Overlooking Rockefeller Center after the rain. 5:30 PM. Photo: JH.
A rainy Tuesday; weather cool, spring-sprang-sprung. Down at number 1 Beacon Court, the new apartment-office tower that takes up the entire block between 58th and 59th on Lexington and Third Avenues, Le Cirque was having its inaugural dinner in its brand new residence. The occasion: the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 15th Annual American Art Award honoring Terry Lundgren, Chairman, President and CEO of the Federated Department Stores. One of Federated’s stores is Bloomingdales, right across the street from the Beacon Court.
Brief history. The block which Beacon Court occupies was previously the site of Alexanders Department Store which belonged to the Farkas family. The store was very popular in the 60s, a kind of step-cousin (lower price point) of Bloomingdale’s which in the 1960s was the retailing empress of New York, so hot that even competition brought in business; people couldn’t resisit. I can’t remember when Alexanders closed its doors for good, but the block has remained empty for many many years, its real estate value steadily climbing up up up.
Mauro and Sirio Maccioni
Finally a few years ago, Steve Roth of Vornado Realty acquired the property and/or the rights to build there. The Beacon Tower, a very elegant and modern glass twin tower (actually it’s two buildings with a central court passage), was completed in the last year. Bloomberg (the Company) is the sole commercial tenant above the ground flooor and far above in the tower some of the wealthiest people in the world have purchased condominiums with sensational views of the metropolis. Ayn Rand, here we are.
And now, on the ground floor on one side of the courtyard, Sirio Maccioni is just putting the finishing touches on his third rendition of Le Cirque (first two, 65th and Park, then Madison and 51st). The inaugural dinner last night represented the synergy that is 21st century New York: All of these people are business associates in their objective, which is to bring up the neighborhood. For the good of everyone. The new building bringing new neighbors; the restaurant bringing more of the “right” neighbors (the luxury consumer). The great American department store across the street. There goes the neighborhood ... up up up. This is what New York is about right now, and maybe always.
Mr. Roth was there last night with his wife Daryl, the Broadway producer. Many prominent New Yorkers were there. Glenn Close was there with her husband, Evelyn Lauder, Joanne Leonhardt Casullo, Beth DeWoody, Laurie Tisch, Brook Neidich, John and Susan Hess, Martha Stewart with her CEO Charles Koppelman, Joan and Sandy Weill, Donald and Melania Trump, Vera Wang and Arthur Becker, Josie Natori, Tom Lee.
Martha Stewart was looking very glamorous. I leaned across from the other side of the table with my camera and called out her name, “I want to take your picture.” She sat down very girlishly and gave me a big girlish grin. Gee Martha; I liked it. In days of yore, I saw quite a different countenance and far from girlish. Last night she looked really good and I was thinking to myself that’s why she’s Martha Stewart. Because they’re the vibes that really work for her.
The chairman of the Whitney Board of Trustees is Leonard Lauder who commands enormous respect in New York. Mr. Lauder played a pivotal role in keeping the Whitney ship sailing. He is also a man with a courtly, serious, yet unassuming manner. People are often surprised when very rich people are warm and kindly and have the common touch. It’s actually a quality that can be quite rare in all walks of life. However, Mr. Lauder is one of those people.
I mention this because after we’d sat for dinner, finished the first course, started on the second (lamp chops), Mr. Lauder took the podium. The crowd (about 300) was in a clattering-chattering mood. Not easy to quell no matter where unless you drown them out with a bigger noise – like blowing a foghorn in their ear. The kids. Mr. Lauder took a glass and started tapping it in front of the mike. And tapping. And tapping. Always a little louder. Never saying a word. Soon they stopped. He then told us that he grew up in a family that enjoyed their meals and he disdained interrupting this wonderful first dinner of the new Le Cirque. In other words, just enjoy your meal and I’ll talk. Soon there was another rise in the crowd conversing. Tap tap again. Tap tap. I was thinking: we just can’t shuttup no matter where. Pay attention. I was feeling a little steamed but Mr. Lauder seemed unfazed. Quiet again, he told us that this dinner (their annual fundraiser) raised more than any before – more than $3 million, and that he gave a lot of credit to Mr. Lundgren. He then introduced Mr. Lundgren to the crowd (many of whom have strong business and social associations with him) and presented him with a specially commissioned Louise Bourgeois piece.
Mr. Lundgren who is tall, fit and youthful looking as if he runs every morning in the hills of Bel Air and then goes out and plays a few games of tennis before his highly nuitritional (and organic) lunch, made a brief and gracious speech (hardly even that), telling us a little more about Mr. Lauder. Mr. Lauder had asked him to be the honoree at this dinner in 2003. Lundgren had another commitment. 2004? Another commitment? 2005? Can’t. 2006. Okay. The next day, in 2003, Mr. Lauder sent Lundgren a letter of confirmation.
The dinner was actually held in a tent constructed especially for the occasion (the restaurant is finished but is not yet set for business – first meal to the public will come at the end of the month). Reed Krakoff, the design and marketing wizard behind the emergence of Coach was responsible for its décor and (possibly) design, which was of a piece. In shades of grey and white. Mr. Krakoff is another one of those gracious and unassuming fellows (I’m sure somebody could tell me differently – after all, he is an artist) is the reason why you know the brand name COACH today. He took something old and fusty and turned into a competitor of Hermes. But you already know that.
The Whitney found a very good financial alliance in last night’s event. It’s the maverick art museum in New York, long standing now, and in its own way, it leads the pack. People like Mr. Lauder (and his very dynamic board) and creative ones like Mr. Krakoff and leaders like Mr. Lundgren, not to mention Mr. Maccioni’s now legendary New York touch, are good for business for the Whitney, and if you’re a fan, for you too. I am.
Donna DeSalvo, Joanne Cassullo, and Brooke Neidich