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David Nelson / Society

Del's 'Ball of the Century' Was Just That--and More

February 22, 1988|DAVID NELSON

CORONADO — Jeanne Lawrence said months ago that she and her husband, hotelier M. Larry Lawrence, had resolved not to imitate Janus at the remarkable Centennial Ball on Saturday that celebrated the 100th anniversary of their Hotel del Coronado.

There would be no looking back, Jeanne Lawrence said when she began sketching plans for what would ultimately live up to its billing as "The Unprecedented Ball of the Century."

Her intention was to design an evening that guests at the Bicentennial Ball in 2088 would regard with a keen, certain envy. "I want those people in the future to look back and say, 'They sure knew how to party in the good old days,' " she said.

Thanks to a videotape of the proceedings that was planted in a time capsule Sunday morning, the revelers of the future are likely to drool over the glamorous goings-on of an age that by then may seem quaint and innocently charming. Certainly the stars of the evening, including George Burns, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor and Dionne Warwick, will appear in some future program that will describe them as "popular entertainers of the 20th Century."

Gathering of Stars

The Lawrences gathered more than the stars of the contemporary stage under their many-turreted roofs. There was a whole bouquet of Astors ( the New York family, the one to which "out of town" means Palm Beach, Fla.), as well as many other visitors from across the country. Among leading local socialites attending were Audrey and Ted (Dr. Seuss) Geisel, Marilyn and Kim Fletcher, and Alice and Richard Cramer.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin was there, too, along with Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) and his wife, Gayle; former Democratic Party Chairman Chuck Manatt; legendary dancer Ruby Keeler; celebrity gadabout Army Archerd, and best-selling author Robert Ludlum. Three women of the hour were Heather Metcalf, Patti Mix and Barbara ZoBell, who volunteered to serve as co-chairmen under Jeanne Lawrence and contributed hundreds of hours to the project.

If the collection of names had been the sole criterion of the ball, it would have been an unqualified, smashing success. But the party, designed by Dallas impresario Wendy Moss at a cost that reportedly exceeded $2 million (entirely underwritten by the Lawrences), also raised more than $1.5 million for a roster of local, state and national charities that ranged from the American Red Cross and the Boys Club of San Diego to Children's Hospital, the San Diego Museum of Art and such esoteric organizations as the Foundation for Bears and Dolls (no fooling!).

Three hundred or so couples shelled out $5,000 each to attend not only the Centennial Ball but also a whole weekend of activities, the hook being the opportunity to earmark every penny as a donation to their favorite charity. Thus most of San Diego's health, cultural and charitable organizations were represented at the ball, and many board members found their annual fund-raising obligations fulfilled by their attendance.

Barbara Bry, president of the Children's Museum of San Diego, said inclusion in the ball's list of beneficiaries represented a real step up in the world for her institution--and its finances.

It may as well be recalled, however, that Don Quixote said that facts are the enemy of truth, and the dry details of costs and charitable donations do seem rather inconsequential compared to the sheer, unprecedented and quite possibly inimitable glamour of the evening.

Entrance Charm

It began in an air of disarming quiet, with a cocktail hour in the Garden Court that grew increasingly animated as celebrities such as Glenn Ford, Cesar Romero and Zsa Zsa Gabor strolled in. Attendants at the entryways sprinkled gold confetti over each arriving guest as if it were a magic powder that would assure a memorable evening. The charm worked.

A trumpet fanfare announced the banquet, and a major-domo called the guests in to dinner, by name and two by two, rather as if Noah were catering the meal.

The lofty-ceilinged Crown Room, scene of dinners honoring Charles Lindbergh and the late Duke of Windsor, was a florist's concept of Eden before the apple. Interlocking trellises of greenery, each studded with hundreds upon hundreds of roses, soared above the lengthy banquet tables to form an incredible arbor of flowers. But the real war of the roses took place on the table tops; these were strewn with bushels of pink, crimson and ivory petals, which the more playful guests took up by the handful and tossed at their companions.

The meal was designed to fit the occasion and included a salad that mimicked a formal garden, a truffled soup baked under pastry, a trio of meats in a trio of sauces, and a leafy chocolate fantasy for dessert. Oddly enough, the meal progressed with some speed, as it served primarily to fortify guests for a production called "Centennial Entertainment Spectacular."

Splashy Production

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