Calling All Angels

As I drove up to the Music Academy of the West, the words Sarah House were projected onto the building. The San Marcos Madrigals choir filled the foyer singing Christmas carols. And then came a tableau complete with a real “angel,” Megan Joy Havrda. Sarah House was having its 17th Anniversary Holiday Tree Auction, Light Up The Night 2006, with a theme of Angels of Inspiration.

The night was indeed lit, helped out by special lighting effects and dozens of donated decorated trees for the silent auction. Lehman Hall was truly breathtaking, each tree with its own theme. The tree created by designer David Stringer and donated from Michael and Nora Hurley’s Coast Village shop La Vie Bohème was covered in jewels and took one and a half months to make. Another trio of trees done by Mary Kay Cosmetics was decorated all in white doves, ornaments and ribbon. Leslee Sipress and Sarah Fultz playing a harp and a flute added to the ambiance. The tableau was done by Alicia St. John, artistic designer for the home furnishings company La Belle Époque (“The Age of Beauty”).

Does anyone remember “Gidget?” The real one, Kathy Zuckerman, was there. She was a surfer girl 60 years ago at Malibu Beach. Sandra Dee played Gidget in a movie and Sally Field played her on TV. Zuckerman’s father, Frederick Kohner, wrote a novella based on his daughter’s experiences in 1957, and the book was updated in a 2001 version that includes a foreword by Zuckerman. Today, she holds lectures about her experiences and she frequently attends fundraisers.

We were all left breathless cheering and clapping by the speed and dexterity of the dancers from Rhythm Dance & Fitness Studios, choreographed by Tamarr Paul.

A new addition this year was other various silent auction items and artwork in Stewart Hall with Renee Hamaty at the grand piano. Artists Billy Woolway, Brad Nack and Richard Schloss were showing off their talent at their easels, painting on site.

There were spirits and a never-ending supply of hors d’oeuvres being passed all evening. The favorites were the lamb chops (you ate them caveman-style with your fingers) and bacon-wrapped shrimp done by New West Catering. Mayor Marty and Dr. Joseph Blum, Roger Durling and Michael Seabaugh, Nora and Michael Hurley, Donna-Christine and Michael McGuire, Board President Nancy Lynn, event chair Kerrie Kilpatrick-Weinberg and Henry Weinberg, Marianne Partridge and John and Daryl Stegall hosted the evening. Live Auctioneers were Buddy Winston, John Palminteri and Gidget.

Sarah House is a nonprofit home and care residence for low-income individuals. It provides end of life care for the dying and 24-hour care for those with AIDS. At the gala I spoke with Bill Taylor an AIDS patient who was living at Sarah House for four years. “If it weren’t for Sarah House, I wouldn’t be here,” Taylor said. “They gave me compassion and care. I am now living independently.” Executive Director Randy Sunday welcomes all donations.

For more info call 882-1192 or

Little Trees, Big Hearts

We could see the forest for the trees! Noche de los Piñitos translates to Night of the Little Pines. Casa del Herrero (House of the Blacksmith) was in all its glory with hundreds of luminaries lighting up the fountains and gardens and the interior filled with decorated tabletop trees.

Following this year’s theme of Books and Tales there were designs by writers such as Barnaby Conrad, Fannie Flagg, Tab Hunter, David Myrick, Susan Gulbransen, Barney Brantingham and Lee Wardlaw. Celebrities included Kevin Costner, Julia Louis-Dreyfus with Erin Keosian and Kyle Irwin, Peggy Fleming and some cast and crew members of the NBC show “Las Vegas.” The list goes on to designers and architects – talents longer than the event. My favorite was Christopher de Rose’s Moorish Tree of Bookplates, replicas of ones belonging to the designers of the Casa.

Bringing this evening together were co-chairs Greg Corso and Cynthia Schroeder Gray with their committee of Sue Burrows, Betsy Coates, Jennifer Jimmerson and Diane Sassen. Just after Thanksgiving with new Executive Director Molly Barker leading the way, she and docents decorated the Casa the way the Steedman family did, using flora from the estate gardens. Though public tours are given all year, as a docent I particularly enjoy visiting during the holiday season. There are even antique toys in the children’s bedroom like Mom’s rocker from the early 1900s.

The 11-acre estate’s original keeper was George Fox Steedman, who commissioned architect George Washington Smith to build the house that was completed on the day of the infamous earthquake, June 29, 1925. Though most of downtown was destroyed, there wasn’t a single crack in the Casa, considered one of the finest examples of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in America. The furnishings are Spanish pieces dating from the 13th through 18th century. And if tool time is your thing, you have to see the workshop where Mr. Steedman was a silversmith, woodworker and inventor. Two of the grandchildren still serve on the Board of Directors, George Bass and Albert Hinckley, who tell us good stories of their childhood visits.

Call the office 565-5653 and ask Jean Parry for information.