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Hall at the Bowers Bows Out in Style : Interior Designers Create a Stunning Last Look Before Renovation

June 23, 1988|JAN HOFMANN | Jan Hofmann is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

How do you stage a graceful exit? Stunningly.

Bowers Museum called on the county chapter of the International Society of Interior Designers on Saturday to style a stunning last look at an exhibit hall that will soon be demolished to make way for the museum's $12-million expansion and renovation.

The designers turned the space into movie- and stage-themed vignettes, from "Casablanca" to "Evita" to "Pretty in Pink," to display furnishings, accessories, jewelry, furs and even new cars available for bids during the pre-dinner silent auction.

The "Out of Africa" vignette, for example, included a zebra rug, an antique French telescope, an oil painting of a tiger and a multipurpose vehicle.

A silver BMW--minimum bid $30,500--was the star attraction of the "Pretty in Pink" display.

Other auction items included jewels, including a 1-karat diamond with an opening bid of $4,200, an autographed photo of dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov and fashions ranging from a hand-painted T-shirt to evening wear.

It was a new twist on a traditional theme, the Bowers "La Fiesta" dinner. This year, with the involvement of the designers, the museum's annual major fund-raiser became "La Fiesta . . . A Merging of the Arts," with about $50,000 in proceeds from the $150-per-person event to be divided equally between the museum and the International Society of Interior Designers, according to Judy Fluor-Runels, a chairwoman for the event, along with chairman Ron Sanchez.

The museum's share will go to support its educational and exhibition programs, while the designers' portion will benefit the Orangewood Children's Home and ISID's scholarship fund.

"This will be the last time this particular hall, as it exists, will be used for something like this," Fluor-Runels said. "The ground-breaking has already been held, and the demolition and renovation will begin soon."

But the farewell is a forward-looking one, she said: "We've outgrown the existing space. We need larger exhibit halls, an auditorium, a restaurant. It will be like a rebirth."

Although the soon-to-be-history hall dates back only to 1974, museum director Paul Piazza said: "It doesn't work within the framework of the expansion we're looking at. We'll be tripling, almost quadrupling the size of the institution."

The older part of the museum, built in 1936, will remain intact. "We want to keep that building sort of pristine," he said.

Final arrangements have not been made, but Piazza said the museum plans work with a private developer to replace the hall with a partially commercial structure that will house both museum exhibits and offices. Income from leasing the offices will help support the museum.

"That's becoming a very popular approach because of the difficulty museums have in raising money," said Los Angeles architect Norman Pfeiffer, who is designing the new structure. "Museums are trading in real estate for the security of annual operating funds."

Part of the La Fiesta tradition was unchanged, however. After the auction, the more than 350 guests gathered for dinner al fresco under the towering trees in the museum courtyard.

Between courses and after dinner, guests danced to the music of the Don Savant orchestra.

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