Luminaires Pull Off 'a Coup! a Coup!'

Mexican-style Beef Wellington anyone? Crab-and-avocado-stuffed quesadillas? Grand Marnier-laced bananas with ice cream? Coffee spiked with tequila and kahlua?

Not hungry? Then how about a mariachi serenade? A stroll through gardens blooming with a zillion posies? A trek down a cypress-covered hill to hear the ocean's roar?

These were the choices for guests at "Sunset Fiesta," the premier benefit on Saturday for the Orange County Luminaires, a support group of the Doheny Eye Institute in Los Angeles.

It was an all-out splash for the group's numero uno . "A coup! A coup!" gushed chairwoman Shirley Wilson, surveying the breathtaking grounds of Casa Pacifica in San Clemente, once Richard M. Nixon's Western White House.

Landing the peaceful casa was a coup, all right. In California social circles, the historic site (for starters, Leonid Brezhnev and Henry Kissinger once supped there) is at the top of the Most Desirable Party Sites list.

Gavin Herbert, the CEO of Allergan Pharmaceuticals who owns the glorious digs, is not all that nuts about opening it up to soirees. Naturally, he has concerns about security (only the grounds, pool area and its cabana were available for snooping on Saturday). And, insiders say, Herbert and his lithe wife, Ninetta (who is penning a book about the casa's gardens), are only there on weekends, so they have little time to play party hosts. (The couple didn't attend the Luminaires bash. They were in Boston.)

Shirley Wilson was able to procure the site because she's an old friend of Herbert. "We went to USC together," said Wilson, whose cotton dress was splashed with a life-size image of a flamingo. "And I told him I knew his major interests in life were Ninetta, USC, the Doheny Eye Institute (located on the USC campus) and Allergan. And, since we support the institute, could we please hold a fiesta at Casa Pacifica?"

Herbert said " si " in seconds.

"Of course, it probably helped that he and Ninetta had just visited our home in Cabo San Lucas," said Wilson, a resident of Newport Beach.

The goals of the Luminaires, said president Lois Hayward, "are education and fund-raising for the institute's research and development."

But what makes the group unique is that it is composed mostly of "retired doers," Wilson noted. "Women who've made their mark in community service and who now want to have fun while they fund-raise. And, many of our members have daughters who are members. We're hoping the daughters will help carry the ball."

The group, founded in 1987, has had meetings at such lovely sites as Sherman Gardens, the Pacific Club and the Newport Harbor Yacht Club.

"Our meetings have an educational emphasis, " said Gingerlee Field, the group's founding president. "A speaker from the institute attends each one, and we learn about vision and about the complications that can occur as we age."

After a margarita reception, guests settled down at tables topped with fuchsia-pink cloths and dined on taco salad and chicken enchiladas. On view: whirling folklorico dancers.

And while the colorful entertainment got the lion's share of oohs and ahs from guests, the pool decor was a hot topic, too.

Pool decor? But, of course. Flower-laden sombreros drifted in the turquoise water, a decorating idea of Bobbie Galpin, a member of the Los Angeles chapter of the Luminaires.

"I'd seen the sombreros done that way at another party, and I loved them," said Galpin, who lives in San Marino. "Our member Eleanor Brown's husband (Grover) spent the entire day in the pool arranging fishing weights to hold them down!"

Proceeds from the $125-per-person affair were estimated at more than $40,000. The Herberts and Judie and George Argyros were honorary co-chairmen.

Also on the committee: Pamela Emery, Wendy Bowie, Bobbie Grant, Audrey Grundy and CindaHoeven.

At the center of things: Items ranging from a patch of parquet and a ratchet chair a la the reign of Louis XIII were on view at the Center for the Study of Decorative Arts in San Juan Capistrano on Saturday night.

The occasion? The kickoff of the center's "Reign of William and Mary Exhibit," which continues through Oct. 14.

"This year marks the tercentenary of William and Mary coming to the English throne," said center director Gep Durenberger at the exhibit's kickoff party. "The Smithsonian Institution did the only important show honoring it. The queen of England loaned her famous 17th-Century silver furniture and they pulled out the stops.

"When we learned nobody was doing anything on the West Coast, we thought we ought to."

Gallery One, Durenberger explained, contained pieces that preceded the era of William and Mary. "The wood was simple, no fancy carving," said Durenberger, pointing out the ratchet chair. "And the upholstery had started to become attached. Before, cushions had simply been placed on board seats.

"Also, little iron posts pulled out from the arms so you could set a tray there. If someone was an invalid, you could adjust the chair (via the ratchets) so he could rest." Under the chair was a section of the type of parquet used at Versailles "after Louis XIII took out his marble," Durenberger said. "The marble was heavy and Versailles was sinking, so he had to take it out."

Jon Jahr, exhibit chairman, called the show "a wonderful opportunity to learn about the beginning of modern decorative arts."

Also on view: a period garden designed by James Yoch, author of "Landscaping the American Dream."

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