It's the end of an era. Beginning in 1987, the Ritz Restaurant Newport Beach has hosted "Christmas at the Ritz" benefiting Chapman University. The 27th annual celebration unfolded Dec. 7 on the hallowed ground that will be closing its doors post Valentine's Day on Feb. 15.
There is no word from Ritz managing partner Ray Jacobi concerning a new location for the venerable dining room. Old traditions pass and new ones are created. But for the final season at the Ritz, for the Women of Chapman it was a grand Saturday gathering that filled the restaurant with enthusiasm for an organization that has done so much for a university that has come so far in recent years.
As the crowd arrived at the valet station, a receiving line of Chapman dignitaries and donors awaited to "press the flesh" and offer holiday hugs. Chapman President Jim Doti and his distinguished educator wife, Lynne Pierson Doti, stood at the front of the line to thank donors and special friends. Santa Claus was close at hand offering a big "ho ho ho." Organizer Donna Bunce shared that the Chapman Santa is among the most famous of the men in red suits.
Claus, aka Tim Connaghan, has appeared on numerous television shows and is also the national Santa for the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program. Also on the VIP line was grand patron of Christmas at the Ritz, S. Paul Musco. Musco and his wife, Marybelle, Newport residents, have made an enormous contribution to Chapman creating the Musco Center for the Arts, currently under construction on the campus. Women of Chapman President Donna Bianchi was also front and center. .
Champagne flowed at the 11 o'clock hour as the Ritz bar and foyer filled up shoulder to shoulder with the holiday crush, folks dressed to impress. The party was planned with style by chairwoman Karly Brown. The philanthropic Bette and Wylie Aitken were on hand visiting with Pat and Dick Allen, Donna Anderson, Laura Baratta, Chapman Dean Bob Bassett and his wife and fellow dean, Janell Shearer, both representing the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts.
The Aitkens said they were preparing for their Christmas event the following day, which for a number of years has collected warm winter coats for homeless citizens in Orange County. Each year the Aitkens require guests to bring and donate warm coats for admittance. The generous guests ultimately deliver hundreds of garments, which are turned over to agencies and distributed as needed.
Also spotted in the champagne crowd were Zee Allred with Drago Gliglic, Adrienne and R.J. Brandes, Sandra Brodie, Janet Curci and her husband, Eddie Stacy, Terri, Bob Dallope and Camille Dallope, and Dori de Kruif, the chair of the very first Christmas at the Ritz and a number of subsequent events throughout the years.
Shari Esayian smiled for the paparazzi along with JoAnn Fanticola. Major donors Carole and Robert Follman were in the crowd and ready to celebrate. Lula Halfacre was there; she's the former owner of Traditional Jewelers and is always a generous supporter of the event. The glamorous Karen Hardin-Swickard and her husband, Jack Swickard, toasted the holiday along with best-dressed Loretta Haugen of Scottsdale, Ariz., and the Balboa Bay Club, Newport Beach.
The crowd also welcomed Chapman supporters Rusty Hood, Sue and Dave Hook, Barbara and Michael Lawler, Alison and Kimo McCormick with Alison's mother, Marion Pickins, Jeannie Moriarty and her mother, Ruth Ann Moriarty, and the couple of the hour, Catherine and Jim Emmi of Newport Beach. President Doti announced a significant $10-million donation from the Emmis to help fund Chapman's expansion in the field of science.
The overflow crowd was seated for lunch as the Ritz staff deployed like an army on duty serving the classic Ritz egg topped with caviar, a second course of wild mushroom cappuccino soup, an entrée of filet mignon and for dessert the Ritz warm winter pear cheesecake baked in a crispy phyllo dough drizzled with caramel sauce.
During lunch the opportunity prize drawing commenced with patrons anxiously checking their green and red tickets for the annual Christmas surprises. The opportunity prize drawing is one of the most extravagant on the Orange Coast. All of the some 20 prizes have values ranging from just over $1,000 to nearly $5,000.
Donors include the Balboa Bay Resort, the Island Hotel, Bloomindales South Coast Plaza, Saks Fifth Avenue and Reed Krakoff, Mi Place, Leur Lab and Neiman Marcus Fashion Island, which also provided fashion and jewelry presentations on exquisite models parading the restaurant during the luncheon. If that was not enough, donor Jonathan Ratter underwrote a lively martini bar.
Also spotted in the crowd were former Ritz owner Charlene Prager, Kathy and Noel Hamilton, DeeDee and Donald Sodaro, Donna Calvert, Ollie Hill, Donna and David Janes, Joann Leatherby, Anne and Dan Manassero, Robin Otta, Kevin Parker, Joan and Wally Gayner, Mary Roosevelt, Gail and Ron Soderling, Mindy and Glenn Stearns, Ann Van Ausdeln and Fritzie Williams.
By the end of the afternoon, net proceeds exceeded $191,000, which will benefit the Women of Chapman's programs assisting the university.
THE CROWD runs Fridays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.