The Central Park Conservancy held its first annual Belvedere Ball in a tent in the middle of the Park at 72nd and 5th Ave. on Wednesday December 6, 2017 with cocktails beginning at 7 PM. The Conservancy, founded in 1980, is a private, nonprofit organization that manages Central Park under a contract with the City of New York and NYC Parks. The Founders of the Conservancy include Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, Richard Gilder, Gordon Davis and Bill Beinecke. With contributions from residents, corporations and foundations the Conservancy contributes 75 percent of the Park’s $65 million annual operating budget and is responsible for the basic care of the 843-acre park. Central Park, situated between 59th and 110th streets, was built in 1857 by architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vauz. Olmsted, the father of modern American architecture, viewed the Park as a democratizing space with no central hub but many points of attraction. He wanted it to provide “healthful recreation for the poor and the rich, the young and the old, the vicious and the virtuous.”
His goal was to have large amounts of empty space directly inapposite to the crowded streets of the City. The Conservancy arose out of necessity during the Park’s rapid decline in the 1970’s where some were questioning whether to give it over to the National Park Service. Tonight the over 550-person crowd came to pay homage to President and CEO Douglas Blonsky who has led the Conservancy as CEO since 2004 and has spent a total of 33 years working in Central Park and making sure Olmsted’s vision would be fulfilled. Blonsky even met his current wife, Mai Allan, when she was working as a city landscape architect in the Park and they are celebrating their 30th anniversary this May.
Blonsky is a legend amongst the Conservancy crowd, and his devotion to the Park has ensured his legacy in the history books working his way up from landscape architect to CEO and President of the Conservancy. His friend, former parks commissioner Adrian Benepe, described Blonsky dutifully picking up garbage in the Park after the Hurricane Sandy disaster. Unfortunately, the irreplaceable hands-on Blonsky announced this past June that he would be stepping down as President after instituting unique programs such as the zone management system which identifies 49 zones in Central Park based on topography and use and appoints a manager to each.
Blonsky was given a standing ovation as he described the Park in the 70’s as one of the most dangerous places in NYC with graffiti covering its walls and no trees to be seen. In the early 1980’s there were 12 million visitors to the Park with about 1,000 crimes a year whereas now there are over 42 million visitors annually with fewer than 100 crimes a year. Kudos to Blonsky who has transformed this historic space to unimaginable heights after 30 plus years of 24/7 workdays where he ate, slept and breathed the Park-who can blame him for retiring. He correctly noted that Central Park has become one of the safest and most beautiful parks in the world because of the people in the room tonight. He concluded his speech by remarking that every day the Park must get better.
“The Park is all about the guy on the bench reading the paper and now it’s my turn to be that guy,” joked Blonsky, alluding to his imminent retirement. When I asked Blonsky what his favorite time of year in the Park was he said it was the winter, “where you can view everything without the leaves intruding just the undulating hills and valleys which are a masterpiece of design.” He noted that the entire Park was man-made and when he first arrived it was arid and barren. He has since raised $1 Billion towards its restoration including a $100 million gift from the Paulson Family Foundation. The most romantic part for Blonsky is walking through the Woodlands of the Park where he said in just two minutes you feel as though you are in the Adirondacks. Blonsky reminisced about the Great Lawn which used to be called the “Great Dust Bowl” and is now one of the most luscious lawns in the World.
When I asked if there were any talks of erecting an Amusement Park he looked horrified at the thought of ruining the pristine nature of the greenery. He was now focused on training and teaching other parks all over the world through the Central Park Conservancy Institute for Urban Parks which he established to provide parks around the world with a center for learning world-class urban park management and stewardship practices.
For Blonsky the speaking portion of the evening was his least favorite as he prefers to “just sit and hang out” with the 550 people who joined him this evening. While the entire socialite universe seems to be at Art Basel there were still plenty of illustrious attendees joining Blonsky tonight including: Gillian and Sylvester Miniter, Jeff and Liz Peek, Alexandra Lebenthal and Jay Diamond and Maria and Ken Fishel.
The evening’s event chairs were: Shelley and Michael Carr, Kitty and Tom Kempner, Gillian and Sylvester Miniter and Jenny and John Paulson-I didn’t see the Paulsons at the event. The tented cocktail party was followed by a delightful dinner of pot pie and brownies. Chairman of the Board of Trustees Tom Kempner announced that more than $2 million had been raised this evening and thanked Northern Trust for sponsoring the event for the past four years. “Pencils of Promise” donated the tent which had a winter wonderland theme containing snowy trees and white lighted arrangements. At 10:30 PM the DJ began to spin music as the younger crowd, including socialites Larry Milstein and Malcolm Gosling entered to dance with the older patrons and enjoy the delicious desserts. This evening was paradigmatic of the oasis known as Central Park-a joyful amalgam of all the great promise that awaits in the City of New York.
By: Lieba Nesis