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Inauguration Balls Run in His Family

In case you’re harboring doubts as to the progress of civilized life and demeanor in these fair United States, consider the following account chronicling Lincoln’s second inaugural 120 years ago:

“The banquet ordered for the Ball was not on the magnificent scale of four years earlier . . . . Tables holding 300 at a sitting were lavishly stocked with beef, veal, game, poultry, smoked meats, oysters, terrapins, salads, jellies, ices , tarts, cakes, fruits, nuts, coffee and chocolate. A sugar model of the Capitol . . . was much admired until it began to dissolve on its pedestal in the shambles that ensued.

“Instead of going to the tables in sequence, the crowd literally charged at the refreshments, wolfing down food, carrying off legs of lamb to be eaten in alcoves . . . Glasses were smashed. The marble floor was littered with pulp and debris. The hilarity grew as the night wore on, and some of the inebriates lay down to sleep it off. Laces and silks were torn in the free-for-all . . . . “

The above excerpt is from Ishbel Ross’ “The President’s Wife” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, N.Y.). One may be reasonably certain that attendees at inaugural galas this weekend will comport themselves more judiciously.

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While the banquet described above evidently failed to achieve “the magnificent scale of four years earlier,” of interest nevertheless is the name of the caterer: G.A. Balzer, Confectioner.

“The amusing thing is that Mr. Lincoln’s name doesn’t appear anywhere on the official Bill of Fare,” pointed out syndicated wine and food writer and Tustin resident Robert Lawrence Balzer. “It just says ‘Presidential Inauguration Ball.’ But my great-grandfather was very shrewd--he got his name in there.”

And G.A. Balzer continues to wield his influence: Thirty-five years ago, his great-grandson first met Ronald Reagan when he was called in to Universal Studios as a consultant for a film starring Reagan and Piper Laurie; the pair met again 20 years later, again at Universal, when then-Gov. Reagan was invited to crown the Wine Queen of California.

“I took along a picture taken of us from our first meeting and asked him to autograph it, which he did,” recalled Balzer, now 72. “He turned to the audience and said, ‘I would like to introduce my friend, Robert Lawrence Balzer, the (late noted French wine authority) Andre Simon of the California wine industry.’ Reagan’s always been very high on California wines, you understand.

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“Then when the (first Reagan) inaugural came along, I was alerted by Warren Spangle, who was in charge of all the catering, that the President-elect wanted me involved because my great-grandfather had catered Lincoln’s second inaugural.”

Reagan named Balzer chairman of wine selection for Taste of America, the official food station of the inaugural celebrations.

“Of course, I ended up doing the food, too,” said Balzer. “The bottom line is that after 13 years being the sole arbiter of the annual restaurant awards for Travel/Holiday magazine, I know all the restaurants in North America, all the owners and everything.”

For the second Taste of America, which opens its doors on the lower level of the Convention Center in Washington Friday, Balzer will officially serve as chairman of wine and food selection.

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At the entrance of the hall will be a replica of the entrance of the White House; G.A. Balzer’s Capitol cake, which had a white marzipan dome eight feet tall, will be reproduced inside.

Forty restaurants and 32 wineries from around the nation will set up booths in order to feed attendees at the nightly presidential, vice presidential and senatorial galas (which will take place upstairs at the Convention Center) and, daily through Sunday, up to 4,000 invitees to other inaugural activities. (A special delegation of 1,500 Eagles, Republicans who have contributed $10,000 or more to the party, will also visit Taste of America.)

Three Orange County restaurants will be represented: Chanteclair of Irvine, Andreino’s of San Clemente and the Back Bay Rowing and Running Club of Costa Mesa.

“Taste of America is an expensive endeavor for the restaurants,” noted Balzer, “so I had to think in terms of those establishments that could afford it.

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“They’re coming on their own nickel--flying at their own expense, contributing their food, their time and their talent. They’ve got hotel bills, they decorate and trim the booths to suggest the restaurant . . . . It can cost them as much as $35,000, particularly if they’re flying out from the West Coast.”

The Iowa-born Balzer has lived in California since the age of 7, in Orange County for the last 18 years.

“On my paternal side the Balzers have all been involved with food,” he said. “Great-grandfather was the confectioner, of course, grandfather was involved with coffee, tea and spices. Father was going to carry on, also, but my maternal grandfather wouldn’t let him marry my mother unless he ‘settled down.’ He opened a store for the carriage trade in Des Moines.”

Among county residents going to Washington for the galas are state Sen. John Seymour of Anaheim; Supervisor Harriett Wieder and her husband, Irv, of Huntington Beach; Supervisor and Mrs. Bruce Nestande (the supervisor is California inaugural coordinator) of Orange and Mr. and Mrs. Joseph La Roche III (staff assistant to the coordinator) of Anaheim.

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Also planning to attend are Assemblyman John. R. Lewis of Orange; Ted Lundberg and wife Lois, who is former county Republican Party chairman, of La Habra, and George Mousel and his wife, Charlotte, the regional vice chairman of the National Federation of Republican Women. The couple live in Tustin.

Business and community leaders include Mr. and Mrs. George Argyros, Mr. Ralph Clock, Mr. and Mrs. Don Koll, Mr. Roger Luby, Gen. and Mrs. William Lyon, Mr. and Mrs. Glen Stillwell and Mr. and Mrs. Tony Vitti, all of Newport Beach, and Mr. and Mrs. Harry Rinker of Santa Ana.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch . . .

Monday night at the Westin South Coast Plaza Hotel, the Republican Party of Orange County, and newly appointed chairman Tom Fuentes, will host an open-to-the-public inaugural celebration from 6 to 10 p.m.

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More than 6,000 attended the event four years ago in the Disneyland Hotel.

Senior members of the party will celebrate in the Grand Ballroom; entertainment coordinator Jan Knowlton has arranged for such ethnically diverse acts as the Nicholson Pipes and Drums, the Myra Brennan Irish Step Dancers, Los Rayaitos de Norte Banjo Orchestra, the Sons of Norway Singers, the Sugarfoot Stompers, the Polish Step Dancers and the Vietnam Zither and Drum Dancers.

High school and college-age Republican youth will have a party of their own in the Mesa Verde Room; disco music will be featured.

Festivities from the Capitol will be shown on big-screen TV. Supervisor Nestande and county party vice chairpersons Dennis Catron and Coanne Cubete will phone the hotel periodically with on-the-spot reports.

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Many area hotels have donated weekend stays as door prizes.

The event’s coordinator is Joleen Fuentes (wife of Tom); Marti Zajac and Greg Haskins are co-chairing the youth event.


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