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David Nelson / Society

Break With Past at Benefit Gets the Ball Rolling

March 06, 1986|DAVID NELSON

CORONADO — At Friday's Charity Ball, tradition crashed as loudly as an idol hurled down from an ivory altar.

And that's saying a mouthful, considering that the Charity Ball is San Diego's most traditional gala, as well as the oldest (1986 marks the 77th anniversary of the premiere event).

Tradition always has dictated that the first dance of the evening be to "The Blue Danube," a ritual celebrated so unfailingly that the annual repetitions of this waltz have become like a river of melody flowing through time, linking the scores of Charity Balls and the generations of families that have attended them.

But the party opened on a more contemporary rhythm this year because, according to a committee member, "The Blue Danube" did not happen to be part of the repertoire of Les Brown and His Band of Renown. So much for tradition. It should be said, though, that few enough guests seemed to notice the omission--most were far too busy hoofing it to the Big Band beat for which Brown originally earned his renown.

Otherwise, the ball sailed smoothly on the course that was mapped out for it long ago, and one that seems to have been altered little over the years.

As always, the party sold out weeks in advance, attracting 1,250 guests to the main event in the Hotel del Coronado Grande Ballroom, and 300 more to a downstairs do given in the International Ballroom for the younger set. The International Ballroom party, a recent revival of a favorite but temporarily discarded custom, featured dinner and rocking to the Mar Dels, and proved so lively that members of the more mature set repeatedly sneaked downstairs to join in the action.

Grande Ballroom patrons converged on the scene from points all over town at 9 p.m., the hour at which the ball always starts. Several hundred had merely to walk over from the Crown Room, where a formal dinner was served amid much splendor, and from which the guests were led Pied Piper-like in a grand promenade by the Cameron Highlanders, a bagpipe and drum corps uniformed in full Scottish regalia.

Guests marched into the ballroom under a pastel arch painted with the words "Spirit of San Diego," the theme chosen by ball chairman Patricia Fink. It was a decidedly trend-setting, modernistic theme, one carried out in stage decorations that captured the cityscape at sunset and in high-tech floral arrangements. Fink said the choice of theme had not been an easy one to make.

"After wracking my brain for endless nights," she said, "the 'Spirit of San Diego' seemed just right. It fits in perfectly with the revitalization of downtown and everything that's going on there."

While Fink chose the theme, the beneficiary, Children's Hospital and Health Center, was chosen decades ago by those party patrons and their ancestors who founded the hospital. The institution is never far from the ballgoers' collective consciousness, and is periodically recalled by such traditions as the formal welcome offered by the hospital's chairman. This year, as last, that task fell to Morley R. Golden; among other hospital dignitaries in attendance were Vice Chairman Bob Adelizzi and President Blair Sadler.

Although exact figures were not in, the event was expected to raise more than last year's $175,000.

Despite the contemporary mood, the ball retained one delightful anachronism without which it simply would not be the Charity Ball. This was the provision of "boxes" for longtime patrons, many of whom inherited the privilege from their parents and grandparents. A box simply is several rows of chairs placed alongside a narrow table that stretches back from the edge of the dance floor, but having one beats being seated at a regular table by a mile, and testifies to the length of time that one's family has been associated with the city and the ball.

To have a box may be regarded as a right, but to be asked to join one is a treat that is rarely refused. One of the newer couples in town to receive such an invitation were San Diego Chargers chief Alex Spanos and his wife, Faye, who included Children's Hospital in the last version of their famed "Evening of Elegance." This storied bash, held biannually in San Francisco, raises major sums for health care, and Children's share of the October '85 take reportedly was a cool $250,000. According to a hospital official, the Spanoses plan to give the next "Evening of Elegance" in San Diego.

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