A Warm Summer Monday
Looking south from 80th and Broadway towards the Ansonia. 3:05 PM.
A warm but beautiful night in New York after a warm summer day which hinted of rain threatening. No go; sunny blue skies instead. A cabdriver told me this morning that the city has been very quiet this summer, that the tourists still have not really returned since 9/11. It has seemed quieter to me, more peaceful, less hustle-bustle opening up vistas with more to see.

Tonight I went over to Eleanor Lambert’s apartment overlooking the Park where more than a few score had congregated to wish the Doyenne of American Fashion a happy birthday on her 100th. Kenny Lane, Reinaldo Herrera, Susan Magrino, Pamela Fiori, Anne Slater and John Cahill, Josie Natori, Jon Marder, Cathy Hardwick, Carmen Dell'Orefice, Bart Boehlert, Lyn Revson, Jody Donahue, Scott Currie, Amy Fine Collins, Mario Buatta, John Loring, Camilla Mackeson who’d just flown in from Argentina, Yanna Avis who’d just returned from a few days in Lyford Cay; Gene Hovis, Michael Cannon, and Joan Halpern are just a few who come to mind.

Eleanor Lambert
Over in one corner, Mrs. Lambert was holding court, looking very chic and cool in a wine-colored silk pantssuit. In the dining room, a huge buffet of cold baked ham, curried chicken and a variety of pastas and cold salads were laid out (and laid into by all in attendance). Her son Bill Berkson and her grandson Moses Berkson were hosts along with her assistant Stephen Nix.

Moses Berkson, who has been living with his grandmother for the past few years, and is working on a documentary on her fabled life and career, quieted the guests halfway through the evening to show a few clips from his work in progress.

She came to New York as a very young woman
from Crawfordville, Indiana, a place where she described her family life in the first two decades of the 20th century as “genteel poor” – a big house with very little to go around. What she remembers most about the beginning of her life was “wanting to find a way to get to New York.” New York, she said, attracted people because it is a city of ideas, a place where if you have an idea, you can find someone who will listen to it, share it with you, understand it. “And if they don’t, you can find another idea.” Eleanor Lambert, as her world well knows, has had lots and lots of ideas, with many to listen and share and understand.

On her centenary, the birthday girl is still working.
Yes, working!!
She pared down her business a little more than a year ago, closed her office and now works out of her apartment with a small staff. She’s retained four long time clients including Tiffany & Co., Windsor, the residential resort in Florida, Holt-Renfrew stores in Canada; and Mark Birley, entrepreneur and club owner/restaurateur in London (Mark’s, Anabel’s, Harry’s Bar, etc.).

After the viewing of the clips, they brought on a birthday cake in the shape a huge pink straw hat with a field of tall, spiky candles that lit like sparklers. Everyone sang Happy Birthday while Eleanor (without waiting) blew out the candles.
Overlooking Central Park towards the West Side from Eleanor Lambert's apartment
I left the party about 8:30 and decided to walk at least part of the way home. Coincidentally Mrs. Lambert’s apartment house is on the corner of the street where I had my first apartment when I came to New York out of college. I hadn’t passed that early doorway in a long time and decided to go along for a little reverie. Although it is still there, the neighborhood had long since changed. The small hotel across the street was known in those days as a pitstop for hookers with their johns. Nowadays it’s a very chic boutique hotel. The ancient NYFD hook and ladder company next door still has its name above the entrance but is now a private house, and a few doors down is Doyle’s very fine auction house.

Walking along this entirely razed and resurrected thoroughfare, recalling those early days, I thought of Eleanor Lambert’s words about people who come to New York, for I was one of them. I can still recall quite clearly the early excitement of this then young man, all a-wonder, looking down the avenues and up at the skyscrapers, all a challenge to be conquered by a fresh, if naïve, imagination. How different it all looks today to these eyes, all familiar yet different, yet still fascinating, some challenges long since met, some dreams and goals achieved, others dashed and even forgotten, with disappointments distracted by the city itself, ever changing, ever intriguing.

(“... a place where if you have an idea, you can find someone who will listen to it, share it with you, understand it. And if they don’t, you can find another idea.”)

It’s about a fifteen or twenty minute walk, leisurely as I was taking it, from Eleanor Lambert’s house to mine. I stopped halfway at the Haagen-Dazs on Third Avenue and 85th Street for an ice cream cone to cool myself off. Cone in hand, I continued, passing doorways I knew ages ago as well as doorways now gone, tucked in memory, transformed, eliminated, refurbished. All ideas, someone’s dreams, someone’s goals, someone’s challenges, here for now, or gone forever, replaced by “another idea.” Ah New York New York; Happy One Hundredth birthday Eleanor Lambert.
On the island of Broadway and 80th with Zabars in the background. 3:00 PM.
H & H Bagels on 80th and Broadway. 3:03 PM.


Photographs by Jeff Hirsch/NYSD.com

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© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/NewYorkSocialDiary.com