Forget the English trifle. For Marilyn Nielsen, the real dessert on the menu at the "Twelfth Night" party staged by Sherman Library and Gardens in Corona del Mar on Tuesday night was a chance to pop into the library archives. "I love the gardens, but the historical part of the library is my favorite," Marilyn said. "I figure I'm a survivor. My great-grandparents were pioneers who came across the plains in a handcart. My great-grandmother was only 15. Her mother died in childbirth on the way. Sometimes I wonder if I could have been a pioneer. . . ."
Scanning a blowup of a 27-year-old map of the Newport area, Marilyn searched for freeways. "No freeways? No freeways! I repeat, no freeways!" she said, laughing in disbelief.
"Look at this," said husband Tom, vice chairman of the Irvine Co. "Here's an area that was destined to be a garbage dump. Now, it's Big Canyon!"
Joining the Nielsens for a quickie tour of the archives was library director Bill Hendricks, who explained the archives had run out of space. "We receive donations of material from individuals and companies," he said, citing the two pickup trucks "stuffed floor to ceiling and cab to tailgate" that had recently deposited records of the Santa Ana Valley Irrigation Co. at the library. "The company was formed in 1877 and lasted 100 years. Now, there's not much irrigation agriculture going on, so they went out of business and gave us their records.
"The minutes of the company alone made up 102 cartons. We'll go through it all, salvage the parts of historical interest and discard the rest."
Wednesday night's party for the gardens' newly founded Society of Fellows, a support group of annual donors, honored the first step taken to raise money for expansion of the archives. Initial funds donated by by the society will help pay for the $75,000 project. "We're not building more space," Hendricks said. "We're using a system of compact storage in the existing facility. It will expand the area by 247%, the equivalent of two additional floors."
Marilyn compared the procedure to having her wardrobe closet professionally organized. "What a difference!" she said. Hendricks said most storage areas dedicate half their space to aisles. With the new compact system, he said, the archive's aisles would be virtually eliminated and track shelving would make one aisle "open on demand whenever you wanted. The system pushes everything to the right or left of one particular spot." Across a rain-splashed patio from the library, guests dined by candlelight on traditional English fare catered by Rococo (caterers, by the way, for Georgio's of Beverly Hills' New Year's Eve bash). Besides the sherry-laced, fruit-laden trifle, the 100 guests heaped tiny plates with sirloin of beef and chicken pot pie--the hands-down favorite.
"I thought a Twelfth Night party would be perfect for this group," said Lucille Adams, chairman. "It's a time for rejoicing, after all. These people have supported the gardens for years, a garden that epitomizes aesthetic beauty.
"I love to come here during the day, take a little walk around, sit on a bench or lunch. I love the conservatory and its koi fish. When I leave, I feel so refreshed and energized."
Calling it an "absolute gem, a little oasis, a little jungle," Sherman Gardens advisory board chairman Johann Jonas said that only a few years ago the board realized that the garden would be "all gone if we didn't do something to help preserve it. So we decided to assist the gardens' foundation through fund raising."
The gardens' only vehicle for fund support, until the institution of the Society of Fellows, was an annual "Spur and the Rose" benefit. "We had to use the parking lot for that," Jonas said. "Which was just wonderful. We could accommodate 500 people. But now, there's a housing project across the street. A party in the parking lot would be too noisy. So, this year we'll have a benefit within the gardens itself. It will be smaller, more exclusive--only 250 people."
Included on the Society of Fellows guest list were Nora and Charles Hester, Al Adams (Lucille's husband), Richard Jonas (Johann's husband), Berdie and Harry Bubb, JoAnne Rogers, Barbara Steele Williams and Nick Williams, Peggy and Robert Sprague, Linda and Walter Hahne, Margaret Corkett, Nora and Vin Jorgensen, Kay and Robert Segal, Barbara and Tom Davis, Ann and Briantq Wells, Fran and John Applegate, Antoinette Ayers, Gavin Herbert, Darlene and Walter Gerken, Beverly and Richard Elliott, Marion and John Shea and Dottie and Glen Stillwell.