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The 28th annual Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon

The scene at the 28th annual Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon in the Conservatory Garden of Central Park. 12:00 PM. Photo: JH.
May 6, 2010. Yesterday was a very warm, very sunny Spring day in New York. It was a perfect day for the biggest social event in New York's Spring season – the 28th annual Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon in the Conservatory Garden of Central Park at 105th Street and Fifth Avenue.

This luncheon, also known as “the Central Park Conservancy luncheon,” or more frequently these days as the Hat Luncheon, was the biggest in its now long history – 1236 guests, and from it they raised $2,450,000 – possibly a record. It is staged by the Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy and the monies raised go to the Conservancy, which is a private-not-for-profit organization founded in 1980 to restore Central Park to its former splendor.

Thanks to the generosity of individuals, corporations, foundations, and the City, the Conservancy has invested more than $530 million into the Park. Today the Conservancy provides 85% of Central Park’s annual $26 million operating budget, and it is responsible for all basic care of the Park.
Gillian Miniter with co-chair Anne Harrison, Noreen Buckfire, Marcia Mishaan, and Sarah Robertson.
An entire generation has grown to adulthood never knowing the state of the Park before the Conservancy got involved. That is good but it is also good for everyone to realize that the beauty and the condition of the Park that millions and millions of New Yorkers enjoy year round is the result of the hard work the Conservancy and its volunteers and contributors put into keeping it up.

Those of us who were in New York before Betsy Barlow Rogers founded the Conservancy remember how decrepit and even dangerous the Park could be. JH, who grew close to the Park, recalls how even in the early days of the Conservancy, it could be dangerous for kids to play in the Park because of roving gangs.
The first course: Chilled Cucumber Soup with Dill Goat Cheese Panna Cotta.
The Hat luncheon was not a “hat” luncheon when it was first begun. The Women’s Committee was founded by four women – Mrs. Howard L. Clark, Mrs. Richard Purnell, Mrs. Charles Dana Jr. and Phyllis Cerf Wagner. The first luncheons were also not large. By the mid-1990s these women, along with their committee members and volunteers, lifted those numbers into the hundreds. They also used their influence and connections to bring in funding from individuals and corporations and for special projects to refurbish and clean up the Park. They also created a tradition.

Now it’s one of the most remarkable “scenes” of the Spring season in New York. Guests start arriving at the Vanderbilt gates a little after 11 o’clock. A reception line organizes briefly on the steps leading down to the Garden.

Gillian Miniter, President of the Women’s Committee, introducing Tom Glocer.
Tom Glocer.
By noontime they are trying to herd the hundreds into the big tent. The fashion parade runs the gamut from couture to vintage, to milliner’s creations to homemade. There were women wearing veritable gardens on their heads and there were even women wearing major jewels so large and spectacular, they were easily taken for costume.

By 12:30 the tables in the tent filled up and everyone was settled in for the Abigail Kirsch catered menu beginning with Chilled Cucumber Soup with Dill Goat Cheese Panna Cotta. This was followed by a main course of Porcini Dusted Chicken Salad on an Enoki Soft Herb Nest Truffled Black Quinoa and Barley. And finally Triple Chocolate Mousse Box, Raspberry Lemon Granita with Almond Nougatine. Teensy, if you’re wondering how BIG was the “triple” was although the Raspberry Lemon Granita (which was also teensy) was really good.

The wine: Primavera Placido Pinot Grigio. The favors: a little zip-up makeup case with an Estee Lauder “Brasil dream” Lip and Eye Color Palette.

As they do every year, the Wathne Sisters provided umbrellas (green ones and lavendar ones) for the guests, although they weren't needed this time around.

At about 1:15, Gillian Miniter, the President of the Women’s Committee (this is her first year of a two-year term) took the podium and announced this year’s totals. Then she introduced Tom Glocer, the CEO of Thomson Reuters, who was Corporate Chairman of the Benefit Committee and responsible for raising many great contributions. Mr. Glocer has been coming to the Park since he was a kid living just a few blocks away.

Then Gillian made two presentations of the Frederick Law Olmsted Award – the first to Betsy Messerschmitt, the outgoing President of the Women’s Committee. Ms. Messerschmitt has long been active in the restoration and preservation of the Park. She’s been an active member of the Committee for more than twenty years and a member of the board since 1994.

Among her notable achievements was the re-creation of the informative and entertaining tour of Central Park given for potential donors by Committee members. Under her leadership, the Committee raised more than $13 million for the Park.
Capturing the honorees.
Gillian Miniter, Jeff and Patsy Tarr, Douglas Blonsky, and Betsy Messerschmitt.
The second Award was presented to Patsy and Jeff Tarr, also longtime supporters of the CPC. They have given generously through the Women’s Committee through the Tree Trust, Adopt-A-Bench, and Playground Partners programs.

Most recently, the Tarrs funded the renovation of the West 100th Street Playground, now named the Tarr Family Playground. The success of this “new” playground has impressed them so much that, considering also their several grandchildren, they have committed to fund another playground renovation. Patsy is also a member of the Board of Trustees.
The Frederick Law Olmsted Award.
Luncheon Co-Chairman were Noreen Buckfire, Anne Harrison, Marcia Mishaan and Sarah Robertson. Also hosting besides them, Mrs. Miniter and Mr. Glocer were Adrian Benepe, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, Thomas Kempner Jr., Chairman of the Board of Trustees Central Park Conservancy, and Douglas Blonsky, President of the Central Park Conservancy and Central Park Administrator.

With over a thousand attending yesterday, it is impossible to list all of the prominent and socially active New Yorkers who attended, although both JH and I were there with our Digitals taking in as much for you to see as time would allow, and many of the faces are those you’ve seen many times on the Pages of NYSD over the years. It was a good time and for a good cause. At 2:15 the luncheon was over and the guests headed back out onto the sidewalks along the avenue.
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© 2013 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/NewYorkSocialDiary.com