Restoration complete
In the newly restored Map Room of The New York Public Library. 7:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Another unseasonably warm day in New York, yesterday was; followed by an evening that cooled down with what in Los Angeles is often referred to as a marine layer covering the city. Only this isn’t Los Angeles. Yet, anyway.

Last night I put on my dinner jacket and black tie and went down to the New York Public Library at 42nd and Fifth, where the Library’s President’s Council was holding a dinner and readings to commemorate their tenth anniversary.

Paul LeClerc toasting the President's Council

The Library evenings are, in the word’s of its president Paul LeClerc “beautiful” and “delicious” for once one has entered the portals of that great Carrere and Hastings building, one has most definitely entered a sanctuary.

The evening convened for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, entertained by a jazz trio in the newly restored Map Room which for years, up until very recently, was a long neglected dusty corner of the first floor of the building. Thanks to international banker Lionel Pincus and his companion Princess Firyal it has been returned to the great room that Carrere and Hastings designed with its magnificent carved and gilted ceilings, and then some – all updated and enhanced by beautiful study tables and new computers with ample screen sizes. (In 1995, the Library had 200 computer terminals. Ten years later, they have 2500 and most of the city’s libraries are now wireless environments.)

The evening was co-chaired by Louise Grunwald, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn and Nicholas Rohatyn, and Gayfryd Steinberg. At 8 o’clock the guests moved up one of the great staircases to the McGraw Rotunda – a large room I had never seen before with its grand and monumental murals created by the WPA artists in the 1930s commemorating the history of the written and printed word.

The table settings designed by Gayfryd Steinberg

Mrs. Steinberg once again put her elegant and clever signature on the event with the decor. Because it was a relatively small dinner of maybe a hundred or so, and held in a room with such significant visuals, the decorative emphasis was on the tables – simple and glistening silvery greys dusted with whites faux snowflakes.

The fare was as simple and elegant and luxurious – starting with Caviar Pie served with tall, slender shot glasses of Stolichnaya, followed by Beef Bourguignon, Mashed Potatoes, and Mache with Aged Balsamic Vinaigrette and completed with a impossible to resist Vanilla Birthday Cake of several layers laced with light and rich icing served with Fresh Mint Ice Cream.

The exterior of the library
Astor Hall

After dinner Paul LeClerc congratulated the Council on their invaluable assistance in keeping the Library up to the objectives of its founders by supporting the Library’s operations on an annual basis.

Monuments aside, LeClerc reminded us of what a treasure trove these rooms are with their 50 million items in the collections. He added that the Library is moving right along with the technological revolution. Ten years ago they had 140,000 electronic visits. This year the number will be 20 million. Ten years ago there were 800,000 hits on the website. This year there will be 1.5 billion! In 1995, they had visitors electronically from 45 countries. Now, each month they get readers from 230 different countries and territories.

Their amazing archives contain everything from the love letters of Gypsy Rose Lee to the musical manuscripts of John Cage, the Merce Cunningham archive, the Jerome Robbins Archive, the Jack Kerouac archive, the archives of Yaddo, of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, of Act Up, of the Aaron Diamond Foundation, and the Vincent Astor Foundation; the Malcolm X archive, the Farrar, Straus and Giroux archive, the Rudolf Nureyev archive, all as only a tiny part of the 50 million pieces in the collection.

After toasting the President’s Council and all the guests who support their work, LeClerc introduced Simon Russell Beale, the great English actor who is now playing the King on Broadway in Spamalot and the distinguished film, stage and TV actress Linda Edmond. Last week the two played opposite each other as John and Abigail Adams on PBS. Last night they read from letters in the Library’s vast collection. They started with some letters exchanged between John and Abigail from the beginning of their courtship, ending with a letter from John, dated July 3, 1776 in Philadelphia marking the signing of the Declaration of Independence, in which he hypothesizes that the occasion will be celebrated throughout the the country on that day every year forevermore.

Cochairs Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, Louise Grunwald, Gayfryd Steinberg, and Nicholas Rohatyn blowing out the candles on the Council's birthday cake

Among the readers was letter from Sir John Gielgud to his friend Lillian Gish in 1937 – an obvious missive for actors with asides about the performances of other actors (such as Olivier), to a letter Elizabeth Barrett Browning had written to Edgar Allan Poe about the sensation his poem “The Raven” had created in England, to the 16-year-old Jack Kerouac expostulating on his plans to become a great writer, to the then recently college graduated (in the 1950s) Joan Didion who had come to live in New York where she devoted her weekends to visiting The New York Public Library to read anything and everything she could to absorb as much learning as this great institution offers.

Simon Russell Beale and Linda Edmond
Catie Marron
Saul and Gayfryd Steinberg
After the readings, Catie Marron, Chairman of the Library presented the co-chairmen of the President’s Council with be-ribboned prints from the Collections, and Gayfryd Steinberg closed the evening by reminding us that it was there in those rooms where anyone who comes to this great city could have access to learning that feeds and enhances all the dreams that built this library, this city and this civilization. A sanctuary for our dreams, and one that brings out the best. A beautiful night to remind us of the core of our lives here.
The staircase up to the McGraw Rotunda
Dinner in the the McGraw Rotunda
More from the Rotunda
NYPL President Paul LeClerc and author Barbara Goldsmith
The master at work
Donald and Susan Newhouse
Vicky Ward
Shirley Lord Rosenthal
The Map Room
Amb. Felix Rohatyn
Joan Hardy Clark and Charles Michener
Helen Tucker and Bill Banks
Dr. Pat Allen and her husband Douglas McIntyre
Faith Childs and Harris Schrank
Elizabeth Rohatyn and Oscar de la Renta
Catie and Donald Marron with Louise Grunwald
The Map Room
Looking out onto Fifth Avenue and East 41st Street from the second floor of the NYPL. 8:35 PM.

January 31, 2006, Volume VI, Number 20
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch & DPC/


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© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/