San Francisco Social Diary: San Francisco’s Winter Social Season 2014

San Francisco kicked off the winter 2014 social season with a collection of events, including the dazzling and completely sold-out SF Ballet opening gala.

Deciding to winter in San Francisco turned out to be a brilliant choice. New York City has suffered through record cold and snow, while San Francisco experienced an uncharacteristically warm and dry January. The social season was heated here, too, as you’ll see from the following reports.


The San Francisco Ballet’s 2014 Opening Night Gala performance on January 21 brought its theme, “Phenomenal,” to life! A record 3,200 balletomanes filled the War Memorial Opera House to see the company deemed “a national treasure” by the The New York Times when it appeared at Lincoln Center last fall.

The chairs of this wildly successful event included Auxiliary Gala Chair Tanya Marietta Powell, Gala Dinner Chair Patricia Ferrin Loucks, and Décor Chair Shelley Gordon, along with Richard Barker as Honorary Chair.

The evening’s glamour quotient could not have been higher. The ladies dazzled, gowned in rich jewel tones and many also adorned with Bulgari baubles in support of the jewelry house that underwrote the launch party. (Not hard to muster enthusiasm for this show of support!)

Ballet Gala committee members Marie Hurabiell, Shelley Gordon, Alison Mauze, Suzanne Thornton, Patricia Ferrin Loucks, Richard Barker, Tanya Powell, Betsy Linder, Cathy Goodman, Debra Taylor, and Judy Anderson.


Three lavish black-tie pre-performance dinners were held in the grand City Hall, across the street from the Opera House. Hosted by the SF Ballet Auxiliary, the Grand Benefactor, Benefactor, and Patron benefit dinners were all sold out.

San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House.

The after-party in City Hall sold out at maximum capacity.

With 1,200 at the dinners, a packed house for the performance, and a capacity 3,000 (fire-department maximum) crowd at the after-party, this gala was the highest grossing to date. Wow!

“Bulgari’s launch party kicked off the Gala with a bang!” Auxiliary Gala Chair Tanya Powell said. “Bulgari gave a beautiful launch party. It set the tone for a phenomenal Gala. As well, they were a generous cash sponsor.”

Auxiliary Gala Chair Tanya Powell and Gala Dinner Chair Patricia Ferrin, in Bulgari jewels, alongside Bulgari’s Daniel Diaz.

Kathy Huber and Ballet gala event designer Riccardo Benavides.


The “Phenomenal” theme was also epitomized in the dinner décor created by J. Riccardo Benavides of i•de•as. Cutting-edge special effects by Immersive Lighting added to the excitement of the evening.

The crowd went wild over Immersive Lighting’s designs. The company filmed SF Ballet dancers and then projected the moving images onto City Hall.

SF Ballet principal dancer Mathilde Froustey.

SF Ballet principal dancer Maria Kochetkova with longtime ballet patron Lucy Jewett.


Encore! event chair Alyson Blume and vice-chair Greer Goings planned a buffet supper in the South Court rather than a formal sit-down dinner to keep the ticket price affordable for 200 younger fans. This group is vitally important, since they represent the future of the Ballet Company.

I love that everyone, from grand benefactors to Encore! members, dine together in City Hall. The diversity of the crowd ensures the Gala is always fresh and energetic.

Encore! supporters Kelly Cramer, Greer Goings, Ashley Tudor, Alyson Blume, Vanessa Jean Baptiste, Jane Burkhard, Lenna Gikkas, Robin Farmanfarmian, Joanna Winter, and Bridget Dixon Nguyen.

Carrie Lerner, Vanessa Jean-Baptiste, friend, Bridget Dixon Nguyen, and Ruwa Sumanasekera.

Alyson Blume, Wilson Yan, Jane Burkhard, and Greer Goings.

Grand benefactors Alison and Michael Mauze stopped by the Encore! party.

Keith and Claudia Ross also joined the Encore group for a few dances.

Natasha Yarushkina, Aaron Aiken, and Emily Hu.

Rachel Cloy, Isaac Hall, Kelly Cramer, and Steve Gomberg.

From Encore! sponsor Men’s Wearhouse: Robert Pearson, Kelly Pearson, Catherine Wood Hill, and Thomas Hill.


Welcoming the crowd before the 8 p.m. performance, Board Chair John Osterweis announced that the Ballet raised more than $2.4 million from the event, a record amount.

Artistic Director & Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson, who began his career as a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, started the program with a selection from his production of Giselle, a classic that the SF Ballet premiered in 1999. Twelve spectacular classical and contemporary works and excerpts followed.

