Monday, October 6, 2008

Washington Social Diary

Guests enjoy twilght in the back garden of Halcyon House.
By Carol Joynt

As we approach the arrival of a new President in Washington, and the all but certain analysis of his and his wife’s impact on the social scene, there will be, as there always is, the matter of Georgetown. Will it or won’t it count in the new Administration?

Already John McCain has entered the fray.

In The Washington Post’s daily campaign diary, The Trail, Libby Copeland looked at McCain’s Georgetown problem. On the hustings the Republican presidential nominee twice derided “Georgetown cocktail parties” and the types of people who show up at them. Copeland sought to learn whether Georgetown cocktail parties were still around to deride. She reported what many already know: “Georgetown cocktail parties ain’t what they used to be.” She also noted that the while the reborn McCain of the campaign trail may slam the historic neighborhood, before the nomination he was “many times” seated beside Sally Quinn at Georgetown soirees. No one, so far, has said the same of Barack Obama.
A common sight in Georgetown windows. Not so many for the other guy, however.
One reason for McCain to give Georgetown the snub is that for the most part Georgetown has snubbed him. At least that’s the message from the numbers of “Obama 2008” signs brandished in windows and planted in tree boxes. There are significantly fewer for McCain.

The lore and lure of Georgetown is that, back in the day, it was a glamorous and adult safe harbor for glittering salons from where the country allegedly really was run by the Bruces, the Alsops, the Grahams, the Coopers, the Harrimans and, especially, the Kennedys. But that crowd has moved on to the after-life and they took their cocktail recipes, and secrets, with them. Their gatherings had a way about them, though, thanks in part to household staff, a less frenetic pace, fewer distractions and a last century commodity: time.

The Georgetown cocktail party over the last couple decades has evolved mostly into the Georgetown fundraiser, meaning anybody who pays can play. The exclusivity is gone. A hostess’s prized canapes have been replaced by the Costco party tray.
Young families and children, babysitters, and dogs, abound in Georgetown.
The old guard increasingly are supplanted by a younger population, more new money than old, with growing families and family concerns — mortgages, school tuitions, credit card debt, grocery and gas bills. You betcha, as Sarah Palin might say, just like the rest of the country. The Georgetown sidewalks are crowded with babysitters and strollers, the parking spaces bulge with minivans and SUVs, and from townhouse to townhouse there are more potential hockey moms than hostesses. What once was the clink of ice cubes in a rocks glass at dusk is now the wail of your neighbor’s baby at dawn.

This was noted sharply by 93-year-old Frida Burling, one of the last of the community’s grand dames, when she and Luca Pivato were honored at the annual gala of the Citizens Association of Georgetown (CAG) Thursday night. “I love Georgetown. I love it madly,” she said. “But what’s new is all these young people. There are so many children. In the old days we didn’t have them.” That’s one reason why in the old days adults had more time to have cocktail parties.
Flowers at the buffet table. The silent auction.
Warming up for the jitterbug contest.
Sitting down to dinner.
CAG’s affection for the past is so deep they modeled their gala on Truman Capote’s legendary “Black & White” masked ball that was held in 1966 in New York in honor of Katharine Graham. Sculptor John Dreyfuss made his mansion, Halcyon House, available to them, complete with an expansive lawn, expansive views and a ballroom; btw, it’s a mansion fresh on the market for a cool $30 million.

Unlike the Capote party, this extravaganza had tickets starting at $150, a silent auction, and a jitterbug contest. Doc Scantlin’s Imperial Palms Orchestra entertained as some of the 210 guests danced, some devoured the Susan Gage buffet and some contemplated how to slip away at 9 p.m. to catch the Biden-Palin bout, er, I mean, debate.

Drinks and a view at Halcyon House.
CAG is a last bastion of the old guard, a more than 100 year old protector of Georgetown’s “historic character” and “aesthetic values,” whose board take their mission seriously, occasionally to the chagrin of the new people who want to renovate their expensive period houses and developers who want to expand the equally costly commercial buildings or fill them with stores usually associated with shopping malls.

It’s a battle familiar to many historic American villages, whether its Nantucket, Newport or Charleston. The new stripped down economy may determine the victors. CAG, regardless, will stand its ground as it always has, with its 1200 members urging them on. But they may soon need to allow for “stroller zones.”

The Black & White gala attracted some of Georgetown’s most familiar faces, if not to you, at least to each other: Cookie Cruse, Leslie Buhler and Robert Berendt, Lauren Cahill, Maureen Agron, Jennifer and Tim Altemus, Kevin Blain, Nancy Taylor Bubes, Susan Calloway, Harold Cash and Lisa Kane, Lee Child, Patti Cumming, Denise and Rick Cunningam, Renee Crupi, Maureen Hirsch, Marc Schappell, Jim Bell, Sarah King, Laura Humphries, Michael Horst, Michele Jacobson, Jim Bell, Thomas Andeerson, Regina Knox-Woods, Alex De Jong, Cezar Koev, Marc and Osa Maroon, Matt McComick, Dana Landry, Leslie Kamrad, Rizwan Lodi, Leslie and Paul Maysak, Luca and Hayley Pivato, Betsy and Charles Rackley, Joseph Reamer, Nancy and Nicholas Robert, Kelly Rice, Louise Sagalyn, Kathryn Park, Ned Muskie, Eileen and Charles Reed, Barbara Porterfield, Michael Sullivan, John Vigilanti, Anne and Milton Thompson, Cathy Spencer, Marc Scott, Cole Suggs, Michael Edwards, James Warren, Stephanie Bothwell, Brenda and Charles Willoughby, George Worell, Nancy Williams, Alice Wilson, Debbie Young, Barbara Zartman, David Harrison, Valery Volkau.
Frida Burling arrives Jim Wilcox and Clarissa Ringlen
Barbara and Tim Downs Bill Starrells and Ed Solomon
Patrick Clawson, Steve Cooley and The Gordons. Masked partygoers at Georgetown's Black & White gala.
Bill Skelsey, Kitty Scallerop, and Maral Skelsey Tom Birch and Joe Martin
Betsy Rackley with David and Ann Williams Michael Sullivan with Isabel and Anthony Lanier
Jennifer Mottershead and Frida Burling Shue Shue, wife of bandleader Doc Scan
Ray Kukulski, Katherine Tallmadge, and Jack Evans John Dreyfuss and Susan Calloway
Doc Scantlin and his Imperial Palms Orchestra The Lockwoods get their spin on
Linda Greenan and Charles DeSantis Denise Cunningham, Frida Burling, and Jack Evans
Ed Emes CAG honored Luca Pivato, here with is wife, Hayley Pivato Handing out masks
David and Ann Williams Betsy Cooley Denise Cunningham
Georgetowners, proudly wearing the Black and White at their Black and White Masked Gala.
Key Bridge, connecting to Virginia, from the back garden of Halcyon House in Georgetown.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol Joynt is the host of The Q&A Cafe, a talk show at Nathans Restaurant in Washington, D.C.