WASHINGTON --The main inaugural ball was set to be held Monday night in a cavernous basement hall of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, where as many as 30,000 guests were expected.
After sponsoring 10 official balls in 2009, the presidential inaugural committee opted for just two this year: one massive party open to the public, and a smaller Commander-in-Chief Ball for military families.
President Obama and the first lady were expected to make appearances at both.
On Monday evening, volunteers and staff hustled across the vast floor of the convention hall preparing for the crowd coming to the main event.
A stage at the center of the room was designed in the style of an elegant ballroom, festooned with the presidential seal.
But other than that, decorations in the hall were minimal. Colored spheres and panels of fabric hung from some of large ceiling ducts. Moving spotlights projected stars on the squat cement pillars.
Tables covered in red and yellow tablecloths held massive bowls filled with pretzels, mixed nuts and bright orange Cheez-Its -- the sole food available for the night. Drinks were plentiful, for a price: $9 for a glass of wine.
In the middle of the hall, a large pen cordoned off dozens of reporters clad in ball gowns and black tie. They were not allowed to leave to talk to guests without an escort.