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Eavesdrop: Philip Nobel

 If gossip, as we learned in our last column, is the cement of a strong community, the the party–or even better, the event–is its construction site. And even the most casual observer can tell you that there has been a great deal of community-building going on around town these past weeks. There were, for instance, the usual debauches surrounding the ICFF—anything to regain one’s equilibrium after a day in the Javits Center—as well as the Architectural League’s Beaux Arts ball, brilliantly appointed in glowing beads by Lauren Crahan and John Hartman of Brooklyn-based Freecell, and cleverly convened in the Mink Building on 126th Street, with the theme Dot, dot, dot, to suggest a step into the future at the end of the organization’s 125th year.

But the cream of the crop, as far as event criticism goes, was another very forward-looking gathering: a surprise party for Daniel Libeskind’s 60th birthday, staged to a fare-thee-well by his wife and booster-in-chief, Nina. As the sun set on the evening of May 19, several hundred of his closest friends—if by closest friends we mean clients, reporters, employees, and a smattering of landsmen—gathered in open-bar-fueled expectation in the grand ballroom atop 30 Rock. The world’s second or perhaps third most famous architect did not disappoint, feigning speechlessness (a first?) when he entered and beheld the crowd. Among those waiting for him to plotz were Michael Arad (on the cover of New York magazine that week for a story detailing his and Danny’s frictions); on-again, off-again ally Alexander Garvin; and Madelyn Wils, the imperious Tribeca powerbroker who has not always seen eye to eye with the putative master planner of Ground Zero. But all talk, as this reporter heard it, was of different things: the inevitable bar mitzvah jokes, questions about who was footing the bill (several people floated the name Ronald Lauder), and, farther afield, unconfirmable news of possible decisions at MoMA: Glenn Lowry to the Met? Peter Reed taking over for him? Barry Bergdoll, perhaps, coming in to fill Terence Riley’s spot? (Per Mr. Reed: “The process has to be confidential.”)

Ground Zero, though visible to the south—marked by David Childs’ fine new 7 WTC tower (twice feted itself recently to celebrate its completion)—was nowhere on the agenda. And what is a party without an agenda? Speakers included Jesse Reiser, a former student, but were otherwise limited to professional contacts bearing laurels. Connie Wolf, director of the Contemporary Jewish Museum, flew in from San Francisco to announce that, no matter what everyone asks Libeskind to build, “You’re all getting Jewish museums!” And one did not have to mingle far to find happy representatives from the Denver Museum of Art, or Craig Nassi, the dandy developer of Libeskind’s Aura residential tower in Sacramento. Apart from the birthday boy’s genius, the orchestrated theme of the evening was that all the downtown nastiness was finally over—all breaches healed (look, even Arad was invited, along with, um, several reporters who have not always toed the Libeskind line)—and life for the newly minted sexagenarian was now both victorious and officially elsewhere. 

Maybe Ed Hayes was right; Libeskind’s theatrically inclined lawyer delivered a brilliant, rambling toast in which he covered the relative discomforts of Jewish and Catholic immigrants, Danny’s true affections for the Statue of Liberty, and, without mentioning any names, a certain developer’s greed, culminating in an admission that suggested the source of the chutzpah behind the party as well: “You wanna know the real reason I love this guy? He’s got the biggest balls in town.” 

Philip Nobel