Guests Dine Among Historical Docs at Boeing-Sponsored Archives Gala

Guests at the Foundation of the National Archives gala got the chance to dine among historical documents and sip cocktails on the portico.

By Adele Chapin September 16, 2009, 1:23 PM EDT

Dinner in the National Archives' Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom

Photo: Tony Brown/Imijination Photography for BizBash

The Archives Records of Achievement Award Gala Dinner
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At last night’s Foundation for the National Archives gala, 150 guests had the unique opportunity to eat a meal in the National Archives’ Rotunda Galleries, adjacent to the the Charters of Freedom documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

Sponsored by the Boeing Company for the fifth year, the sixth annual gala celebrated author Annette Gordon-Reed, who won the 2009 Foundation for the National Archives’ Records of Achievement Award for her work examining the history of Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings. Past award winners include author David McCullough, Tom Brokaw, and C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb.

Since the rotunda is such an impressive event space, Caneil McDonald, director of special events at the Foundation for the National Archives, typically chooses a theme that won’t detract from the beauty of the room or its significance to the nation’s history. “We try to do something every year that reflects the awardees and their work,” said McDonald, who worked with Campbell Peachey & Associates' Carolyn Peachey to produce the event. “If you are sitting there eating, you can see these documents our government is based on. It’s a special experience.”

With Gordon-Reed’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, as inspiration, JLB Floral created topiary tree centerpieces with green and pink roses and hydrangeas at the base of each arrangement to evoke the gardens at Jefferson's home. Amber lighting courtesy of Frost Lighting also complemented the classical space and the table’s pink and green color scheme.

The evening began with a 6:30 p.m. cocktail reception, where foundation board members and supporters of the Archives like Cokie Roberts and National Journal Group C.E.O. John Fox Sullivan gathered in front of the William G. McGowan Theatre for hors d’oeuvres including spicy cheese puffs and basil-wrapped shrimp from Design Cuisine. Guests moved into the theater at 7:30 p.m. for a short award ceremony and film celebrating Gordon-Reed’s achievements. The celebration continued upstairs in the rotunda with a formal dinner, including a first course of citrus-glazed striped bass, followed by roasted stuffed guinea fowl and a chocolate and vanilla brownie timbale with meringue.

After dinner, the rotunda’s bronze doors—each 38 feet tall and six and a half tons—opened and guests moved outside to the Archive’s portico, which is normally closed to the public. The gala is the only nighttime event that is held on the portico, so it’s a once-a-year chance for guests to take in the view of Washington overlooking the Sculpture garden. Soft gold uplighting on the portico’s massive columns added to the romantic mood as a string quartet played and waiters stood armed with trays of champagne, brownie bites, and chocolate-dipped grapes. 

Recognizing the rarity of the occasion, guests did something that is unusual for Washington: They stuck around chatting on the portico till after 10 p.m. on a Tuesday, instead of fleeing immediately after dinner.


Correction: This story has been changed to reflect that the Charters of Freedom were in place during the gala dinner, which was held in the galleries surrounding the rotunda, where the Charters of Freedom are housed.

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