SF Ballet Board of Trustees Chair John Osterweis and his wife Barbara.

Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson and his wife Marlene.


After the magnificent performance ended at 10:20 p.m., guests returned to City Hall, where the young (and the young at heart) enjoyed an after-party for three hours with live entertainment, dancing, a bountiful buffet, and an open bar.

Some indefatigable guests partied from 5 p.m., when the cocktail reception began, stayed till the end of the after-party at l a.m., and continued on to the first-ever after-after-party!

The exceptional event, just $100 a ticket for SF Ballet subscribers and $125 to members of the public, was quite a clever way to entice young, prospective ballet supporters.

During the party, principal dancers dined on the Mayor’s Balcony, overlooking all the frolicking guests as they were pumped up by DJ Chris Clouse and the live music of David Martin’s House Party.


Following the after-party in City Hall, many headed to another, first-ever after-after-party at Club Harlot on Mina Lane in the Financial District. I’m told that the crowd, which included many of the ballet company members, got a second wind and kept the party going until 4 a.m.

This ballet gala was truly “Phenomenal,” as its theme promised.


I love the festive Chinese New Year celebration in San Francisco. Under red banners flying all over town, it always includes a colorful parade, the crowning of a new Miss Chinatown, street fairs, and myriad other activities.

San Francisco’s Chinese New Year Parade is noted as one of the top ten parades in the world.

The Chinese New Year parade in San Francisco is one of the few remaining illuminated nighttime parades in the country.

The Miss Chinatown pageant draws young Chinese-American competitors from all over the U.S.


For the 2014 New Year celebration, I hosted a luncheon to honor the remarkable restaurateur Cecilia Chiang, a dear and longtime friend. At 94, she is as elegant, sharp, and gracious as ever. We celebrated at one of her favorite restaurants, Hakkasan. World-renowned, recipient of a Michelin star, it offers a modern take on Chinese cuisine.

Culinary icon Cecilia Chiang with her autobiography (complete with her favorite recipes), The Seventh Daughter: My Culinary Journey from Beijing to San Francisco (Ten Speed Press, 2007).


Often credited with introducing Americans to authentic Chinese cuisine and hailed as “the Julia Child of Chinese food” by chef Alice Waters, Madame Chiang created the legendary San Francisco restaurant The Mandarin, which in its heyday was arguably America’s best Chinese restaurant.

In 2013, Chiang was awarded the James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award. You can read more about that in my previous dispatch here.

Cecilia Chiang accepting her 2013 James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in New York City.

Cecilia Chiang with my daughter Stephanie Lawrence and me.


Many of Madame Chiang’s longtime devotees were at my party, and those who were meeting this charismatic and dynamic woman for the first time felt privileged to do so.

Cecilia Chiang, Margrit Mondavi, and Jeanne Lawrence. Naturally, Margrit brought some namesake wine—Continuum wine by Tim Mondavi.

Joy Venturini Bianchi and Mary Poland.

Linda Zider and Brenda Jewett.

Allison Speer, Adrianna Pope-Sullivan, and Susan Dunlevy.

Pamala Deikel and Jan Yanehiro.

Carolyn Chandler and Linda Cannon.

Helen Spalding.

Mary Beth La Motte and Linda Zider.


It gave me great pleasure to see Cecilia and Margrit Mondavi laughing together heartily. Margrit, the younger at 88 and also a renowned figure in the food and wine world, had driven down from Napa just for the occasion. The two are an inspiration for remaining vital, involved, charming, and dynamic even as one ages.

When Margrit Mondavi and Cecilia Chiang later explained the cause of their amusement—both have been invited to be “flower girls” at a mutual friend’s wedding—I laughed just as hard as they did.


Stephanie Lawrence helped set the table with custom chopsticks and pearl bookmarks I had brought back from China.

Guests were asked to “pick a card” to determine where they would sit, a random arrangement that would give them a chance to meet new people.

Host Jeanne Lawrence toasted Cecilia for a life well lived.

Sharon Seto added to that.

Cecilia Chiang responded to the toasts with her characteristic charm, endearing her to all, especially her seatmates, Mary Poland and Pamala Deikel.

Barbara Klein and Susan Dunlevy. A San Franciscan who lived in China when I did, Susan and I had fun exploring Shanghai together.


Madame Chiang, who knows Hakkasan’s chef and has doubtless sampled every dish they serve, helped me choose the menu.

At 94, Chiang never uses her age as an excuse to turn down any food. She eats everything, and she was the one who selected pork belly (fat and all!). Is that attitude the secret to longevity?

