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Fundraising gala for Jack London Park evokes Gatsby era

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Having one of your major attractions shut down for half the year would be an inconvenience for most destinations, if not a crippling headache. At Jack London State Historic Park, however, they’re turning that headache into a party.

“An Evening with the Crowd,” a fundraising event benefitting the park, takes over the nearly-empty House of Happy Walls on Saturday, April 21, for a “step back in time” party (or soirée, as they call it) with Art Deco costumes, Charleston dancing, entertainment by Transcendence Theatre Company and appetizers by Girl and the Fig.

“We want to take folks back to the late 1920s, so we’re dressing up the house as it might have been then – actors in period costume, a vintage car club, the works,” said Caroline Quilici, the Partners’ events director.

That’s because the House of Happy Walls, the park’s museum and Charmian London’s former home, closed its doors for a long over-due remodel in late January, and its rooms are now almost empty – creating a blank slate for the imagination that a party like this demands.

The two-story stone house, built between 1919 and 1926 and Charmian’s home until her death in 1955, has served as the park’s museum since the 1960s, and over time its rooms have become full of clutter with books, photographs, gloves, medical kits and all sorts of other memorabilia of the age of the Londons.

But time, and technology, have rendered the museum a relic of a pre-digital age, and Jack London Park Partners decided it was time to bring it up to modern times with a complete renovation. All the exhibits and most of the furniture were removed and the building is now next-to-empty, though Charmian’s Steinway grand piano is still on the second floor.

As always since they took over running the park in 2011, the Partners needs to raise significant money for their efforts, and when it came time to plan the spring fundraiser, the House of Happy Walls seemed like the perfect venue: a place to re-imagine the romantic past of Jack, Charmian and their talented if eccentric circle of friends.

London was part of a radical literary group called “The Crowd” in San Francisco, a sort of precursor to the Beat Generation half-a-century later. When he moved to Glen Ellen in 1905, part of that crowd visited him there for parties at Beauty Ranch, and it’s that atmosphere of creative energy that the fundraiser hopes to generate.

As well as champagne, caviar and hors d’oeuvres, attendees can enjoy entertainment from a 10-member delegation of the Transcendence Theatre Company. “We’ve been working for quite some time preparing for this event,” said Tony Gonzales, organizer of the TTC contingent. “The theme pays tribute to the idea that these walls were talking during the Charmian-Jack London era.”

Gonzales promises an “interactive night of song and dance,” with the company’s talent dressed in appropriate costume, singing appropriate songs, and dancing in the most appropriate (if occasionally inappropriate) ways. Some talent will even be flying in from New York or L.A. for the event, which Gonzales promised would be “a kind of mini-version of our summer shows.”

That includes a special Charleston performance – one that’s hoped to get the attendees up on their feet along with the dancers and the band.

Gonzales and Quilici both referenced a “Gatsby vibe” for the event, while acknowledging that Jack never lived to see the House of Happy Walls, nor the 1920s – he died in 1916.

“The thing is, we will never be able to have this kind of party again,” said Quilici. That’s because phase two of the remodel goes into full gear in a couple weeks, reinstalling new exhibits and digital displays for a new generation of Jack and Charmian London fans.

But if living in the past is more appealing, the April 21 gala, “An Evening with the Crowd,” is your chance to get a jump on the re-opening, and party like it’s 1929.

An Evening with the Crowd: A fundraising event benefitting Jack London Park, Saturday, April 21, 6 – 10 p.m. Tickets $150, available at jacklondonpark.com/the-crowd.html.