"This is a lovely, friendly way to start the Christmas season," Stanton Avery said. All about him, under twinkly lights in the white tent at the Huntington Art Gallery in San Marino, were the members of the Society of Overseers, seated at round tables for 10.
They had just finished their shrimp with ripe honeydew melon and cheese crisps, enormous chicken pot pies and cappuccino ice cream. Everyone was pleasantly happy. They had danced to Michael Paige's orchestra, and it was time for party chairman Marion Jorgensen to step up and join Huntington's trustees chairman in the Christmas toasts to one and all.
The Huntington Christmas Party has become the tradition of traditions in the city. It started as an annual party in January, 1973, became a Christmas party in December, 1976, and has continued since.
As always, the party had Marion Jorgensen's touch, with assists this year from Betty Wilson, wife of William Wilson, the former Ambassador to the Vatican, and Nancy Call, descendant of Phineas Banning and wife of Richard Call.
The pluses were enormous. First, the party was celebrating the acquisition of the 12th-Century decorated manuscript called "Ambrosiaster." With a price of 90,000 at the auction of the Estelle Doheny collection in London Dec. 2 ($190,000 after commissions), the manuscript returns to Los Angeles.
"And, that's where it belongs," said Sir Daniel Donohue (escorting Loretta Young). He was adamant that he had disagreed with Archbishop Roger Mahony in the diocese's decision to sell the manuscript, so much, he said, that he resigned from the San Fernando Valley Seminary board (after serving 27 years). The Huntington purchase was made possible by a contribution from the Dan Murphy Foundation of Los Angeles. Sir Daniel's late wife, Bernardine, was the daughter of Mrs. Murphy, and he recalled having tea with Mrs. Doheny at her mansion in Chester Place years ago.
Patrick and Patty Doheny were in the crowd. In fact, there were many descendants of early California pioneers. Henry Huntington (the Huntington's founder) was represented by two great-granddaughters--twins Claire McCloud (and her husband, Kimball) of San Marino and Claudia Miller (and her husband, Marshall) of San Antonio, Tex. Claudia, a vice president of Capitol Research Co., visits Los Angeles frequently.
They joined a young table that included Joe and Kate Regan II (he's heading the new under-40 group at the Huntington and she's a Banning, too). Joining them was Pam Clyne, the great-granddaughter of Mark Hopkins, one of the four early California industrialists--the others were Collis Huntington, Leland Stanford and W. W. Crocker--who joined the Central Pacific Railroad with the Union Pacific at Promontory Point in Utah.
Huntington Librarian Daniel Woodward beamed about the manuscript, enlightening guests. Joan and James Caillouette, Arthur and Mary Louise Crowe, Henry and Noorna Eversole, Gordon and Connie Fish, Daniel and Mia Frost, James and Peggy Galbraith were all in the crowd to hear Avery note the Huntington's successes: an endowment drive for $6 million with $7.5 million more in deferred giving, a $45,000 annual budget surplus, the replacement of heavy equipment in the botanical gardens, expansion of the rose garden, a new postdoctoral program with Caltech.
The news, too, was that Robert Wark, curator of art, will be acting head of the institution until mid-February when Martin Ridge takes over, but that the search for a new director, headed by Robert Erburu and Larry Tollenaere, has narrowed from 50 applicants to "a short list."
Collis and Janet Holladay Jr. came from Newport Beach for the party, Betty and Robert Adams from Valley Center. More in the crowd were Lou and Marie Jones, Katy and Freeman Gates, Maria and Alex Mallace, Marie and Malcolm McDuffie, Veva and Kingston McKee, Max and Helen Pegram, Virginia Milner with John Chandler, David and Jennifer Murphy, Nancy and Charles Munger, Ed and Ruth Shannon, Frani and Daniel Ridder, John and Dorrie Poole, Sid and Nancy Petersen, Jean and William French Smith, Jeanne and Russell Smith, David and Joan Traitel, Sally and William Wenzlau, Eileen and Bill Zimmerman, Robert and Joan Banning, Doris Ann Williams, and Phelps and Sharon Witter from Ventura.
GOOD NEWS: The Junior League of Los Angeles reports it will net close to $100,000 on its Los Angeles Antiques Show, which ended this week.
LET IT SNOW: When pretty Linda Blackburn and her husband, Bill, slipped into the International Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton to take a peek at decorations while the crowd was having cocktails at the Juniors of Social Service Auxiliary Candlelight Ball the other evening, they gave themselves away. They came out with snow on their party shoes. "It's OK, it's OK," said Bill. "It's only plastic."