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There Was Lots of Oohing and Aahing at Smithsonian Opener

February 18, 1996|MARY LOU LOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., belongs to all America. Maybe that's why the opening gala at the Los Angeles Convention Center celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Smithsonian was such a thrill. That Los Angeles was chosen for the opening night over 11 other American cities (including San Jose; Houston; Dallas; Kansas City, Mo.; and New York) seemed a wonder to city leaders beset by the local horrors of recent years. That Angelenos were appreciative of being first to house this amazing public exhibition, which continues for six weeks, was obvious.

Nowhere in the Smithsonian catalog is the glorious carousel in the exhibition pictured. It's new--designed from original Denzel carousel animals at the Smithsonian. When the music tinkled and the carousel began to twirl, first-nighters were surprised, delighted and eager to be aboard the inaugural spin.

Forever memorable were Erlenne Sprague, giggling above her painted ostrich, and Marion Jorgensen bobbing sidesaddle on a brilliant horse as Lois Erburu waved.

Though party-goers were allowed two hours for viewing the exhibition before sitting for dinner, this wasn't enough time to see "Discovering, Imagining and Remembering." But, co-chairs Dona Kendall and Eli Broad ordered the trumpet fanfare for dinner with CBS' Dan Rather as host.

There was a welcome by Smithsonian Secretary Michael Heyman, the Smithsonian regent address by Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.), performances by Joe Williams with the Gerald Wiggins Trio and the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra--"Take the A Train" and "American Patrol."

Then came Sweet Honey in the Rock with "Can't Hide Sinner," and a finale by the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts Gospel Choir with everyone joining in "America the Beautiful."

What did first-nighters like best? Buzz Aldrin (the second man on the moon in 1969) chose the spacecraft. Bruce Meyers picked the Tucker automobile. (He is giving a 1932 Ford hot rod to the museum.)

Bonnie Black opted for the Mackay emerald. Agreed her husband, Charles Black, "It's the right size." Anne Nelson said she had already made arrangements to return to the exhibit with her grandchildren.

What made a lot of this possible are four $10-million grants from Discover Card, Intel, MCI and Trans World Airlines and participation by 21 Marketing.

The Smithsonian's 16 museums in Washington and two in New York have provided the treasures--an Edison lightbulb, a Samuel F.B. Morse telegraph, and Alexander Graham Bell's box telephone. There are rare mammoth teeth, minerals, beetles and butterflies, Apollo 14, Mercury Freedom 7 spacecraft and Dorothy's ruby slippers from "The Wizard of Oz."

Also on view: paintings by Thomas Moran, Childe Hassam, Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent; Jacqueline Kennedy's inaugural cape; a circa 1860 Beckley farm wagon; a dog sled; a Comanche war bonnet; a Babe Ruth baseball; and paintings of George and Martha Washington, Robert F. Kennedy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Marian Anderson.

As they left, guests were presented the unused service plates from their tables. Edged in 24-carat gold, the plates were given by Lynda and Stewart Resnick of the Franklin Mint.

*

Memories at Chasen's: Five hundred, elbow-to-elbow, reminisced at Chasen's, celebrating Ronald Reagan's 85th birthday, though the former president, who has Alzheimer's disease, chose not to attend. Nancy Reagan lifted her champagne glass to propose a toast "to my fella, my love, and this is to all of you."

Former President Ford and his wife, Betty, were under the parking lot tent (cocktails were inside, where the restaurant's walls were hung with Reagan photos) along with Gov. Pete Wilson and wife Gayle (in Nancy red), Colin and Alma Powell, Mayor Richard Riordan and Nancy Daly, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and at least eight former ambassadors, many with their wives--Walter Annenberg and wife Lee (England), John Gavin and wife Connie (Mexico), Rock Schnabel (Finland), William Wilson and wife Betty (Vatican), Lester Korn and wife Carolbeth (United Nations), Chic Hecht (Bahamas), Glen Holden and wife Gloria (Jamaica), Charles Price with wife Carol (England also).

In one emotional moment, the Reagans' daughter Patti Davis and her mother embraced and the former first lady stroked her daughter's long dark hair.

In fact, the entire evening was emotion-packed: Lodwrick M. Cook, trustees chairman of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, noted that only four other presidents (John Adams, James Madison, Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman) lived to celebrate their 85th birthday and, "President Reagan is probably the only president to play golf on his 85th birthday."

Merv Griffin led the audience in "God Bless America" and accompanied Johnny Mathis at the piano to "Misty," "It Could Happen to You" and "All the Things You Are Mine."

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