Friday, April 5, 2013

San Francisco Social Diary

Artist Leo Villareal’s installation, “The Bay Lights,” transforms the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge into a dazzling LED light show.
by Jeanne Lawrence

In the civic-minded, cosmopolitan city of San Francisco, there are cultural activities for every age and interest. Here, I’ve highlighted some of the social events keeping me busy recently.


At 9 p.m. on Tuesday, March 5, artist Leo Villareal switched on his newest outdoor art piece, “The Bay Lights,” touted as the world’s largest LED light sculpture, illuminating the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge.

In honor of the 75th anniversary of the bridge, this public art installation lights up the 1.8-mile western span with 25,000 rippling white LEDs (light emitting diodes) strung along its cables.
The LEDs transform the bridge into a backdrop for a sparkling dance-like sequence of patterns, creating a continuous light show that will play from dusk to 2 a.m. for the next two years. LEDs are so energy-efficient that powering the Bay Bridge project costs just $30 per day in electrical power, cheering news to this environmentally aware city.

When one thinks of San Francisco, the first image that comes to mind is the famed Golden Gate Bridge (1937). The “international orange” span is a popular destination for visitors from all over the U.S. and around the globe.

Another iconic sight is The San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge (1936). “The Bay Bridge,” as it’s called locally, is actually two bridges that join at an anchor point over the Bay exactly halfway between San Francisco and Oakland.

Long overshadowed by its more famous sister, the Bay Bridge is now catching the world’s attention with its sparkling and dazzling light show. I think there’s room for two beauties in our scenic “City by the Bay.”
The Golden Gate Bridge’s orange paint job stands out beautifully against a blue sky.
The Golden Gate Bridge at sunset.

Artist Villareal developed a software program to control the individual lights from his laptop. I sure hope he has a backup computer!

The stunning, shimmering lights create a dazzling display. The algorithm the artist uses to create the patterns comes up with so many variations, the artist says, that none are repeated (though I doubt I’d notice if they were!).

I didn’t take a peek at any of the preparations, as I wanted to be surprised when the light display was switched on for the first time—a historic event.
Artist Leo Villareal ascending the tower of the Bay Bridge during installation, which started in September 2012.
During installation, locals could enjoy watching the lights being tested between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m., when traffic is minimal.

Locals whose homes enjoy views of the Bay Bridge invited friends over to celebrate the light show’s debut. Other partygoers packed the bars and restaurants on the Embarcadero, the eastern waterfront.
Partiers lined up along the waterfront and piers for a vantage point as close to the bridge as possible.
The best part of the night was that the citywide party was free and visible to everyone.

For the official opening, a private dinner and viewing party was held at the Vitale Hotel on the Embarcadero for big patrons and VIPs. Guests included Mayor Ed Lee, former mayor and current Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former mayor Willie Brown, artist Leo Villareal, and Ben Davis, chairman of the California nonprofit Illuminate the Arts and the initiator of the project.
Artist Leo Villareal, his wife Yvonne Force-Villareal, and Lisa and John Pritzker (whose family established the Pritzker Architecture Prize).
Leo Villareal, Pisces Foundation co-founder Randi Fisher, and SF MoMA director Neal Benezra.
Lisa Podos, husband Michele Goss, and Jeanne Lawrence.
Lamar Clarkson Anderson, Wendy Norris, Shelley Alger, and Mara Brazer, sporting LED-lit Bay Bridge badges.
San Franciscans know how to party!
VIPs enjoyed their private dinner with the current and two former San Francisco mayors.
Ben Davis, Mayor Ed Lee, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, and artist Leo Villareal were in good spirits despite the rain.
After the reception, we walked over to Pier 14 to view the official lighting.
Just as we departed, a windy downpour began, but the organizers had umbrellas at the ready.
Some of the group stayed to watch the lighting from Hotel Vitale’s rooftop, where they were protected from the rain.
The view from Hotel Vitale’s rooftop.
I braved the elements under my umbrella—until it collapsed and I became drenched.
Despite the weather, the evening was exhilarating. The rain made the setting even more dramatic, and no one seemed to mind. After all, isn’t that the way we enjoy California—outdoors? I even overheard one partier comment that the night reminded her Rihanna’s song, ‘My Umbrella.’
On this stormy night, it rained so much that swells of water splashed up onto the Embarcadero, soaking passersby.
The San Francisco Ferry Building, which houses a famous marketplace.
At the end of the night, I took a trolley home.

The Bay Bridge project cost around $8 million, raised entirely from private donations. This very civic- minded city has already contributed $6 million.

The computer-driven technology may have been what drew the interest of the many young Silicon Valley moguls and movers involved with the project. They included Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, technology investor Ron Conway, Google’s Paul Buchheit, and Mark Pincus, CEO of Zynga (maker of popular online social games like Farmville, Words with Friends, and Mafia Wars, to name a few) and his wife Alison.

