My Front Yard Caruso Village Gala Party
By BOB VICKREY
Last Thursday evening I discovered that Palisades Village developer Rick Caruso is a very accommodating guy. He must have known that I’ve become somewhat of a hermit in recent years and rarely travel east of Bundy Drive, so he decided to have his Grand Opening Gala in my front yard—which is only a slight exaggeration.
My house on Monument Street sits near the intersection of Swarthmore Avenue, which has become the new retail nexus of our town—and judging by the recent Wall Street Journal profile of Caruso, the retail shopping and entertainment model of the future.
Last Thursday’s special occasion honored members of the project team who planned and built the new shopping complex. The Wolfgang Puck-catered dinner was also held to introduce the new tenants who are opening shops and restaurants in the village center. Several city dignitaries attended, but more to the point; what would a grand opening in L.A. be without a bevy of celebrity guests for such an august occasion?
When members of my party arrived on the red-carpet walkway—sans entourage and the obligatory black Escalade—I immediately spotted actresses Charlize Theron and Kate Beckinsale, as well as Palisades Honorary Mayors Janice and Billy Crystal. This auspicious scene naturally begged the obvious question: What the heck was I doing here?
It seems that the Caruso team took pity on the homeowners whose homes directly face the new project, after having been held hostage for the last two years by dump trucks, cranes, and fork lifts backing into our driveways. Since we didn’t qualify for “combat pay” during the construction, this big bash invitation may have been our reward for keeping the torches and ropes hidden safely in our garages. We even occasionally displayed moments of patience and tolerance regarding the long and grueling process.
Earlier in the month, I was pleased to find my formal invitation on my doorstep. The huge box was roughly the same weight as my Dodge Minivan. The thoughtful fork-lift operator from across the street was kind enough to help me hoist it inside the front door.
The contents of the large package included a gold-foil laminated invitation, a cloth-bound embossed children’s book entitled “Where the Stars Meet the Sea”—plus a secret bottom compartment, which I was unable to open without blasting caps. Given the weight of the box, I’ll be keeping the package because there might be gold ingots hidden inside. The event’s Master of Ceremonies, former Palisades Honorary Mayor Kevin Nealon, said “I’ve never gotten an invitation that elaborate. I think it required a building permit.”
The scene we encountered had an awards show atmosphere, complete with red-carpet runway and dozens of paparazzi snapping pictures of pretty young actresses whose names I didn’t know. The scene reminded me once again that I don’t get out much these days, but perhaps the Bay Theater opening will eventually reintroduce me to the culture of 21st Century entertainment.
Earlier in the week, the installation of the Bay Theater sign had created quite a frenzied atmosphere on Monument Street, as neighborhood onlookers watched the crane drop the final letter “B” into place. When workers lit up the colorful blinking sign that evening, I realized that from our direction, the letters were reversed, and we would forever read the name as the “YAB” theater. (I have since decided to drop the “dyslexic-inducing” discrimination suit I had first considered.)
But back to the big party, my date(s) for the evening were my next-door neighbors Christine and Julia, who commented that I was wandering around the grounds like a 12-year-old boy attending the circus for the first time. Christine even whispered, “Bob, you might want to close your mouth.” I soon realized that as I took in the glamorous sights of the glittering lights and the surreal atmosphere the party planners had created, my vocabulary had been reduced to one word, as I repeatedly uttered “Wow!” I’m sure my table mates were extremely impressed by my erudite display of language skills.
We were reminded during the evening that serving an intimate little dinner for 400-plus guests is no easy chore, as there were significant time gaps between each arriving course. Our M.C., Mr. Nealon, did a great job helping us forget that we were starving, as he continually returned to the stage and kept the crowd chuckling with his irreverent humor. He quipped: “We’ll be done eating dinner at two in the morning.”
But when the main entrée (a surf-and-turf combination) was eventually served, the guests at our table agreed that dinner was well worth waiting for—and amazingly—came out of the kitchen hot!
The promised headlining performer, John Legend, did not disappoint. His great energy was on display as he performed on a stage located next to the movie theater. When he finished his performance, many people began streaming toward the exits, but I reminded those in my party that there was one more additional act to cap the evening’s festivities.
Jason McGee and “The Choir” took the stage attired in their flowing white robes, and immediately brought the audience to its feet with their dynamic and stylish gospel music. The Choir’s a cappella spirituals re-energized the crowd and topped off the evening with a stirring rendition of “Celebrate,” just as the fireworks began exploding overhead.
Everyone I talked with afterward—including several jaded Hollywood veterans—agreed that the Caruso team definitely knows how to throw a party. One showbiz long-timer said, “Good luck to the Oscar committee trying to top this night.”
My neighbor Colin and I retreated to the parkway green and stayed on after the big party had wound down, as we recapped the evening’s highlights. He is a former actor who had once shared a dramatic scene with Charlize Theron in the 1999 film “Cider House Rules,” and had hoped to say hello to her after all these years. I assured him that she had likely gone home by that late hour. But no sooner had I finished the sentence, when he spotted her leaving the party near where we were standing and was afforded a chance to have a short reunion with his friend.
Colin later reminded me that I had successfully stayed up past midnight—which is no small feat for me these days. We acknowledged that we had just experienced a memorable evening that we’d be talking about for many years to come.
The Grand Opening during the weekend brought hundreds of townspeople back to the village for the first time in years. I ran into numerous old friends who had eventually stopped coming to the blighted, boarded-up street that Swarthmore Avenue had become. Former gift shop owner Roy Robbins had once commented “All we’re missing now are the tumbleweeds.”
You won’t find any tumbleweed in Caruso’s meticulously-manicured village. In fact, I expect the full-time curators of the property will soon ask me to remove my shoes when I walk on their spotless sidewalks.
I’m anxiously anticipating the theater opening in coming weeks since I probably haven’t seen a movie with an audience since “Jaws.” I’m also looking forward to saying to my Monument Street neighbors, “See you at the ‘YAB’.”
Bob Vickrey is a longtime Palisadian whose columns appear in several Southwestern newspapers including the Houston Chronicle and is a member of the Board of Contributors for the Waco Tribune-Herald. His “lunch club” series ran for almost four years in the Palisades News.