Banning Residence Museum was prettier than a Christmas tree, even prettier than a blushing debutante the other night. Garlands of red, white and blue flowers hung from the second-floor balcony. Nosegays were swagged with asparagus fern. Flowers were everywhere for the first Banning Floriade, the first major fund-raising celebration at the Wilmington home built in 1864 by Gen. Phineas Banning.
Bright spotlights focused on the home, now recognized as the finest extant 19th-Century Greek Revival house in Southern California, and restored in all its former glory.
A floriade is a flower show. Holland has one every decade near Amsterdam. Nancy Banning Call, granddaughter of Gen. Banning and the driving force for more than a decade behind the restoration of the residence (and the chairman of the Friends of Banning Park), thought a floriade would be just right as a fund-raiser. The festive crowd thought so, too.
Thus, nearly 500 ambled through the house, admiring not only the furnishings but the flowers designed by local florists. The rose topiaries in the dining room by William for William, and the Jacob Maarse kitchen arrangements designed by Tommy Farmer, and Dana Howes Anderson's cupola designs for those who had the stamina to find the third floor, were outstanding. David Jones' creative wizardry in Gen. Banning's office was delightful: he put a lemon leaf wreath around the neck of the deer trophy.
Over the weekend more than 2,000 stopped by to see the house and the flower arrangements, Mrs. Call said, adding the event will net more than $100,000 to help restore the stagecoach barn, described as "the finest in the West."
The barn was the setting for the horticulture show, and the flower arrangement competition was in the house's sunken garden area. The competition was stiff. Mrs. Bayard Dillingham of Honolulu flew over to help judge and was introduced by Mrs. Albert Martin, who's on the Banning textile and costume committees. Two years ago, Kitty Dillingham also judged the first flower show at Filoli in Woodside.
Bannings and relatives, all over the place, were winning ribbons. Ellen Banning put some sweet miniature flowers in a Battersea ladybug porcelain box and walked off with a prize. Joan Banning got a blue ribbon with her hedera helix and another for a single geranium. And Dr. Richard Call, Nancy's husband, was ecstatic about his first for phalaenopsis.
Non-relatives won, too, of course: John Richards for a ming tree, Kay Onderdonk for her amaryllis, Julia York for a Louisiana iris, Hannah Bradley for a leucohilum, and Jane Simpson, Liz Bradley, Mrs. Harry McLaughlin, Mrs. William G. Williams, Mrs. R. Stanton Avery, Graham Jones and Doris Arakali. Rowena Thompson's living rocks exhibition was a winner.
So were Bette McLaughlin's pink African violets. Of course, Mrs. Edward McLaughlin was doing double duty as president of the Friends of Banning Park. She welcomed guests in the parlor and introduced Louis L'Amour, the noted author and chronicler of the Old West, as honorary chairman of the floriade. He was wearing the Navajo turquoise bolo tie designed by Jimmy Harrison, a gift from his wife.
Credit for the event's financial success goes to Mmes. Rudolph J. Munzer and Henry Singleton, who raised more than $100,000 in patron dollars. The floriade compliments went to co-chairmen Mmes. Robert Banning and William Goodan. Mrs. V. Shannon Clyne got the premiere party compliments, and Neiman-Marcus heaps of applause for underwriting the party and presenting posies to each departing lady guest.
In some ways, the party was a family affair. Nancy Call brought two daughters, Mrs. E. Joseph Regan II, and Mrs. Ray McCullough to help with arrangements. And as Kate Regan worked away by day, helping Mrs. Walter Rose with hostess arrangements, she brought her 7-week-old newly adopted baby along for companionship. Naturally, he's Phineas Banning Regan. "Phin," she said.
In fact, the young set was prominent as hostesses in each room: Mmes. Stephen Chandler, John Laugharn, Michael McCarthy, John Poole, Bruce Byers.
More on the committee were Mmes. Charles B. Ames Jr., Robert S. Barry, Elliott Field, George Fritzinger, Richard A. Hotaling, John King, Anthony Liebig, Kenneth T. Norris Jr., Thomas Rowan, Joseph Vaccaro (she's president next year), Harry Volk and Thomas Wachtell.
Mrs. Frederic Rheinstein worked with Cal Smith, actually pinning flowers on trellises for stunning effects in the two white tents Regal Rents erected for the dinner party.
It was a Rococco-catered feast: chicken curry with a finale of chocolate and raspberry bombes. Enjoying it all were the Richard F. Mogans, the Robert H. Carpenters, the Warren Williamsons, the Donald R. Pennells, Alice O'Neill Avery, the Robert S. Attiyehs, the Hancock Bannings III, the Robert J. Bannings, Waller Taylor II and Sheila Bullock, the Norman Terrys II, the Charles Mungers, Leah Coulter and the Rodney F. Williamses.