Rowing in Central Park. Saturday at 3:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Very cool days, cloudy skies with occasional spritzes and not exactly how you picture mid-Springtime in little ole Manhattan. I’ve had a bug houseguesting off-and-on since last Wednesday (here today, gone tomorrow, back the next day) which only accentuates the negative, shall we say? It’s times like these when you hear what’s going around the neighborhood.
The groom and the bride at 50 years — Larry and Dalia Leeds
However, Saturday night I pulled it together and put on my black tie to get down to the Four Seasons restaurant where Dalia and Larry Leeds were hosting a party for 350 to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. And if you thought the 50th was some staid little gathering, guess again, because the Leedses, who are very prominent in New York philanthropic and social circles went all out.
Cocktails were called for 7:45 at the Four Seasons. I arrived fashionably late about 8:10 as Susan and John Gutfreund and Paul and Daisy Soros were entering the restaurant. I took their picture, as you can see, while the going was still good. Then up on the first floor landing the place was packed with a big cross section of high profile New York, many of whom know each other obviously, and all of whom know the celebrating bride and groom. So packed, not to mention a posse of photographers including Bill Cunningham of the New York Times, that it wasn’t so easy to spot a face in the crowd. Mr. Cunningham’s old boss, the now retired Punch Sulzberger was there with Mrs. Sulzberger. And the great international banker James Wolfensohn, and Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Hoving (Mr. Hoving is the hero who back in the 1960s made Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum the spots they are today); Lally Weymouth, Ann and Andrew Tisch, Ellery and Marjorie Reed Gordon, Carl and Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, Nina Rosenwald, Nicole Miller and Kim Taipale, Katharina Otto and Nathan Bernstein, Isabelle Leeds, newlyweds Anita and Sam Michaels; Leon and Debbie Black, Robin Duke, Henry and Nancy Silverman, Gail Hilson, Ellen and Jim Marcus, Vera and Donald Blinken, to name only a handful.
Now, Saturday night’s not the usual party night for this crowd, not in town anyway. 90% of them I’d be willing to bet have houses in the country where they go every weekend, no matter what. And a lot of these people go out to so many dressy and fancy parties during the week that the idea of taking a weekend night to stay in the city for yet another, probably crossed more than a few minds. The thing was it was the Larry and Dalia Leeds, a very popular couple as the number of guests on their list might indicate.
Larry Leeds moving across the room
However, no invitation could have described what they did for the affair. Yes, they took over the entire Four Seasons restaurant, and on the mezzanine in the Grille Room as you came up the staircase into the room were two dozen violinists (and just below them a pianist, more violinists and a bass) playing all the great tunes from the last century as well as the great waltzes of the century before. Two dozen violinists can make the sweetest sounds. And suspended from the ceiling of the Grille Room (which is two stories high) were 20,000 (!!) raspberry orchids from Thailand, which were fashioned to echo the room’s existing brass sculptures. Everyone was so glad to be there they could hardly contain themselves.
What most if not all didn’t know was once drinks were over and dinner was called, everyone would move down the corridor (which connects the two restaurant dining rooms) where their placement cards were perfectly lined up on a dahlia-red table under the great Picasso tapestry. And from there, they moved down a few steps west to what is ordinarily the lobby of this great building designed by Mies van der Rohe (with Philip Johnson designing the interior of the restaurant). Waiting for the guests were more violinists, possibly two dozen, and a large deck of dahlias placed just before the front doors to the building.
Saturday night those front doors led directly into a large white tent (132’x66’), or, as they like to say in the Great Land of Square Footage: 8,700 square feet, which covered most of the Seagram’s Building’s Park Avenue plaza. The tent was all white with transparent ceilings so that the guests could look up and pinch themselves. The interior was pure 20th Century-Fox Technicolor Betty Grable (with Carmen Miranda), Tyrone Power, Rita, Fred, Ricardo and everyone but Esther.
I can’t tell you without sounding hyperbolic that it was a stunning astonishment. You were transported. As guests moved into the tent, their eyes went directly to the glistening gold mirrored dance floor (to reflect the city above), surrounded by white sofas, at the edge of which on each side was a cushioned platform for the dancing girls in flower inspired costumes. 4,000 individual white glass tendrils combined to form the suspended chandeliers with four larger chandeliers at the corners of the dance floor done in shades of hot pink and gold. 13,000 dahlias flown in from Holland everywhere; 5,000 heads of lilac used in the florals to fill the tent with their fragrance. Beautifully set tables with specially made linen cloths embroidered with mirrors and custom made in India, and formal upholstered dining room chairs (to give the ambience of an overall residential feel to the décor). And on the far side of this sparkling mirrored dance floor was the Valli Orchestra (all in white dinner jackets). Just waiting for the fun to begin. Even Julian Niccolini and the entire staff of the Four Seasons – usually well turned out in business suits, were in black tie. The picture: amazing.
Violinists at The Four Seasons
This extraordinary décor which promised and delivered so much to the anniversary couple and their guests, was the creation of Claudia Barasch who with her partner, Rodney Gray, who produced, directed and created the entire stupendous event. The vision, look (including all the floral and environmental concepts), venue, food, music, entertainment, invitations, montages, lighting, tent (which was custom built in Germany for this event and to specification — unlike all other such tents, this one was spanned and measured to fit the Seagram's plaza footprint), sound, furniture, seating, place settings, party gifts (Robert Indiana LOVE sculpture).
Riders on Park Avenue in the 50s at that time on Saturday night would have seen the Seagram’s Plaza completely transformed by this huge white tent. What they didn’t see, and wouldn’t have wanted to miss just for the wonder of it all, was the finished product inside.
It was bound to be a marvelous party – the guests, and all of them primed, and then the setting, even more of a primer, and to celebrate a wonderful occasion – an active and prominent couple in New York who’ve been married for longer than a lot of many divorcees have been living, proving it can be done, and wisely and well. A giant order of congratulations go out to them.
Just the guests began to move down the corridor pass the serenading violins into the tent, I, mindful of my intermittent houseguest, cautiously chose to leave before the festive proceedings began. But I could dream about it ...
Sam and Anita Michaels
George and Mariana Kaufman
Bonnie and Senator Frank Lautenberg
Larry and Michele Herbert
Ellery and Marjorie Reed Gordon
Nicole Miller and Kim Taipale
Carl and Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel
Debra Black and Nancy Silverman
Paul and Daisy Soros with Susan and John Gutfreund
L. to r.: Gail Hilson; Ann and Andrew Tisch with Lally Weymouth; Frank Alexander.
Nathan Bernstein and Katharina Otto-Bernstein
Susan and Peter Solomon
The Dahlia's and Dahlia's for Dalia
The place cards table
The serenaders greeting the guests
Scenes from the Grand Ballroom
The head table and the place settings of the bride and the groom.