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November 08, 1987|JEFFREY RABIN

Poor Torrance. Instead of birthday balloon rides, all it got was hot air.

And, at least for now, two of the South Bay's most prominent corporate citizens--Toyota Inc. and Marriott Corp.--have been left holding the bag.

The city invited both companies to join in celebrating Torrance's 75th anniversary by paying $1,000 apiece to rent hot-air balloons for a day.

But the huge balloons, caught in an unseasonably early rainstorm, never made it from their base in Palm Desert to the city's Oct. 24 birthday bash.

That quirk of fate left a lot of red faces at Torrance City Hall.

"I'm in an embarrassing spot," said Mayor Katy Geissert, who urged the companies to underwrite the cost of the balloons. "I think we've got a moral obligation to try to recover the money that Marriott and Toyota paid. We suggested that they might like to participate."

The matter has been referred to the city attorney.

Since their investment in civic pride never got off the ground, both companies want their money back.

"We were called and asked if we wanted to participate in the 75th anniversary of the city of Torrance," said John Donald, general manager of the Torrance Marriott Hotel. "We decided we would participate. We were told they had made arrangements with a balloon company in Palm Springs."

"At this point," Donald said, "we are trying to get our money back."

Ditto for Toyota.

The balloonist, Bill Henry, owner of Moonshadows Balloons of Palm Desert, said he would contact Torrance officials and try to work out a compromise to cover his costs.

Henry described the situation as "very frustrating all the way around." Although "the chance of getting rained out in Torrance is remote," he said, "I don't control nature."

The veteran balloonist said the balloons were soaked in a rainstorm while being trucked to the South Bay and took days to dry out. Huge nylon banners advertising Toyota and Marriott had been prepared but were never used.

"Nobody set out to make a fast buck," Henry said. "I'm very disappointed that I'm getting heat on this."

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