Montage Resort & Spa brightened the start of the holiday season this year with its first-ever tree lighting, the grand finale to an evening of cheer and goodwill.
An estimated 1,300 revelers enjoyed the resort's hospitality, which culminated in the lighting of the tree at 6:30 p.m., and applauded its generous early holiday gift to the Laguna Relief and Resource Center.
A $5,000 check was presented to center representatives Faye Chapman and Don Campbell, honoring the contributions of the Hearts of Montage, a volunteer group of employees which has raised money for local for non-profits almost since the resort opened.
"We have raised $1,379,000 since September of 2003," said Chris Loidolt, Hearts member and manager of the Montage Business Center. "Our first event was coastal cleanup seven months after Montage opened and we have done quarterly cleanups of Treasure Island since then."
Twice every year the group donates food and clothing the resource center and adopts a family for the holidays.
"I was completely surprised by the donation on Monday," a beaming Chapman said.
Over the years, the Hearts have donated funds to the Susi Q, SchoolPower, the Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach, the Laguna Beach Clinic, the Friends of the Library, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center and the Ocean Institute to pay for visits by El Morro Elementary School students and Boys and Girls Club members. Grants have been awarded to Clean Water Now!, Crystal Cove Alliance and Friendship Shelter.
Other Hearts activities include 21 blood drives, at which were collected 816 pints of blood, enough for 2,448 transfusions.
The Hearts have participated in the Race for the Cure and AIDs Walks
Hearts Board members on hand for the presentation of the check to Chapman and Campbell included Mary Church, Ben Pearson, Joyce Logan, Patty Burns, Casey Witherspoon, Julie McCue, Carol Leenerts (who is also on the Laguna Beach Visitors Bureau board). Lyndsay Lynch, Jane Lledo, Nick Guzzetta and Loidolt.
"We are passionate about serving the community," Loidolt said.
The group was introduced by hotel general manager Todd Orlick, who took over as master of ceremonies after Montage Hotels and Resorts Vice President James Bermingham welcomed the crowd.
And they, along with Chapman and Campbell were given the honor of pushing the Easy button that lighted the tree.
Orlick also paid tribute to the staff planners of the resort's inaugural event, coordinated by catering director Jaime Puffer.
"It will be an annual event," Loidolt said.
The event began at 4:30 p.m. An army of hotel employees valet parked cars, handed out maps of specific activities in the hotel and on the grounds and served tidbits and non-alcoholic tipples.
"It was all hands on deck," Loidolt said.
Guests for the celebration were directed to the Loft restaurant where they were greeted in the alcove by carolers and offered hors d'ouvres, pumpkin soup, sparkling cider and the opportunity to win a dinner for two.
The alcove also featured a gingerbread model of the new Montage Deer Valley resort and chances to win a three night stay.
Locals Ron Kauffman, John Hoover and Nicole DuPree were among the early arrivals
Dupree was joined on the Loft balcony by her brother Michael and Connie Saitta, visiting from St. Louis.
"I walk around here all the time," Du Pree said. "So I brought them here when they first arrived and they have been back several times since."
Diane and Dave Connell were among those who gathered around the pool in back of the Pacific Lawn, where the Christmas tree lighting was held. Theyy came straight to the event from a Cub Scout meeting where they had been invited to teach the kids the right way to pledge their allegiance to the flag and what it actually meant.
"It was wonderful and we came here to celebrate," she said.
Savory food stations, mulled special spiced cider and special chef demonstrations were offered at the Studio and the opportunity to win a dinner for two.
Don Komarous snacked on miniature fish tacos, spicy enough to make his eyes water.
On the Ocean Lawn Santa Claus hosted children who wanted their picture taken with Jolly Old Elf. The Paint Box was the place for kids to create holiday crafts.
Hot chocolate and homemade cookies were served at the Mosaic Bar and Grille, which overlooked the tree. Friends of the Library President Martha Lydick and her visiting son, Chip, formerly with the Surf & Sand catering department and now working in the hospitality industry in Las Vegas, opted for hot clam hhowder and civiche while enjoying a perfect sunset view of Catalina and the outdoor heaters.
She was looking forward to the next day when they were going to get up close and personal with Zenyatta, the horse horse-lover Lydick adores.
"I am going to have my picture taken with her breath on my cheek," Lydick said.
She may never wash her face again.
Massages at Spa Montage warmed and softened hands chilled by the cold weather. A seasonal juice blend, product giveaways and chances on a Surrender gift basket warmed hearts.
Celebrity colorist Kim Vo showcased his haute holiday styles and trends in the hotel salon named for him. Visitors could submit entries to win a complimentary cut and color.
Staff personal shoppers were on hand to assist browsers while they sipped apple cider and entered to win a Montage gift basket.
Personal shoppers were also on hand in the shops on the front drive where a Lugano Diamonds trunk show was held.
Throughout the evening, Steve Siu performed on the piano in the lobby. David Allen Baker played the guitar and sang on the Pacific Lawn after the tree was lighted.
A much appreciated gesture was the coffee station set up for the crowd waiting in line to retrieve their vehicles.
"I was really pleased to see the Montage reach out to the community," said Jim Lawson, general manager of Laguna Terrace Park, which overlooks the Montage and Treasure Island Park.
Lawson attended the event with his wife, Felesia, son and daughter, both students at El Morro.
"Shane declared the Montage 'awesome,'" Lawson said.
The Lawsons hung out with other El Morro students and their parents at the event:
Don and Tina Cole, their twins, Emmiand Olivia and son, Jett; Kimberly Cord with Zachary and Remington; Bill and Kerry Nugent and their daughters Ariana and Kendra; Andy Blum with daughters Brooke and Harper.
Also in attendance: Mayor Pro Tem Toni Iseman, Sandi Cain and Craig Dussenberry, Tom and Rene Hitzel of Three Arch Bay, Nancy and Realtor Bill Wedmore and Cici Olson.
OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Write to Barbara Diamond, P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, 92652; call (949) 380-4321 or email firstname.lastname@example.org