Friday, February 20, 2009

Dinner and a Villa

La Leopolda in all its glory.
February 20, 2009. Thursday was a sunny and mild winter’s day in New York. Dinner at Primola hosted by Jim Mitchell for his friend Joan Benny, daughter of the late great Jack; Mary McFadden and Marc de Bary, Colette Harron, Laura Montalban and this writer.

Joan and Laura (daughter of the recently departed Ricardo and niece of Loretta Young) grew up in the land called Hollywood and were talking about the most recent Vanity Fair’s article on the kids who grew up there. They liked it. That’s the way it was for them. When they were growing up it was a small community. Everytown USA Hollywood style.

Joan who now divides her time between New York, Greenwich and Beverly Hills, grew up on Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills. In those days, like everywhere else in America, families tended to live in a house for their lifetimes.

Lucy lived on one side of them. Ira Gershwin lived down the street, as did Rosie Clooney, Eddie Cantor, Agnes Moorehead, Jimmy Stewart, Oscar Levant and Hedy Lamarr. Peter Falk moved in next door on the other side, but that was after Joan grew up and moved out.
Circa 1945: Family portrait of American comedian Jack Benny, his wife, Mary Livingstone, and their teenage daughter Joan Benny, seated together in the living room of their home on Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Mary and Jack Benny’s best friends were George Burns and Gracie Allen who were called Nattie (George’s birthname was Nathan Birnbaum) and Googy by their close friends. Nattie was very good at making Jack Benny laugh but Jack could never make George laugh, so the contest between the boys went on forever.

George could turn anything Jack did into a joke (or at least make Jack laugh). One time at a party, Jack was about to light up a cigarette when George said: “everybody, watch now ... Jack Benny is about to do his famous match trick.” Benny would crack up -- because of course he had no match trick or anything else that was funny enough to respond with.

George Burns and wife, Gracie Allen, at the CBS microphone. Bettmann/Corbis.
Joan told of the time back in the 1960s when marijuana had become hip and inside-fashionable. The Bennys were at a dinner party at the very fancy Armand Deutsches. After dinner back in the livingroom for demitasse, Janet de Cordova lit up a joint and passed it around. Mary Benny, who was then in her sixties and very square but famously insecure, took a puff when it was passed to her. Then she stubbed it out in an ashtray. A few minutes later the Deutches’ butler came by to empty the ashtrays, and when it came to the one in front of Mary Benny, he held it up before her and said: “Madam, would you like your roach?”

Also at Primola last night (within eyeview): Angela Rich, in from Los Angeles where she’s taken up residence again, with Caroline Hirsch (of Caroline’s Comedy Club) and friends. At the next table Francine LeFrak and Rick Friedberg. The place was jumping.

Primola on Second Avenue between 64th and 65th is one of the Upper East Side’s most popular Italian restaurants. It’s one of those Italian restaurants that is both New York-sophisticated and family/cozy. There’s always something to gnosh on the table and the menu is delicious. It’s a very popular under-the-radar spot for the cognescenti and high honchos of the city, business, media, politicos, sports and Seventh Avenue. Noo Yawk goes Upper East Side.

Yesterday’s Diary on La Leopolda provoked some corrections
on the villa’s history. Little known. Laura Codman, a great-niece of the late 19th/early 20th century architect and interior decorator Ogden Codman Jr. sent me an email explaining that La Leopolda – which is now embroiled in a sales dispute between Lily Safra and a Russian billionaire, Mikhail Prokhorov (see NYSD 2.19.09) – was not built by Leopold II, King of the Belgians, contrary to popular myth.

Leopold, who died in 1909, began accumulating the eighteen parcels that make up the villa’s land today in 1902. His intention was to build a villa for his mistress. Unfortunately for the mistress, the king died before that happened.
The Grange, the Ogden Codman estate in Lincoln, Massachusetts that has been in the Codman family since it was built in 1735, now owned by Historic New England, formerly The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities.
Berkeley Villa, in Newport, was designed by Codman for his cousin, Martha Codman, who later married the opera singer, Maxim Karolik. Berkeley Villa's famous collection of American antiques is now at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, known as the M&M Karolik collection.
In 1929, twenty years later, Ogden Codman Jr., acquired the property and built La Leopolda, which was completed in 1931-- at the beginning of the Great Depression.
Codman was from a wealthy Boston Brahmin family. Educated at MIT, he worked first in Boston and then in New York.

