Having a Ball at Museum for Art’s Sake


Was there something instructively deconstructivist about the construction scenes erected Saturday at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art?

Perhaps. Then again, the whole idea of throwing up scaffolding in the museum forecourt and placing gilded wrecking balls on the dinner tables at “Raise the Roof,” the fifteenth annual Monte Carlo Ball, may have been just another example of the gladsome giddiness that typically makes Monte Carlo the most ineluctably frothy of summer frolics.

Some parties offer strolling violinists. This one featured wandering construction workers (or young men and women costumed as such, at any rate) to emphasize that in a matter of months, real construction workers will rip into the 50-year-old museum’s walls for a major expansion designed by architect Robert Venturi. Some of the 500 guests seemed at least momentarily bemused by the presence of the casually clad extras, although most seemed absolutely delighted by the crew, perched in the scaffolding in the lobby, that cheerfully whistled and shouted catcalls as guests passed through to the casino rooms.


Like its sister on the La Jolla calendar, the Jewel Ball, A Night in Monte Carlo seems as much a state of mind or fantasy as it does an actual event; the effect is produced partly through anticipation, partly through the practice of stripping the museum of its artworks and redecorating to suit the theme, and partly through the imagination that many guests bring to their costumes. Socialite Barbara ZoBell, who annually wins the unofficial poll as most strikingly dressed, managed to set the tone again by topping her short gown with a bustier that featured a pair of beady, beaded eyes. Eye-catching to say the least, ZoBell explained that her dress had an attitude of sorts: “It looks forward to the next 50 years of the museum,” she said. Kelly Cole, manager of the Neiman Marcus department store, also received applause for his interpretation of hard-hat chic, carried out by the gold and silver screws and nuts sewn on his dinner jacket. A guest watching the ferocious appraisal of glad rags that raged on all sides observed, “This is the only party at which people come up and attack and handle one another’s clothes. If you can only dress for one party a year, you dress for Monte Carlo.”

Committee member Judith Harris described the scene staged by event designer Craig Keenan as “witty,” a fair appraisal that took in the blueprints wrapped around pillars, the construction site-type “roach coach” that doubled as a bar, the life-sized cutouts of construction workers set up throughout the party areas, the gilded hard hats that framed the entrance to the rest rooms (unusual, but hard to miss) and the crazy table settings, which included huge rusty nails placed among the forks and concrete blocks sprouting rolled blueprints in place of the posies typically anticipated on ballroom tables. As always, the dinner was given on the museum’s parking lot, carpeted and tented for the evening and laid out with an immense dance floor in front of the stage from which the Bill Green Orchestra offered its best efforts of the year.

The music and entertainment continued in several areas, including the cocktail jazz offered by Columbus--situated on the roof at the museum entrance--and the quieter dance music of the Variations, set up in the “Blues-Print Lounge” in one of the galleries. The other galleries, as always, were taken up by roulette, black jack and other gaming tables; those guests who finished in the chips could cash them in for chances on a variety of prizes. The Sheraton Harbor Island hotel catered Audrey Geisel and Martha Culbertson’s menu of “salmon diamonds” and filet de boeuf aux champignons sauvages , and a remarkably elaborate dessert buffet of numerous cakes, crepes and pastries.

“We’ve gone through the roof with ‘Raise the Roof,”’ said party chair Betty DeBakcsy, who organized a powerhouse committee that included three co-chairwomen, Jean Hahn, Kathy Pardee and Joanne Warren. “I wanted people to feel like they were in a glamorous, clamorous construction site, and it’s nice to see tonight happening happy . It’s a happy look.” As a sort of chorus to DeBakcsy, another guest noted, “You can feel it happening. This Monte Carlo is a hit.” Net earnings were expected to exceed $100,000.

Museum director Hugh Davies said that the next two Monte Carlo Balls perforce will be held off-premises. “But the ’94 Monte Carlo will be given in a Robert Venturi-desinged space that will be a glorious space for parties,” he added, a promise that means something for a museum whose supporters takes their fun seriously.

Guests included David Copley, in a first public outing since heart surgery earlier this summer; Alex Szekely and his mother, Deborah Szekely; Luba Johnston, in a cloud of pink feathers; Susan Kazmarek and former Baja California Gov. Roberto de la Madrid; Jane and Joe Baker; Barbara and Charles Arledge; Jeanne Jones with Don Breitenberg; Rea Axline; Ann and Charlie Jones; Sue and Charles Edwards; Linda and Ron Bird; Jeanne and Bill Larson; Colette and Ivor Royston; Susie and Rob Lankford; Liz and Chris McCullah; Christine and Russell Forester; Anne and Sam Armstrong; Karen and Donald Cohn, Helene and Ed Muzzy, and Sophie and Arthur Brody.

DEL MAR--Such was the effect of the new Pacific Classic race run at the Del Mar track Saturday that the Pacific Classic Gala, given the previous evening in the track’s new Satellite Wagering Facility, attracted a crowd of 860, more than double the size of the attendance party chairs Ann Allred and Barbara Harper had hoped to draw. As a result, the pair expect the benefit to bring in some $150,000 for the San Dieguito Boys and Girls Club. The guest list included many trainers, jockeys and owners, most notably Del Mar track board chair John Mabee and his wife, Betty--their horse, Best Pal, captured the crown in Saturday’s million dollar-purse Pacific Classic.

The attendance was so immense (“We’re growing up here in North County, aren’t we?,” noted Allred) that guests in one room watched the action on television monitors as comedian and actor Tim Conway warmed up the audience for a live, lively auction that included a night at the Academy Awards and seats at the 1992 Kentucky Derby.

Boys and Girls Club director Doug Hall said that the proceeds would be used to retire the club deficit and to fund programs for handicapped youngsters. “We have 5,000 kids using our four locations, and one of our main thrusts is the delinquency prevention program,” he said, adding that in 1980 the California Youth Authority named this program the best of its kind in the state. “We give kids a place to go in the afternoons and evenings, an alternative to just hanging out.”

Barbara Harper, whose husband Joseph is track President, said that the gala was planned as part of the week of events leading up to the new race, and that a similar gala will be held every year, although there may be a new beneficiary each year. “A lot of people might be upset if we didn’t rotate the charities,” she said.

“This is a great way to kick off a super building,” added Joseph Harper. “This race couldn’t have come up any better if we’d written a script for it. We’ve got the best of the best running, and undoubtedly the horse of the year will be in the Pacific Classic.”

A crowd top-heavy with celebrities and racing names included new Ambassador to the Soviet Union Robert Strauss and his wife, Helen; television producer Ed Friendly and his wife, Natalie; racing author Bill Murray; actor Dick Van Patten; Carol and Steve Fletcher; horse owners Cee and Roy Rubens; Carl Naftzer, trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled; Jennie and Sid Craig; Jinx and Paul Ecke; actress Mary Frann; Hollywood Park board chairman R.D. Hubbard, Dragon and Don Sherman, and Judy and Vince Bartolotta.