Everyone is hoping they’ll all be part of a new generation of San Francisco philanthropists.
Zachary Bogue, Alexis Traina, and Marissa Mayer.
Matthew Goldman, Ben Davis, Lisa Goldman, Jason Goldman, and Doug Goldman.

Public art is a powerful magnet and adds vitality to a city. Just ask New Yorkers about “The Gates,” the 2005 Central Park installation created by artists Christo and the late Jeanne-Claude. (Famous for his own large-scale pieces, Christo wholeheartedly endorsed the Bay Bridge project.)

Although some opposed “The Gates,” its supporters were numerous, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who understood how it would positively impact the city.
For the site-specific work of art, the Christo and Jeanne-Claude draped more than one million square feet of 7,000 saffron-colored fabric “gates” along 23 miles of pathways, where they remained for two weeks.
“The Gates” was a must-see event not only for locals, but also for worldwide visitors who flocked to New York to be part of the “happening.”

Mayor Lee projects that over its two-year run, “The Bay Lights” will bring in 50 million people and add $97 million to the local economy. On opening night alone, I’m sure the   restaurants and bars with bridge views and along the Embarcadero enjoyed record business.
Villareal called the installation a “gift of light” to the city—the event is free and can be enjoyed by everyone.

Whether or not you can actually visit this “brilliant” project, you can be a part of it. With a donation of as little as $50, you can choose and name a light.

For more information, visit the donation website at There are five donor levels with different rewards, but all will let you name a light after yourself or someone you love. You can bet I’ll be participating.


San Francisco’s de Young Museum brightened January with the opening of the Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis, a selection of paintings from the The Hague’s Royal Picture Gallery that runs until June 2, 2013.

The star of the show, of course, is Johannes Vermeer’s masterpiece portrait of the young girl, often referred to as the Dutch Mona Lisa. Who could forget young Scarlet Johansson playing the eponymous role in the 2003 movie? Her resemblance to the original subject was amazing.
“Girl with a Pearl Earring,” one of only 36 known paintings by Vermeer, rarely travels outside the Netherlands.

A special dinner was held for the visiting directors and patrons at the de Young Museum before the public opening.
Dede Wilsey and Emilie Gordenker admire “Girl with a Pearl Earring.”
Henry Gardiner and Denise Fitch. Maurice Gregg and Ruth Owades.
Emilie Gordenker, Victor J.E. Moussault, and Dede Wilsey.
Phoebe Cowles and Richard Girard. Dennis Calas and Lorna Meyer Calas.
Emilie Gordenker, Dede Wilsey, Cynthia Gunn, and John Gunn. Lonna Wais, David Spencer, and Erin Glenn.
Sarah Crocker, Lucinda Crocker, and Lucy Hamilton. Greg Malin, Lisa Podos, and Charlot Malin.

The largest-ever crowd showed up for the exhibition. More than 1,000 people arrived for the members-only preview, creating a block-long line of cars coming and going.
“Girl with a Pearl Earring” drew a huge crowd on opening night at the De Young Museum.
O.J. Shansby and Jeanne Lawrence. Patrick King and Dr. Carolyn Chang.
 Lee and Jane Gammill.
Jorge Maumer and Carolyn Chandler.
Katie and Todd Traina.
The Mauritshuis collection includes holdings from Holland’s Princes of Orange, featuring paintings from the 17th-century Dutch Golden Age.
Lisa and Jim Zanze. Douglas Durkin and Heidi Castelein.
New York’s Boaz Mazor of Oscar de la Renta.
Party attendees were treated to these limited edition "Girl with a Pearl Earring" chocolate bars.
Hugo Niezen, Oude Kotte, and Ard van der Vorst.
Rosemarie Wagner, Charlie Castillo, and Marion Cope. Gabrielle and Rudolf Bekink.

To see the Vermeer exhibit, be sure to secure your reservation in advance, and figure out when the crowds are at their smallest. The museum advises against waiting until the closing month.

Chef Alex Hitz’s new book includes recipes and recalls his Southern upbringing.
Don’t miss the companion exhibit, Rembrandt’s Century, which explores Rembrandt’s predecessors and his legacy in Holland and internationally.

At the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts through June 2, 2013, it includes ink drawings, engravings, etchings, and watercolors dating from the 17th century.


During my winter in San Francisco, I attended a party celebrating LA-based chef Alex Hitz’s newest cookbook, My Beverly Hills Kitchen: Classic Southern Cooking With a French Twist.

Local gal Gail Glasser and New Yorker Boaz Mazor hosted the evening. The right-hand man to fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, Boaz was in town to present the 2013 collection at Neiman Marcus, where the event was held.
Alex Hitz’s book signing took place at Neiman-Marcus at Union Square, the heart of San Francisco’s downtown shopping district.
The entrance to Neiman Marcus, on the site of the former City of Paris department store (1850), a local landmark.
“The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus” restaurant features a stained glass dome and skylight. Famous for its popovers, it’s popular with the ladies who lunch—and shop.
Author Alex Hitz happily autographed his tome. (No copies were left by the time I arrived!)

