By Irene Lacher Posted May 29, 2009, 11:00 AM EDT
The Library Foundation of Los Angeles used to hold its annual gala at the majestic 80-year-old Central Library downtown, where 250 supporters would dine amid the marble and murals. But the popular event eventually outgrew the space, so organizers moved it outside to nearby City National Plaza. That still left the benefit vulnerable to a quirk of Los Angeles geography: a downtown that can be difficult, if not impossible, for residents of the city’s populous Westside to negotiate during rush hour.
Last year, the foundation found a happy medium in the Beverly Wilshire hotel in Beverly Hills, where it returned Wednesday for a gala honoring TV journalist and author Tom Brokaw; Veronique Peck, widow of Gregory and avid foundation supporter; literary agent Larry Kirschbaum, the former Time-Warner Book Group chairman and C.E.O.; and Philip Flynn, Union Bank's vice chairman and C.E.O. About 550 guests filled the ballroom, no mean feat on an evening when, as dinner co-chair John Cooke noted, the Lakers were battling the Nuggets in the playoffs and “a very popular president of the United States is six blocks away” at the Beverly Hilton for a Democratic National Committee fund-raiser.
Still, the 18-member gala committee of the Library Foundation’s board, which designed the event, was mindful of getting as much bang for its nonprofit buck as possible, with the help of event coordinator Lisa Cleri Reale, who executed the group’s vision. Last year, the group had invested in trompe l’oeil wooden boxes in the shape of books, which it recycled to accompany centerpieces of roses in shades of red and pink that varied by table. With the dinner’s move back indoors, the group also blew up book covers and playbills from works by previous honorees to line the walls and “create a signature environment for our event,” said committee member Donna Wolff. “I knew it was effective when Tom Brokaw looked around the room and said, ‘I feel honored to be in their company.’ That was the point. You felt a sense of history.”
Organizers timed the dinner with military precision, making two presentations of Tiffany crystal awards over tomato and buffalo mozzarella appetizers and the rest after a dinner of filet mignon. Guests were out the door by 9 p.m., after an efficient allocation of time almost unheard of on the evening event landscape. Guests picked up paperback copies of Brokaw’s recent Random House book, Boom!: Talking About the Sixties, on their way out the door.
The benefit raised $540,000 despite—or perhaps because of—the grim economy. “When an economy is bad and people are losing their jobs, usage of the library goes up—considerably,” Wolff said.