The gilding was off the gold paint, the black walls and ceiling were flaking, the carpet was threadbare, but the lighting fixed that.
“When I came here this morning to take a look, I thought, ‘My God, what have we done,’ but it’s marvelous what light can do, or rather the lack of light,” admitted Peter Hemmings, general director of the L. A. Opera, as he welcomed the crowd of more than 300 who had taken a trip back in time Friday night to the Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel.
The room was once the hub of the city’s night life--a social mecca, where Hollywood stars flocked to see the top names in music perform. Time and changing fashion and finally the closing of the hotel reduced the club to empty real estate, but Friday night it throbbed briefly once again.
For the annual Valentine’s Day gala dinner and silent auction to benefit the L.A. Opera, the location served well enough, its dankness enlivened not only by clever lighting amid the potted palms but also by the scarlet decor of the tables, adorned with white and crimson orchids and satin hearts--and by the many women who had chosen to wear stand-out red evening gowns. The entertainment included mezzo soprano Jennifer Larmore, the Manhattan Transfer and the dance-till-you-drop swing of Les Brown and His Band of Renown.
Ginny Mancini, escorted by Howard Krieger, was one of the first to reminisce about the club--"my high school graduation celebration,” and “the couple of times I sang backup here to Tony Martin.”
Fred and Betty Hayman still qualifying as newlyweds, hosted the evening, which grossed $230,000. Among the party-goers were Joanna Carson and Nolan Miller, Annie and Jimmy Murphy, Judi and Gordon Davidson and Candy and Aaron Spelling.