“It’s the Tonys of the philanthropy world,” said New York Restoration Project executive director Deborah Marton, at last night’s event. The evening saw a significant downpour, but it soon calmed after the arrival of one shining star: Bette Midler, who basked in the glory of a Tony win for her role in Hello, Dolly!just one week earlier. The award-winning entertainer founded NYRP in 1995 and has been bringing her green thumb to transforming open spaces in New York’s under-resourced communities ever since. Just last month, NYRP created the city’s first ever solar-powered community garden, the Essex Street Community Garden, only to follow it up with the groundbreaking of the Education Pavilion at Sherman Creek Park along the Harlem River on Monday.
A tent was erected on the site just for the occasion. The space was strung with lights, and tables were decked with seasonal arrangements in marigold, poppy, and lilac. The Gregorio Uribe Big Band played in the background as cornerstones of the environmental community cooled off with NYRP Sours crafted from bourbon, hibiscus, strawberry, and lemon, the glasses sweating from the thick heat outside. Meanwhile, Midler breezed onto the scene wearing the ultimate picnic-chic ensemble: a Céline blouse, black cigarette pants, and gold wedges. She wrapped her hair in a colorful headscarf by The Millinery Guild store owner Susan Murphy. “I love hats and gloves—I love all the accouterments of good living—and [Murphy] deals in those,” said Midler.
The mission of NYRP, however, is somewhat different. “We don’t work in the rich neighborhoods. We work in the neighborhoods that have nothing,” continued Midler. “You know, neighborhoods where there is no conversancy—we’re their conservancy.” Indeed, the new development, which was designed by David Rockwell, who was also on hand to show his support, continues 17 years of work by NYRP to turn what was once an illegal dumping site into five reclaimed acres along the Harlem River, the last of which is expected to be completed by summer’s end.
The program soon kicked off with a foot-tapping performance by Tituss Burgess, who sang “I’ve Still Got My Health,” followed by a sit-down dinner with elevated picnic fare: burrata and tomato sandwiches, fried chicken with honey, and chocolate flower pots for desert. The real treat, though, came just before the official groundbreaking when a double rainbow shot up across the Harlem River, almost as if in celebration. “Midler, that was you, I know,” joked Marton as the actress leaped up from her table to marvel at the sight before others swiftly followed. “Perfect timing, as always.”