OAKLAND, Calif. – Many of us have heard of, or possibly event attended a Gatsby themed party. Perhaps you went and bought a costume in the form of a dress or suit, or even something that looked like an era-specific hat or shoes. But absolutely nothing compares to A Gatsby Summer Afternoon put on by the Art Deco Society of California (ADSC).
There are no costumes here. There are no half measures. This soiree is the real deal. It is hosted at the historic Dunsmuir Hellman Estate in Oakland, California and the estate set a scene perfect for the afternoon affair.
A scene from the movies
It is a Gatsby summer afternoon where guests dress in their Sunday best for an outdoor picnic and dance party. Complete with classic cars, live jazz band, and some of the best picnics you’ve ever seen. Every single thing was from the Gatsby/Art Deco era.
As guests walked onto the estate grounds, they could faintly begin to hear the pings of a trumpet off in the distance. With each step taken onto the grounds, guests began to walk through a time portal into the 1920s as if in a dream haze sequence. The fuzzy picture slowly came into focus as the music became clear.
To your left you see the beautiful Dunsmuir Hellman house with a gentleman spinning jazz records from the 1920s and 1930s. Select guests are taking the opportunity to try out their Shimmy and Charleston dance moves on the front porch of the mansion.
In front of you is the grand and lush lawn of the estate where event-goers set up their elaborate picnics. Towering trees line provide ideal shade. The smell of eucalyptus and champagne wafts in the air. Guests clamor for one of these ideal shady spots to set up.
The dresses, suits, and cars all evoking a bygone era
Guests with classic cars from the art deco era were allowed to park their cars and include them in their display. Fine china, Depression glass, champagne coupes, linen napkins, embroidered tablecloths, fine silverware and other era-appropriate wares were on display where ever you looked. There was no plastic, no Styrofoam or even paper. The Gatsby-goers embraced the event wholeheartedly.
This allowed every person there to be totally transported back to an era gone by.
As you walk deeper into the event, you spy a jazz band playing music on the right. There is a grand wooden dance floor that is bulging at the seams with dancers that are regular Oliver Twists. Overhearing blurbs of conversation like “now you’re on the trolly,” and “let’s break for some giggle water.”
The Don Neely Royal Society Jazz Orchestra is sounding in perfect pitch as expected.
The dance floor is abuzz with the latest dances like the Charleston, the Waltz, the Lindy Hop (Jitterbug), The Rumba, the Samba, Foxtrot, and Swing. Dancers range in age from 25 to 95 as they twirl around the dance floor until the band plays its final note.
Oh my did the guests outdo themselves, dressing in the summer attire of the 1920s and 1930s. Setting their picnics the Estate transforms into a scene from an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel.
As a newcomer, your eye spy all the lavish displays, taking notes for what to do better next year. Wicker picnic baskets, elegant cloths draped for sun protection, fine china with tiny flower designs, flowers on display as the centerpiece, jars for transporting the food with ease and a wagon to carry your items efficiently onto the grounds.
Once you reach the very back of the lawn, you rub your eyes for a moment to make sure you’re actually seeing what you’re seeing. Before you is a complete military camp set in the late 1930s, complete with two jeeps from 1938 that were actually used in WWII, and British military tents also used in WWII in northern Africa.
Walking through the tents is like being there. From the furniture to the dishes to the oil barrels and even the laundry line with clothing drying. This incredible display was curated over time. You swear that Indiana Jones himself is walking the grounds, taking a break from archeology and half-seas over a bottle of whiskey.
“Our Gatsby Summer Afternoon has become, by far, our most attended event, with almost 1,000 people coming to enjoy the music, entertainment, vintage cars, and beautiful summer weather,” said Heidi Schave, ADSC President. “It is an event unequaled anywhere else and one that Jay Gatsby would be most proud of.”
The full-day activities included:
- Don Neely’s Royal Society Jazz Orchestra with song stylists Carla Normand and Frederick Hodges.
- The Great Gatsby Bathing Beauty Revue with the Decobelles. Toast the crowning of this year’s Miss Art Deco
- Grand Motor Car Exhibit, with dozens of Art Deco era autos on display
- Vintage Vinyl Spins on the Mansion Porch with DJ Tanoa (Samoa Boy) Stewart
- Performance by the Century Sisters
- Prizes for the Best Auto; Best Costumes for Ladies, Gents and Children; Best Charleston Dance Contest; and Best Picnics, Petite to Grand.
As the picnic came to a close we finally found Jim Lipman, a member of the Art Deco Society board of directors.
“This is my favorite event of the year. It really is the way it would have been in the ’20s. One of the reasons I like the period so much is it was a time of style and manners, most of which, unfortunately, is lost today.”
The Gatsby Afternoon party is always the second Sunday in September. Next year the event will be held on September 12, 2020. So don’t take any wooden nickels, this afternoon is the bee’s knees. Get your tickets in advance for this event as it always sells out and start your planning now. Impress your friends and spend an absolutely lovely afternoon back in time with Gatsby and the Art Deco Society of California.