“I’m keeping this menu,” said one guest. “Everything was delicious, and now I’ll know exactly what to order the next time I’m here!”

Stir-fried mushroom lettuce wrap with pistachio and pine nuts.

Pumpkin puffs.

Crispy duck salad.

Daikon puffs. We also dined on braised pork belly, Pipa duck, stir-fried lotus root, asparagus and lily bulb, and Hakka noodles with mushrooms and Chinese chives.


Chef Jason Xu, who once worked for Madame Chiang at the Mandarin, was applauded when he appeared at the meal’s end.

Jeanne Lawrence with members of the food world: Stephanie Lawrence (1760 [Polk]), Cecilia Chiang, Chef Jason Xu (Hakkasan), and Belinda Leong (b. Patisserie).

Chiang remains involved in the city’s culinary scene, especially new restaurants and chefs, and continues to touch many lives. Through her, I met b. Patisserie proprietor Belinda Leong, who was voted 2012 Pastry Chef of the Year by SF Magazine.

“I am obsessed with [this] new bakery/cafe in my lower Pacific Heights neighborhood,” said the esteemed food critic Patricia Unterman. “I sit at the computer inventing excuses to walk over.” Try the mousses, macarons, croissants, and more and you’ll be hooked, too.


On a wintery day, two blocks of cars lined up on Broadway Street in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood. Their owners were eagerly waiting to enter the luxurious, antique-filled mansion owned by San Francisco’s popular and generous hosts, Ann and Gordon Getty, who open their home to many causes.

This time, more that 60 guests filled the house to learn about Compassion & Choices, which supports “Death with Dignity.”

Hosts Merla Zellerbach, Katy Butler, Ann Getty, and Lucie Weissman.

For eight years, Ann Getty’s co-host, author Merla Zellerbach, has been a leader in addressing end-of-life issues and bringing them to the attention of Californians. She spoke briefly of her own experiences—a father who died of pancreatic cancer in the ICU of a hospital, full of needles and tubes and in agonizing pain, in contrast to her late husband, who died in his own bed at home, peaceful and smiling, thanks to the help of a sympathetic oncologist.

“No terminally ill patient needs to suffer a prolonged, painful death,” she told the crowd. “We had no say about how we entered the world, but we can certainly plan how we exit.”

Radha Stearn, Nancy Livingston, and Fred Levin.

Alex Leitstein, Jeanne Lawrence, and Sandra Swanson.

Marsha Monro and Frannie Fleishhacker.

Co-Host Merla Zellerbach welcomed the crowd and introduced the guest speakers.

Journalist/author Katy Butler spoke about her new book, Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death, and discussed the medical community’s strong dedication to preserving life and maximum longevity no matter what the emotional and financial costs to the patient.

Zellerbach and Butler were joined by Dr. Robert Brody, Chair of the Ethics Committee at San Francisco General Hospital for 17 years and now a UCSF Clinical Professor of Medicine. He discussed the importance of having an advance directive (living will) so one’s end-of-life wishes can be carried out.

Dr. Robert Brody, a UCSF Clinical Professor of Medicine.

Journalist/author Katy Butler autographed her book, Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death.

During a lively Q & A that followed, a guest commented, “I think a revolution is brewing in medicine.” Discussions of end-of life options have moved from the fringes to the mainstream.

“The two most important events in life are being born and dying,” said a doctor who impressed me when he spoke at another of the group’s gatherings. “There’s not much one can do about the former, but it seems a good idea to plan for the latter.”

Speaker Gretchen de Baubigny reminded guests about the next luncheon on April 4.

Ann Walther and Dorothy Salmon.

Helen Hilton Raiser.

Jade Inch, Deborah Hannah, and Arlene Inch.

Lisa Gross and Elisa Stephens.

I’m sure everyone who was at the lunch went home more aware of the importance of discussing end-of-life wishes with our loved ones, no matter how difficult. The organization’s free online “advance directive” is a good place to begin and offers guidance to the terminally ill.

I’m setting up an appointment with Compassionate Choices and will then talk with my physician about the advance directive. To spare your family future heartache, I suggest you do the same.

Mary Poland and Carol Doll.

Fran Johns and Marlene Tumlin.

Mindy Henderson and Jennifer Raiser.

Pamela Deikel and Jane Inch.

Mary Robinson and Clare Luce Abbey.

For lunch, guests feasted on herb salad, crusted squab, and chocolate mousse.

Crusted squab with artichokes.

Chocolate mousse garnished with kiwifruit.


