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The Party's Over--Faithful Patrons Must Scramble to Relocate

October 24, 1985|MARY BARBER | Times Staff Writer

PASADENA — A year ago the San Marino Guild of Huntington Memorial Hospital booked its annual 1985 Thanksgiving Ball at the Huntington Sheraton, as it had for 30 years.

Members ordered huge sets for an exotic theme and sold tickets at $135 a couple, only to learn a month before the Nov. 16 event that they may never dance at the Huntington again.

Like hundreds of organizations that had booked parties in the hotel that closed it doors on Sunday, the group scrambled to relocate its ball. It will be held in the Pasadena Hilton.

"What are we going to do? Nothing will fit," Denise Zeilstra, chairman of the ball, said of sets that may have to be altered to fit into the Hilton. "We're lucky. At least we got the same date."

The hotel's owners, Keikyu USA International, and the Sheraton hotel chain that manages it closed the Huntington's 80-year-old main building because they said it could not withstand a major earthquake. A 105-room addition and 23 cottages on the Huntington's 20 acres will remain in use, and food service facilities are being moved to one of the cottages.

The Thanksgiving Ball is one of an estimated 600 casualties of the hotel's unexpected closure and one of many parties, debutante balls, annual banquets and luncheons that had been booked in the Huntington from year to year for as long as anyone can remember. The Viennese and Georgian ballrooms and the vast Horseshoe Garden for decades were favorite settings for weddings and celebrations.

The Tournament of Roses Assn., which is just beginning its big season, is looking for new sites for at least half a dozen events, spokesman Forrest (Frosty) Foster said.

Booked into the Huntington, as they always have been, were the formal director's dinner dance for several hundred guests on Dec. 30 and a party honoring officials of the Big 10 and Pac-10 football conferences the next night, New Year's Eve.

"We're still deciding where to go. We're even thinking of a big tent," Foster said. "As far as I know, the Huntington was used for almost everything from the very beginning" of the tournament and Rose Bowl game.

"We were taken by surprise, but we're used to swinging with things,"

he said, citing the tournament's ever-present backup plans in case it rains. "It's a shock, and we just have to bend a little."

Zeilstra and Foster lavished praise on the Huntington's catering director, Len Archer, and a staff that is seeking locations for events that were booked into 1987. Through hundreds of phone calls, Archer said, "there have been only a few seconds of panic."

Until 1960, when the Tournament of Roses Assn. inherited the Wrigley mansion on Orange Grove Boulevard, the Huntington served as headquarters for rose festivities and the queens and courts were announced there.

Margarethe Bertelson Knoblock was the last queen to be named at the Huntington. Her wedding reception was held at the hotel in 1962 and for the last three years she has been a fashion model three times a week for Port o' Call, a Pasadena-based store that for 22 years had a branch shop in the Huntington.

"This is like a death in the family," she said. "The word 'condemned' sounds so terrible. The waitresses and I were so close to tears we couldn't look at each other. And now they say they'll board the windows and put fences around this beautiful place."

"There is no way that the kind of feeling in that hotel will ever be developed anywhere else," Port O'Call owner Bill Johns said. "It was almost the kind of hotel you could do a television show around, where the manager and social director and waitresses and electricians all knew each other for years. It certainly is not typical of the big glitzy hotels that we put up with when we travel."

The store had no choice but to cancel its traditional Christmas sherry tea, scheduled for Nov. 5. "All we had to do was get out," Johns said. "We didn't even have a sale and our last two days were our biggest ever."

Another Huntington habitue is John Basmajian, who last week came to clean and pay his respects to the eight-foot clock in the hotel lobby that he remembers admiring when his parents brought him to the hotel as a child.

'This Is My Baby'

Now 40 and a specialist in antique clock repair who takes care of the masterpiece in the hotel lobby, Basmajian said, "This is my baby. This is the finest example I've ever seen." It was built in Germany around 1900, he said, and the solid oak cabinet was custom-built to display the clock's moon phases and to contain its pendulum and tubular chimes.

"I've always wanted it," Basmajian said. "Who knows what's going to happen now."

Mary L. Decker came with armloads of her book, "Reflections on Elegance--Pasadena's Huntington Hotel Since 1906," that she wrote with her husband, Donald M. Decker. After the closing was announced, more than 100 copies priced at $7.40 were sold in the hotel gift shop, which was packed with visitors looking for souvenirs.

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