Friends of the High Line Toast Park Opening With Balloon-Filled Benefit

In honor of the opening of High Line Park, Friends of the High Line hosted a benefit, which also celebrated the nonprofit's 10th anniversary and the 75th year since the High Line railroad first opened.

By Anna Sekula June 16, 2009, 3:20 PM EDT

Friends of the High Line's inflatable decor

Photo: Roger Dong for BizBash

Friends of the High Line Opening Summer Benefit and Calvin Klein Collection's First Party on the High Line
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Yesterday as the fashion set—designers, industry heavies like Fern Mallis, and celebrities—whiled away the night uptown at Alice Tully Hall for the Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards, another crowd descended on Pier Sixty for the Friends of the High Line summer benefit. The gala dinner, a fund-raiser now in its ninth year, represented a significant moment for the Friends of the High Line: Last Tuesday, the once-derelict elevated railroad in west Chelsea finally opened as a public park, the culmination of a decade worth of grass-roots campaigning.

To commemorate the occasion, the nonprofit honored board members Edward Norton and Lisa Marie and Philip Falcone and hosted a Calvin Klein Collection-sponsored after-party on the High Line itself, the first major event to be held in the park. For the 1,000 guests, including Danny DeVito, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Debbie Harry, and other local philanthropists, the organization's co-founders, Joshua David and Robert Hammond, looked to Desi Santiago to dress the Chelsea Piers space with appropriately celebratory decor. (Board member Bronson van Wyck had designed the event for the past eight years, but declined to return to that post this go-round. He is expected back next year.)

One specific directive given to Santiago and his design crew was that there should be no flowers and that the gala should feel festive to mark the group's 10-year anniversary. With a limited budget, the designer chose balloons to fulfill this idea while offering some creative freedom. Hundreds of helium-filled balloons tied with reflective foil covered the ceiling in the terrace for cocktails, the hanging strands designed to look like blades of grass. Outside, oversize pinwheels also made with reflective material added a sense of whimsy and brought sunlight into the space.

Balloons and pinwheels continued into the dining room, where Santiago created an upside down High Line of sorts by installing fluorescent light fixtures in a railroad track-style formation and sculpting balloons into giant wild flowers. With the focus mainly on the ceiling, the decor elsewhere was fairly subdued, save for a custom-fabricated neon piece—a map of the High Line—beside the podium. And to preserve the benefit's tradition of providing centerpieces that guests can take home, the design team placed silver pinwheels on each table.

Following the dinner, guests made their way over to the High Line entrance at 16th Street and 10th Avenue, where Calvin Klein had converted the covered area inside the Chelsea Market into a bar with model bartenders serving up specialty cocktails from Belvedere Vodka. Creative Edge dished out mini ice-cream sandwiches and mini red velvet cupcakes as late-night bites. Although Opening Ceremony and Black Frame hosted a C.F.D.A. Awards n after-party at the Jane Hotel, many of those attendees—including C.F.D.A. executive director Steven Kolb, designers Zac Posen and Donna Karan, and Elle creative director Joe Zee—swung by the newly minted park for the packed soiree.

In total, Friends of the High Line raised more than $2 million at the event, a sum that will go toward the maintenance and operation of High Line Park.

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