Committee member Gretchen de Baubigny urged guests to mark their calendars for Compassion & Choices’ upcoming luncheon on April 4, 2014 at the St. Francis Hotel. The event, chaired by Zellerbach and co-chair Lucie Weissman, will present a short program emceed by Dear Abby (Jeanne Phillips), with other speakers yet to be announced.


In January, Tom Klein, Regional Vice President and GM of the Fairmont (SF), his wife Barbara Klein, and their friend Joel Goodrich hosted a small luncheon for New York real estate agent extraordinaire Dolly Lenz—at the luxurious Fairmont hotel, of course.

The landmark Fairmont Hotel atop San Francisco’s Nob Hill.

Luxe realtors Joel Goodrich, Barbara Klein, and Dolly Lenz, with Fairmont Regional VP Tom Klein.

The Fairmont: The First Century of a San Francisco Landmark.

Head of her eponymous firm, Lenz was named “New York’s Real Estate Queen” by The Economist magazine. As if that weren’t enough, she also hosts her own TV show, Secret Lives of the Super Rich, which in September was picked up by CNBC for eight half-hour episodes.

Joel Goodrich, Dolly Lenz, and Jeanne Lawrence.

Charlot and Gregory Malin with Barbara Klein.

Lorre Erlick and Carolyn Chandler.

Lois Lehrman and Damian Matthews.


The next night, the Kleins hosted an evening of drinks and nibbles and a sneak preview of the premiere episode of Secret Lives of the Super Wealthy, which aired February 5 in 88 countries and featured the Fairmont’s luxurious 6,000-square-foot penthouse overlooking the city. Anyone seeing the stunning apartment surely dreams of moving right in.

At the Fairmont Hotel, Joel Goodrich, Brenda Zarate, Tom Klein, and Aaron Lenz enjoyed a preview of the series.

Realtor Barbara Klein chatted up a friend.

The episode showed luxe realtors Barbara Klein and Joel Goodrich taking Dolly Lenz on an in-depth tour of the Fairmont’s iconic penthouse suite.


Construction of the hotel began in 1902 and was nearly complete before an earthquake in 1906. The structure survived, but the interior was damaged by fire. Julia Morgan, the first woman graduate of the architecture program in Paris’s École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, was hired to undertake the repairs, and the hotel opened a year later. Morgan also designed the legendary William Randolph Hearst Castle in San Simeon.

The Fairmont’s lobby includes a lounge offering live music, cocktails, coffee, and screens for watching major televised events.


The fabled penthouse was added in 1927 as an opulent private residence. Spanning the entire eighth floor of The Fairmont’s historic Main Building, it offers 6,000 square feet at a nightly rate of $15,000.

In 1945, financier Ben Swig bought the Fairmont and for many years lived in this luxurious penthouse himself. It features a billiard room and four fireplaces, as well as one of the best night views of the city from the terrace.

In 1945, leaders from more than forty nations representing eighty percent of the world’s population gathered here to write the United Nations Charter.

From royalty to rock stars, the world’s elite have enjoyed the penthouse suite—among them President John F. Kennedy, Prince Charles of Wales, Mick Jagger, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, and Marlene Dietrich.

The two-story circular library is crowned by a rotunda where a celestial map is rendered in gold leaf against a sapphire sky, with a secret passageway behind one of the bookcases.

Designed by famed American archeologist and art historian Arthur Upham Pope, an expert on Persian art, the Arabian Nights-themed billiard room is covered in Persian tile from floor to ceiling.

The plush bedrooms are furnished with guest’s choice of 100% cotton or silk linens. It’s rumored that JFK enjoyed a tryst with Marilyn Monroe in the penthouse.

The dining room can accommodate dinners for 60 or receptions for 150 guests.

The highlight of the penthouse may be its expansive terrace, which offers sweeping views of the city of San Francisco.


The next night, Lenz was again feted by realtor Joel Goodrich, this time at a private party at his Nob Hill lair.

I asked Joel to give my readers his perspective on the current real estate market. “I see a continuing focus on the Bay area,” he said, noting that The Wall Street Journal called the city’s historic Jackson Square area “The New Sand Hill Road.”

“Continuing its tradition as the city that is constantly reinventing itself, San Francisco’s landscape is changing at dizzying speed!”

He mentioned that there’s been a 24.6% sales price increase in the market since 2013. Will the trend continue or the bubble pop? Only time will tell.


Photos by Drew Altizer, Moanalani Jeffrey, Elizabeth H. Armstrong, Jeanne Lawrence, the James Beard Foundation, the Southwest Airlines San Francisco Chinese New Year Festival, and The Fairmont Hotel.

*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.

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