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Del Bash Was One Wild Wow of a Weekend

February 25, 1988|David Nelson

CORONADO — You've probably heard that in Xanadu did Kublai Khan a pleasure dome decree.

William Randolph Hearst made the same effort when he erected San Simeon.

The truth, though, is that both of these dudes lacked vision, as the 2,000 souls who trekked to the Hotel del Coronado over the weekend discovered to their general stupefaction--and delight.

Hotelier Larry Lawrence grew up in the neighborhood of Chicago's famed, if sadly defunct, Riverview amusement park. To mark the 100th anniversary of the Del, Lawrence and his wife, Jeanne, transformed their historic hostelry into an outsized fun house that stretched the limits of the imagination and carried their guests on a crazy voyage through time.

Unlike Xanadu or San Simeon, though, most of the atmospheric details arrived on eight tractor-trailer rigs sent from the Dallas workshops of party planner Wendy Moss, who was hired by Jeanne Lawrence to bring a once-in-a-lifetime pizazz to the event. Moss in turn imported a crew of 200 set designers, technicians, floral experts and others to toil alongside the 1,400 hotel employees supervised by Del Centennial program manager Patty Anderson.

Looking back at what can only be described as one wild wow of a weekend--and a truly exhausting whirl of fun, if truth be told--it is hard to believe that so many different events and entertainments took place. The grand Centennial Ball given Saturday saw 700 guests entertained by almost dozens of stars, and the Sunday noon closing ceremonies included the burial of a time capsule (to be opened at the Del Bicentennial), a Navy jet fly-by, parachutists trailing colored smoke as they floated to earth, and a lavish brunch.

But probably the most exciting, wildly fun and simply different event was the Friday extravaganza that ushered in the weekend.

Called "An Extraordinary Journey through 100 Years" and held on the anniversary of the day the hotel opened, it noted the difference between the centuries by conveying attendees through a decathlon of decades. Seven separate but related parties re-enacted various eras in the hotel's history, and this supercalifragilistic concatenation of entertainments and general merriment had rather more to offer than any but the most unreasonably greedy party-goer could have anticipated. One veteran of San Diego's gala circuit may have defined the evening when she said, "I hope I live long enough to attend one more party like this one!"

The weekend, completely underwritten by the Lawrences, raised more than $1.5 million for a host of local, state and national charities. (The charities in most cases were named by the guests themselves, especially by the some 300 couples who paid $5,000 each to attend the entire weekend. All monies collected went directly to charity, with many checks mailed in advance of the gala.)

According to Moss and Anderson, such acts as transforming the Crown Room into a leafy Garden of Eden, the International Room into a re-creation of New York's famed El Morocco, the Grand Ballroom into yet another nightclub, and other spaces into spectacular party sites was far from easy. But both said their crews whistled while they worked.

"We did our work with a happy and joyous attitude. The celebration just took hold of everybody and flew off with them," said Moss in the aftermath of the weekend. "It was magic; it was magic ."

Anderson echoed Moss' remarks. "We all feel very good about this," she said. "The staff worked very, very hard, but I think that they enjoyed and appreciated the weekend every bit as much as the guests."

Starting Monday, Feb. 15, crews went on a 24-hour schedule that continued until the last of more than 20,000 roses had been set in place for Saturday's formal banquet. Then, at 10 p.m. Sunday, the workers returned and had largely removed all the sets and decorations by mid-morning Monday. Anderson said the Crown Room was open for lunch that day and that the hotel was fully operational by 6 p.m.

The scene looked effortlessly perfect when the guests arrived for Friday's journey through time. It was, as many a guest remarked, rather more than the senses could satisfactorily absorb in one evening. The hotel had been effectively transformed into a time machine, beginning with the tented Garden Patio, which housed the 105-year-old Dejan's Olympia Jazz Band from New Orleans, a vaudeville troupe, and storefronts serving up an almost unimaginable array of food and drink. There was even a Hotel del Coronado carved in cheddar cheese.

"Road maps" issued to guests led next to the "Emerald City," known in normal times as the Windsor Room but for the nonce redecorated in honor of the "Wizard of Oz" characters created by L. Frank Baum, who reportedly modeled his jeweled city on the Del's turrets and gingerbread architecture. The stars of the scene were two surviving Munchkins from the 1939 film version of the book, Billy Curtis, who played the mayor of Munchkin Land, and Jerry Maren, a member of the memorable Lollipop Guild.

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