The anatomy of a luncheon

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Picnicking in Central Park. Photo: JH.

Friday, October 11, 2019.  70 degrees, and no humidity yesterday in New York. Some Sun, some clouds but the big rains passed us by on their way to New England. And temps dropping to the 50s in the evening.

In yesterday’s Diary I intended to write a little about “luncheons” which are a prominent and important path for fund-raising and public relations in New York philanthropy. That’s a general topic because many New Yorkers “lunch” for all kinds of reasons. I’m talking about one-on-one dates to hotel ballroom luncheons where major fund-raising occurs.

Lunching al fresco.

New Yorkers are so used to large groups of people that they even seek it out, if unconsciously. There’s always something new, something to learn, maybe even something to avoid. But the big, organized luncheons always have something constructive and positive to offer, even if it’s information that will make you feel better for a minute.

The most interesting to me, aside from my personal lunch dates, are those which are held in architectural environments. Historical buildings, houses, etc. This past Monday was a perfect example. The New York Landmarks Preservation Foundation hosted a lunch at the Morgan Library with Annabelle Selldorf as the guest of honor.

Lunch with Annabelle Selldorf in the Renzo Piano addition to the Morgan Library.

That block of the east side of Madison Avenue between 36th and 37th Streets always entices my imagination. That was Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan’s block, on which his brownstone mansion was dominant on the corner of 36th and Madison. On the north was/is the house that was occupied by his son J.P. Jr. 

Charles McKim of McKim, Mead and White was hired to design the library which replaced the original mansion in 1903. It was completed for use three years later. Elegant and classic, it was known as the Pierpont Morgan Library created to house Mr. Morgan’s private library. Which was extensive and historical. He had an imaginative appetite for collecting.

The Morgan Library, ca.1906. McKim, Mead & White, Architects. Wurts Brothers, Photographer. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. “The Morgan Library, New York” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1860 – 1920
As it looks today.

The area today is residential but the Morgan blocks explain what they were 150 years ago when Madison Avenue was where the established elite of that era preferred to live. Pierpont Morgan was the prime example. His children lived nearby (next door) and he even built a limestone mansion for his last mistress Mrs. Adelaide Douglas just down the block and around the corner on Park Avenue between  37th and 38th. She was within walking distance which was both practical and private – even though everyone who knew Pierpont Morgan knew who Mrs. Douglas was.

More than a century later (Morgan died in 1913), in 2006, his library having expanded even more, added a new entrance building designed by Renzo Piano. That’s where the luncheon was being held. It’s bright, light, high and airy. And in another part of the new building there was more construction going on. The marriage of the contemporary with the classic architecture takes some adjustment to these eyes. I tell myself that is how history operates: the old and the new become the same.

The Rotunda’s intricate and elaborately decorated ceiling depicts figures from classical antiquity and the great literary epochs of the past, including Homer, Dante, and Petrarch.
Pierpont Morgan’s Library or East Room where some of the Morgan’s finest literary and historical manuscripts, medieval and Renaissance illuminated texts, music manuscripts, and printed books and bindings are displayed.

There must have been more than 200 guests at this luncheon. No doubt there were clients of Ms. Selldorf who has her own firm with a staff of 65, as well as the many admirers of her work. I have never met her although this wasn’t the first time I’d been to a dinner where she was the honored guest. So I am simply the observer which is the role I prefer, as there is nothing more interesting than learning.

Ms. Selldorf is German born, from Cologne, the daughter of an architect whose work she was impressed and influenced by. Already you get a picture of her youth: serious, admiring, no doubt hard-working. She retains that youthfulness in her presence, a very goodlooking woman who is also serious, and taken seriously.

Basil Walter, Annabelle Selldorf, and Barry Bergdoll.

The luncheon was called for noon. There wasn’t a lot of time waste lolling around before sitting. The table centerpiece reflected the atmosphere which was both welcoming and comfortable because the vast natural light – which is always a liberating thrill in this metropolis packed with walls and ceilings.

Paula Zahn welcomed the guests. Paula has a brightness and warmth about her that puts everyone at ease. We know her from the television but how many know that she is also an accomplished cellist who has played at Carnegie Hall?

Paula introduced Basil Walter, who is the chair of the Foundation. He then introduced Paul Goldberger, the architectural critic whom you may have first read when he wrote the New Yorker’s “Skyline column.” Mr. Goldberger introduced Ms. Selldorf and her “conversation” about her work with Barry Bergdoll, the Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History at Columbia University.

One of her famous commissions was turning the mansion, the last home of Mrs. Cornelius (Grace Wilson) Vanderbilt III on 86th Street and Fifth Avenue into Ronald Lauder’s Neue Galerie. Keeping the old and making the new. Just as Renzo Piano did in that room where we were lunching.

To give you an idea of our hosts and its work, the luncheon had corporate chairs:  Hearst, RFR, VOCON, Vornado Realty Trust.  Co-chairs were Barry Bergdoll, Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos, Arie Kopelman, Michael Silverman, Gasteon Silva, Jacqueline Terrebonne, Samuel White.

The luncheon’s Committee were Colette Arredondo, Justin Davidson, Michael Doyle, Michael Gaellini, Paul Goldberger, Alexander Gorlin, William T. Higdgins, Bernadette Hitt, Lucy Lamphere, Margo Langenberg, Simone Levinson, Cathleen McGuigan, Come Menage, Nicolai Ouroussoff, Alexandra Polier, Frank Sciame, Mitch Simpler, Nicholas Stern. Lunch and guest conversation were over at 1:50 pm. A successful venture, timing-wise also.


L. to r.: Mariana Kaufman and Gail Hilson; Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos and Norma Olarte Becker.
Arie and Coco Kopelman.
Bill Judson and Margo Langenberg.
Colin Bailey and Peg Breen.
L. to r.: Stuart Manger and Elizabeth Saint-Amand; Michele Gerber Klein and Brooke Berlind.
Richard Armstrong of the Guggenheim and Ian Wardropper of the Frick.
Richard and Christina Davis.
Peter and Judy Price.
Paula Zahn, Mickey Ateyeh, and Arie Kopelman.
Susan Magrino.
Robert A.M. Stern.

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