SAN DIEGO — Those who argue that the legal profession sometimes has a circus air would have been heartened by Saturday's Blackstone Ball, a three-ring circus of sorts that filled the Exhibit Hall and the Grand and Champagne ballrooms of the Sheraton Harbor Island hotel with about 1,300 attorneys and members of the judiciary and their spouses.
Sponsored by the San Diego County Bar Assn. Auxiliary, the 20th annual ball was called Cirque '90 and was flavored after European-style circuses and the famed Cirque du Soleil. Numerous clowns on the scene mostly came from the California Ballet Company. All-American Bozos, however, were hard to spot because the ballet clowns adopted the costume of the classic French Pierrette.
For most of its history, the Blackstone has provided an opportunity for the local bar and bench to meet, mingle, dance and party. This year's event also served as a fund-raiser for auxiliary projects.
But the ball's primary object is pleasure, said Loretta Foreman, who co-chaired the event with Laura Wicks.
"Our goal is to have fun," she said. "We're not raising money, there's a recession on. But we'll probably make some money along the way, which we'll use for the auxiliary's projects."
Net proceeds were estimated at $40,000 to $50,000. A third of the proceeds will be donated to the Domestic Violence Prevention Program, operated under the auspices of the Volunteer Lawyers Program, said Bar Assn. Auxiliary President Melinda McGlinn. The project has earned several statewide awards, she added. Other programs that receive auxiliary funding include Voices for Children, the Crime Victims Fund and Casa de Amparo.
Attendance at this year's Blackstone was down considerably from recent years, in which it typically attracted about 1,700 guests. Several committee members blamed the date, immediately preceding Thanksgiving, while several blamed the current economic uncertainty. However, County Bar Assn. President Virginia Nelson, who hosted a private pre-ball reception for a list of notables from both the county and state, said the Blackstone still ranks supreme in California.
"When I travel around the state, everyone always is amazed by the attendance and by the support the Blackstone Ball receives," she said. "Most of the other legal functions in California attract only 300 or 400, which makes us by far the largest in the state."
A jazz band composed of attorneys played during the cocktail hour in the exhibit hall, after which guests in the mood for rock 'n' roll adjourned to the grand ballroom and the music of Classic Energy; those dissenting from contemporary music headed to the Champagne ballroom, where Benny Hollman held forth. The circus theme was carried out with decorations in primary colors and floating, clown mask centerpieces suspended from rafts of balloons. The lengthy meal progressed from wild mushroom salad through a roulade of veal and cakes hidden under circus tents of white chocolate.
The guest list included State Bar of California President Charles Vogel; U.S. Magistrate Irma Gonzales and Bob Brewer; Superior Court Judge Arthur Jones and his wife, Polly; Municipal Judge Melinda Lasater and her husband, Mike; Karen and David Nugent; Beverly and George Andreos; Barbara and David Noonan; Debbie Malloy and Edward Chapin; Julie and Patrick O'Connor; Louisa Porter and David Brennan; Helen and Charles Rowe; Cindy and John Seitman; Linda and Carl Poirot, and Carol and Anthony Battaglia.
The committee of Friday's inaugural Stardust Ball engineered an evening stellar in more than one regard.
Given at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla as a benefit for the Mary Birch Women's Hospital at Sharp Memorial Hospital, the event was the first communitywide gala in Sharp's history. That fact alone gave the ball an unusual aspect, since Sharp is perhaps the only local, nonprofit institution of its size to wait until 1990 to throw a major fund-raiser.
But, since everybody's doing it, Sharp got into the act, and with a bang. Chairwoman Muriel Roston got maximum dazzle from the star motif by decorating the Aventine ballroom as a cross between Grauman's Chinese Theatre and the Cocoanut Grove, by arranging for a group of talented youngsters to perform an after-dinner musical review called "A Salute to Stardom," and by offering the guests the opportunity to name one of the thousands of visible but as yet untitled stars visible from the Northern Hemisphere.
The star-crossed in the crowd of 390 grew cross-eyed staring at all the Hollywood-style glitz and glamour, which included an avenue of life-size palms of gold material and flashing constellations in the ballroom.
The backers of most first-time benefits profess modest expectations, but not Roston, who predicted immense net proceeds.