
in their path. This particular storm in 1961 had been forecast. Mrs.
McDonnell had “a weekend’s notice” and she had
the foresight to remove her best furniture, important fixtures, china,
silver, linens, and even mantelpieces. Sure enough, the storm hit
with a roar and by the time it was over, the big brick mansion disintegrated,
swept out to sea.
Mrs. McDonnell, now the undaunted matriarch of dozens of grandchildren,
built herself another house, several hundred yards in from the beach,
installing her furniture and rescued belongings (and fireplace mantles).
When she died, her granddaughter Charlotte Ford bought
the house and continues to occupy it to this day.
Saturday night was an important one in the
Hamptons for the fundraisers. The Southampton Hospital
held their 45th annual benefit ball, this year called “The
Sapphire Ball,” and the Byrd Hoffman Watermill Center,
the personal baby of “artist” Robert
Wilson, held their annual fundraiser.
There are thousands and thousands of New Yorkers who
go to the Hamptons every weekend but getting a few hundred of them
to go out to a big benefit is not an easy task. You can understand
why. For one thing, who wants to get all dolled up on a hot summer
night and go to some great big humongous outdoor party?
There are a few parties that make the exception. The aforementioned
are two. The Southampton benefit was, once upon a time, the social
event of the summer in the Hamptons, albeit smaller. For a certain
group of people. The New York socialites. The money they raise
goes to the only hospital in the Hamptons.
About fifteen or twenty years ago, when Charlotte Ford was
chairing it, she lured the summer residents into the fold by emphasizing
the importance of an Emergency Room to everybody in the community.
This year they raised more than a million (as they have consecutively
for the last several years) for the Emergency Room of the hospital.
This year there were 1100 under the big white tent which is constructed
on a large plot on Wickapogue Road, right across the street from
acres of cornfields, and a half mile away (as the crow flies) from
the multi-million dollar mansions on the beach.
chairmen were Julia and David Koch. Julia,
beautiful and statuesque, with a natural chic that once upon
a time, before she met Mr. Koch, made her the perfect model
for Adolfo, wore a long sensuous white satin
dress, cut on the bias. The effect was astonishingly glamorous
and, in this crowd, which is quite conservative, a reminder
of those other times that gave Southampton the mystique it
retains (in the public imagination) today.
Mr. Koch, even taller than the mother of his two children, and
not inclined to want to outshine her, was dressed rather staidly
like most of the men, in blue blazer, shirt and tie.
Event chairman was Ann Grimm; even co-chairs were Kathryn
Cowles and Barbara and Alan Glatt; Development Chairman
was Jean Little FitzSimmons, Perri Peltz was the
mistress of ceremonies, unruffled by her daunting task of getting
the attention of more than a thousand people in a big tent on a
hot summer night. And, the dinner chairmen were Tory and
Christopher Burch, Pamela Gross and Jimmy Finkelstein, Lisa and
Donald Jackson, Laura and Harry Slatkin, Ophelia and Billy Rudin,
Vera Wang and Arthur Becker and Lally Weymouth.
The dinner chairmen list is the key to a party’s
great success and this one is a reflection of the “new” Southampton,
as there was a “new” Southampton seven and eight
decades ago. Younger, prosperous, movers, social and enterprising;
some old money, and lots of new, they are just as active and
effective in the city during the rest of the year.
Sapphire benefactors included: the Slatkins, Richard and
Karen LeFrak, Kathy and Rick Hilton, Marty and Patty Raynes, Jonathan
and Somers Farkas, Charlotte Ford, Dan and Cynthia Lufkin, Keith
and Rose Reinhard and George and Daisy Soros.
Fabulous raffle prizes: Seaman Schepps earrings, Canyon Ranch Vacation
for two, Dennis Basso fashion fur and a one year lease of a Mercedes
Benz C240. Alex Donner and his orchestra played
and the Special Guest Performer who got everybody on the dance
floor boogying was Thelma Houston who rocked the
In a crowd this big it’s hard to remember everyone you see.
I saw Marge and Peter Sullivan, Henry and Leila Heller, with Geoffrey
Bradfield who was houseguesting with them for the weekend, Vera
Wang and Arthur Becker, Bettina Zilkha, Tory and Chris Burch, Mark
Gilbertson, Julie Dannenberg, Pamela (Gross) and
Jimmy Finkelstein, Alex Papachristidis who along with Lisa
Jackson did the décor, a South Seas motif of blues
against the white; Elizabeth Fekkai, Bill and Ophelia Rudin,
Judy and Fred Sullivan, Dr. Dan Baker, Jamee and Peter Gregory,
Kay Gilman and Herb Shmertz, Dr. Howard Sobel, Chappy Morris and
Melissa Stanley, Arnold and Ann Jurdem, Betty and Virgil Sherrill,
Sidney and Pat Wood, Muriel Siebert, Harry Platt, Thorunn Wathne,
Cathy di Montezemolo (both members of the Murray clan), Brunie
McKnight and Christopher Phillips, for starters.
We’ll have lots of pictures tomorrow.
the tent at last summer's Watermill Center benefit
over in Watermill, a couple of miles, as the
crow flies, up in the woods behind Route 27, on the grounds
of an old factory building, the Byrd Hoffman Watermill Center
was holding their annual benefit. This event is now the hippy-dippy-glamoroso
benefit of the season in the Hamptons. Because: Robert Wilson,
artist, librettist, culture guru. The Watermill Center is
his creation, intended to be the center of his worldwide
They run to Mr. Wilson with their checkbooks wide open
and they support him. Bigtime. His roster reads like an international
who’s who of the rich, the chic and the shameless, not to mention
bankers, industrialists, celebrity chasers, tastemakers and assorted
hoo-hahs who light up the summer night. Mr. Wilson is a phenomenon
and also a muse for his myriad followers.
The party’s like that. Always. This is the first
year I’ve missed it in many. Their theme this year was Havana,
or Cuba, I can vouch that it was a wonderland of the imaginative,
the colorful and the affecting, including, as I said, the guests.
I’m sure some of the get-ups and the costumes were a wonder.
And glamorous. And colorful. In fact, I thought to myself when I
saw Julia Koch over at the Hospital Ball that she would have fit
in perfectly at the Watermill Center -- a completely decorated environment
(woods, paths, open field, building, tent, attended by some of the
most prominent art mavens and collectors in America. Checkbooks in
hand. I don’t know what Mr. Wilson raised this year toward
the completion of his center, but I’d bet it’s in the
Lots of pictures from the Watermill Center on Wednesday.
east towards 22nd street
east towards the Empire State Building
pier 59 looking north along the bike path
south on West street and Leroy Street
east towards West Street
east towards West Street
north along the promenade
east from the pier
west across the Hudson River
back crosstown. On the corner of 10th Avenue at 22nd Street.