The Crowd: At Great Park, it was a 'jewel' of a celebration

It is a project that will take at least a generation to launch and ultimately benefit many generations to come.

The Orange County Great Park, a controversial piece of premium land occupying 1,347 acres of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro (that many citizens preferred be dedicated for a new international airport), continues to inch forward and expand its development in spite of Herculean obstacles — primarily the state of the economy.

Last week on park grounds, the Foundation for the Great Park, founded a decade ago by sister-in-laws Teddie Ray and Janet Ray, held a sixth annual "Jewel of Orange County" summer celebration. It was arguably the best of the best park events, attracting a sold-out crowd for sunset "Carnivale" under the summer sky.

Each "jewel" event, along with a number of sponsored gatherings throughout the year, enables organizers to keep the donating core of public support apprised of both the progress and the pitfalls of creating America's most ambitious park project in more than 100 years.

The past five years of real estate upheaval has slowed progress inasmuch as funds from developers with housing projects adjacent to The Great Park property had come to a standstill. With conditions improving, housing starts are progressing and will assist in the expansion of the Great Park project.

The passion for the park, however, has not. The Foundation includes significant support from such notable citizens as Marian Bergeson, John Katkish, Robert Currie, Allan Gibson, David Horowitz, Rick Hume and Greg MacGillivray. Also front and center for the park are Douglas Neff, Tim Paone, Sheila Peterson, John Sullivan, William Witte, Michael Ray, and Thomas Nielson accepting honors of the evening for an unwavering commitment.

The celebration began with a Saturday night cocktail reception at dusk held around the Great Park Carousel. Auction items tempted the crowd, including Joe and Mechelle Adams, Peggy Goldwater Clay, Sanford Edwards, Jill Johnson-Tucker, Beth Krom, Chris and Mike LeBlanc, Judith Posnikoff, and Karl and Donna Schuler.

A fabulous dinner was then served al fresco in the park's Palm Court. The Brazilian-inspired cuisine was created by Sapphire of Laguna Beach. Guests paying $250. and more per ticket raved over the menu, which featured an entrée of sofrito beef tenderloin.

Making the evening possible were presenting sponsors Microsemi represented by Sheila and Jim Peterson. Additional donors of import included Valley Crest Landscaping Co., Judith Posnikoff, the Irvine Co., Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, and U.S. Trust, to name a few.

Contributing to the auction success were such luxury brands as Gucci and Tiffany & Co. providing an exquisite diamond necklace to assist the Great Park in raising needed funds for growth.

Partygoers danced into the night under the stars to the Latin beat of Brazil Brasil.

"What an amazing night," said Foundation co-founder Teddie Ray.

Janet Ray chimed in, "Here's to another successful year for the O.C. Great Park."

THE CROWD runs Thursdays and Saturdays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.

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