SAN DIEGO — A beaming Patti Mix stood in the doorway of the Casa de Balboa Sunday night, passing out smiles and greetings to some of the early-arriving guests at the gala preview that opened the San Diego Historical Society's fourth annual "Celebrate the Holidays" extravaganza.
"We're ready for you," she teased one of the first guests to cross the threshold into the Balboa Park hall. "We just put the last broom away."
And indeed, the massive hall did look as neat as a pin, or at least as tidy as itcould be considering that it had been stuffed to the rafters with Christmas decorations styled by 39 ambitious teams of interior decorators.
Patti, her co-chairman Carolyn Waggoner, and their sizable committee will have to take up their brooms again on Dec. 8, however. That is the date that "Celebrate," which is open to the public daily beginning Friday, will jingle its merry bells for the last time. Among the things they will be sweeping up will be piles of pine needles shed by the dozens of trees spaced around the exhibit, along with hundreds of ornaments, and ribbon and bunting enough to wrap this future home of the Museum of San Diego History into one very bright Christmas package.
"Celebrate the Holidays" began in 1982 as a one-of-a-kind toast to the season, as interpreted through the eyes of both San Diego and out-of-town decorators. The concept is simple, the execution painstaking: Designers pair off with international and local notables to design room settings (they like to call them "vignettes") that reflect the celebrities' tastes, personalities and histories. These vignettes mostly are fantasies, albeit very livable ones, that reflect the holidays more as it might be nice to have them, than as most people actually celebrate them.
Perhaps the best example of the vignettes' style would be the scene designed by Buss, Silvers, Hughes and Associates for former astronaut Chuck Yeager, which showed the celebrated pilot bursting into 1986 at the controls of a champagne-powered jet. Very nice, and very fun--but not necessarily practical.
Most of the vignettes aimed for elegance, and many made statements about their patrons; the room designed by Cannell & Chaffin for classicist Marianne McDonald, for example, incorporated references to her studies in ancient literature. Jacque Powell's ritzy "Getting in the Mood" vignette, designed for her by Richard Kaleh and Associates, even included a live participant, a pianist who politely played whatever strains Bill Green's combo was performing on the other side of the hall.
Since the idea of all this really is just to have fun (and to raise money, of course, for the Museum of San Diego History, which is scheduled to open next summer), the committee had little trouble attracting a sell-out crowd of 550 to the formal, black-tie preview. Carolyn Waggoner said that 200 ticket requests had to be refused.
The fortunate 550 who mailed their checks early seemed happy that they had. Most arrived during a fortuitous lull in the storm that drenched the county Sunday (over the last three years, rain and "Celebrate the Holidays" have been regularly paired), and rushed in to find a warm welcome in the holiday sights and smells that greeted them.
Preview party chairman Heather Metcalf, perhaps fearful that her seasonal goose would be cooked if she failed to offer something in the way of Thanksgiving fare, made sure that the Somerset Catering Co.'s menu included plenty of roast turkey. But there was much more than that--guests agreed that it was the best party food any had seen in quite some time--including a chill-banishing chicken curry, roast pork dressed with a dilled mustard sauce, and a dessert table that left everyone threatening to rush home and dust off their Christmas baking books.
All this spirited gobbling took place in a Wonderland that included scenes designed for such well-known patrons as Jimmy Stewart, Sophia Loren, Carol Burnett, the Chargers' Eric Sievers, and Tijuana socialites Afife and Sirak Baloyan. Thus Hollywood stars were on the program, but the only thespian to attend was actress Yvonne DeCarlo, who snipped the ribbon leading to the holiday boutique operated by Beverly Hills' Christmas Fantasy Ltd., the shop that caters to the wildest whims of the most wildly extravagant.
Christmas Fantasy Ltd. also contributed "Celebrate's" centerpiece vignette, a terra cotta creche by Sicilian artist Elisa Messina. The Nativity scene includes 68 figures, garbed and poised as Messina imagines they might actually have been, as opposed to the modern interpretations that she finds antiseptic, and unfaithful to history. The one-of-a-kind collection has been appraised at a modest $550,000.