The late Nan Kempner’s spirit connected the group.  Gail was married to Nan’s father, and Alex and Nan were very devoted to each other. You can see the portrait of Nan in the library of Hitz’s Los Angeles home, which is featured in the January issue of House Beautiful magazine.

Hitz says no one could entertain as stylishly as Nan, who for decades reigned as the top society hostess in New York and San Francisco.
Boaz Mazor, Gail Glasser, and author Alex Hitz.
Boaz was in town for the 2013 Oscar de La Renta Collection, modeled here.
Linda Cannon, Joel Goodrich, and Sunny Akhtari.
Jeanne Lawrence, Boaz Mazor, and Gail Glasser.
Hitz has dedicated his book to Pierre Durant, financier and owner of the Chinese Porcelain Company gallery on Park Avenue, to whom he says he owes his success. New Yorkers know the Chinese Porcelain Company as the place to go for exquisite antiques and art objects.


Hitz’s new book offers more than just recipes. The Atlanta native gives us some delightful details about the “comfort food” dishes served up by his mother, the family cook. His favorites include Sally Lunn bread, Hummingbird Cake, and Millionaire Marconi & Cheese. And, like a true Southerner, he even has a favorite butter: salted Land O’Lakes.

Having honed his skills at the famed Le Cordon Bleu hospitality and cooking school in Paris, Hitz dishes out some practical recommendations along with the personal recollections.

I’m sharing with all my young friends his advice to buy the best cookware you can afford—his own preference is Le Creuset enamelware; and I myself have switched to the French Maille mustard, which he says is the best!
Colin and Bebe McRae.
Lonna Wais, Kay Evans, and Ed Hardy.
Architect Jeffrey Ouyang and Tatiana Galitzine.
Sally Debenham and Nancy Nebeker.
Roberta Sherman.
Harvey and Gail Glasser with Sharmeran Anderer.
Merrill Randol Sherwin and Heidi Betz.
Michael Smith, Judy Long, and Harvey Glasser.
In My Beverly Hills Kitchen, Hitz also mentions his admiration of fashion designer Bill Blass—like Nan Kempner, an extraordinary host. He recommends serving Blass’s classic sweet and salty caramelized bacon at your next party. “Everyone loves bacon, whether or not they admit it,” he proclaims.

If we could all eat butter and bacon and look as good as Alex does, I’m sure we’d be happy to indulge! Check out for more.


Other party guests included Sloan Barnett, Joy Venturini Bianchi, Nancy Boas, Barbara Brown, Lucretia Carney, Gary Danko, Sally Debenham, Delia Ehrlich, Sandra Farris, Tatiana Galitzine, Jessica and Jay Hickingbotham, Bob Hill, Greg Lopez, Terri Mino, Ann Seymour, Andrew Skurman, and Dede Wilsey.
Gail Glasser and Tom Sparks.

This past fall, the Voss Foundation hosted a “Women Helping Women” event at the San Francisco Ritz-Carlton to raise money for clean water campaigns in Africa. Guests enjoyed cocktails and shopping, followed by a luncheon.

Event Chair Charlot Malin presented the premiere of the short film Voss Foundation: A Commitment to Excellence and introduced speaker Saran Kaba Jones. Founder of FACE Africa and the 2011 WHW honoree, Saran discussed Voss’s 2011 Women Helping Women project, which brought clean water and sanitation facilities to the Hope Mission School in Paynesville, Liberia.

The African Bazaar was a big hit, and guests snapped up beautiful handmade items from Sub-Saharan Africa. All funds raised went directly to the 2012 Women Helping Women project to enhance clean water access and sanitation facilities in Swaziland.
Event Chair Charlot Malin, featured speaker Saran Kaba Jones, and Committee Member Suzy Kellems Dominik.
Sobia Shaikh, Ginny Ziegler, and Kathy McEligot.
Diane Rubin enjoyed shopping the African Bazaar.
Melissa Barber, Suzanne Levit, and Annie Woods. Sheila Nahi, Maryam Mudoroglu, and Jennifer Hatfifield.
Jane Mudge, Barbara Brown, and Ann Girard.
Turid Diskerud and Norwegian Consul General in San Francisco Sten Rosnes. Gail Glasser and Roberta Sherman.
Kathy McEligot, Toni Wolfson, Sandra Peters, and Diane Rubin.
Jeya Rawal, Voss Foundation Board Member Sanjay Rawal, and Voss Foundation Executive Director Kara Gerson.
Peter Chandonnet and Gregory Malin.
Glynis Doyle, Maria Pitcairn, Linda Doherty, and Lisa Edwards.
Holly Farrell, Tanya Peterson, and Connie Hooker.
Britta Campbell shops the African Bazaar.
Photographs by Jeanne Lawrence, Drew Altizer, Lucas Saugen, James Ewing, and Leah Hansen.

*Urbanite Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in San Francisco, Shanghai, and New York, and wherever else she finds a good story.