Edith Wharton took him up and hired him to work on her house in Newport. The relationship led to a commission from Cornelius Vanderbilt II to decorate some rooms at The Breakers. Codman also worked on several properties in Newport as well as a Georgian Colonial mansion on Bellevue Avenue in Newport for his sister and her husband, which is still standing.
Through Edith Wharton, Codman gained the attention of the Vanderbilts who hired him to decorate some of their rooms at the Breakers.
The rotunda of Archer Huntington's townhouse on Fifth Avenue and 89th Street, now the National Academy Museum.
With Wharton he also wrote the seminal book “The Decoration of Houses” (Scribner, 18977) which was re-issued in 2007 by Rizzoli with its original typeface and images. Both as architect and decorator, Ogden Codman was known for his classical interiors adapted from 18th century models of French, English and American houses, particularly grand houses built on an intimate scale.

He moved to France after World War I and lived there, in Paris, at a chateau south of Paris and in Villefranche at La Leopolda until 1951 when he died at 87.
Kykuit, the Rockefeller house at Pocantico, was initially designed by Chester Aldrich of the noted firm Delano & Aldrich. Codman designed the interiors. The grand entrance facade, the result of a later remodeling, which although done with input from Codman, was the work of William Welles Bosworth, who later oversaw the Rockefeller financed restoration of Versailles after the first World War.
The Codman designed east wing of the Metropolitan Club on 60th Street and Fifth Avenue.
Although Codman sometimes rented out the villa, he had at times wanted to sell it. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor when newly married and searching for a place on the Riviera in the late 1930s were interested in buying, but the duchess insisted that certain rooms be changed architecturally before. Codman who was a Proper Bostonian, a certain kind of snob who did not suffer fools gladly, was insulted and refused the duchess and that was that.

The Archer Huntington house now the National Academy Museum.
The Frederick Vanderbilt mansion in Hyde Park, New York.
After Codman’s death at age 87, La Leopolda was owned by the Canadian tycoon Izaak Walton Killam and his wife, Dorothy.

When he died in 1955, Mr. Killam was considered the richest man in Canada. In 1952, Killam sold the property to Gianni Agnelli for $100,000 (about $2 million in today’s currency). Edmond Safra bought the property for about $3 million just a few months before his death in 1999.

Ogden Codman had a brilliant career as an architect after meeting Edith Wharton at age 30.

Among his work he designed 22 houses to completion including the Archer Huntington townhouse on 89th and Fifth (now the National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts). He also decorated rooms in the the re-built Kykuit for John D. Rockefeller in Pocantico Hills near Tarrytown and Frederick Vanderbilt’s mansion in Hyde Park, New York. He designed the French-style townhouses on 7, 12 and 15 East 96th Street off Fifth Avenue, the Codman-Davis House in Washington, now the residence of the Ambassador of Thailand, and the east wing of the Metropolitan Club.

The last 31 years of his life, from the time of the completion of La Leopolda until his death, Ogden Codman lived mainly at the Chateau de Gregy in Seine-et-Marne southeast of Paris in the Ile de France region.
Chateau de Gregy in Seine-et-Marne in the Ile de France region.
The Social Swim: Last Thursday, OPUS, the Contemporary Patrons of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, hosted its fourth annual LOVESTRUCK party. Proceeds from the event benefit the Chamber Music Society’s educational outreach programs, including this year’s MEET THE MUSIC! concert for New York children and their families which will be held in the spectacular newly-renovated Alice Tully Hall.

LOVESTRUCK took place in the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse at Lincoln Center and included a music performance of Haydn and Brahms by members of Chamber Music Society Two.
Carol Miller and Bruce Adolphe by the Chocolate Fountain
Saar Banin, Marie Samuels, Jenny Green, Justin Green, Lise Evans, Melissa Berger, Dan Berger, and Lisa Banin
OPUS Leadership: Lise and Michael Evans, Karen and Dennis Mehiel, Melissa and Dan Berger, Marie and Bill Samuels, Lisa and Saar Banin, Jenny and Justin Green. Guests included: Sharon Weinstein, Carol and Rich Miller, Stacie Feldman, Robert Deutsch, April Goldberg, Edward Papier, Board Chairman Peter Frelinghuysen, Artistic Directors David Finckel and Wu Han, Bruce Adolphe, Executive Director Norma Hurlburt, Ann Spence, Stewart Hescheles, Live Diakolios.
Sharon Weinstein, Carol Miller, and Ann Spence Live Diakolios and Norma Hurlburt
Jenny and Justin Green, Stewart Hescheles, and Debbie Ackerman Saar Banin with Phil and Mary Katharine Gallagher
Karen Mehiel David Requiro, Beth Guterman, Orion Weiss, and Arnaud Sussman
Wednesday a week ago many of New York’s social and philanthropic leaders, development officers and Board members met for a seminar sponsored by Central Park South Events at the Plaza. The event was hosted by Liz Neumark, CEO of Great Performances and CPS Events, and it featured three speakers – Karen Brooks Hopkins, President of BAM, Jayme Koszyn, President of Jayme Koszyn Consulting; and Naomi Levine, Executive Director, NYU, George H. Heyman Jr. Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising. The panel was moderated by Suri Kasirer, a New York marketing and business consultant. The “goal” of the seminar was to share creative thinking and new fundraising tactics.
Jayme Koszyn, Karen Brook Hopkins, Suri Kasirer, and Naomi Levine
Judy Ney and Audrey Gruss Liz Neumark and Stephanie Krieger
Dale Brooks and Allison Stern Rob Arango and Audrey Gruss
Jamee Gregory and Eleanora Kennedy Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos ans Allison Stern
About two hundred guests attended a reception at the Frick Collection for the opening of an unprecedented reciprocal loan collaboration between the Frick and the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. In the Oval Room on view were five 16th and 17th century masterpieces from the Norton Simon  — none of which has left its Southern California home in almost three decades.

The five featured paintings are: Jacopo Bassano’s (Jacopo da Ponte, 1510–1592) Flight into Egypt, c. 1544– 45; Peter Paul Rubens’s (1577–1640) Holy Women at the Sepulchre, c. 1611–14; Guercino’s (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, 1591–1666) Aldrovandi Dog, c. 1625; Francisco de Zurbarán’s (1598–1664) Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose, 1633; and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s (1617–1682) Birth of Saint John the Baptist, c. 1660. As an extra added coup: none of these artists are currently represented in the Frick’s collection.
The Frick's West Gallery
Guests included:  From the Norton Simon, President Walter Timoshuk and Chief Curator Carol Togneri and from the Frick, Chairman Margot Bogert, Director Anne L. Poulet, Associate Director and Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator Colin B. Bailey, Assistant Curator Margaret Iacono, Caitlin Davis, Joseph Godla, Rika Burnham, Charlotte Vignon, Deborah Kempe, and others, as well as colleagues and supports, among them Maryan Ainsworth, Christopher and Francesca Beale, Frederick W. and Candace Beinecke, Fiona Benenson, Genevieve Wheeler Brown, Stephanie Buck, Joyce Cowin, Gonzolo and Kathleen de Las Heras, Nina Del Rio, L. F. Boker Doyle, June Dyson, Elizabeth Easton, Colin and Benita Eisler, Margaret H. Ellis, Francis Finlay, Joanne Foster, Lucius L. Fowler, Alain Goldrach, Meirelle and Hubert Goldschmidt, Peter and Gail W. Goltra, Natoya Green and Frederick Mwangaguhunga, Agnes Gund, Michael J. and Katherine Horvitz, Faith Humann, Andre Hurni, Kathy Irwin, Robert Johnson, Henry Johnson, Anita Jorgensen, Bruce M. Kaplan, Lucy J. Lang, Leonard Lopate, Nancy A. Marks, W. Barnabus and Marie McHenry, Robert and Clare E. McKeon, Benton and Elizabeth Moyer, Edgar Munhall, Diane A. Nixon, David T. Owsley, Emily Pataki, Barbara Reuter, Elisabeth Saint-Amand, Melvin R. Seiden and Janine Luke, Robert A. and Diana Smith, David M. and Julie Tobey, Roselyn Westmorland, Malcolm and Carolyn Wiener, Janet Yaseen, and others.
Emily T. Frick, Walter Timoshuk (President of the Norton Simon), and Frick Director Anne L. Poulet Colin B. Bailey, the Frick’s Associate Director and Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator discusses the still life with a guest.
Carolyn Wiener, Malcolm Wiener, and Frick Director Anne L. Poulet Michael and Caitlin Davis
Bruce Gavlin and Janet Yaseen Gavlin Robert Goldsmith, Stephen Saitas, and Heidi Rosenau Luke Fowler and Henry Johnson
Emily T. Frick, Kathy Irwin, and Margaret H. Ellis Krin Gabbard, Andre Hurni, Paula Gabbard, and Deborah Kempe
Christopher and Francesca Beale Tom Gates
Roselyn Westmoreland, Anita Jorgensen, Charlotte Vignon, and Rika Burnham Barbara Reuter, Bill Williams, and Franchesca Beale
Siane Nixon, Natoya Green, and Fred Mwangaguhunga June Dyson and David Owsley

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Photographs by Greg Partanio (Lovestruck); Ann Watt (Frick).
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