Big Bang, Pt. 2


On the 700th-plus day, following years of fundraising, underground garage battles, tons of earth moved for construction and the construction itself, the relocation of a gazillion species, hours and overtime in preparation, 30-plus welcoming events, three major galas and a mile-long line of anxious visitors on opening day, California Academy of Sciences Director Gregory Farrington surveyed this verdant kingdom and declared it was good.

And then, hopefully, went home and took a nap.

Especially as the Big Bang gala on Thursday at The Academy was a humdinger of a party.

"At 10 this morning, I reached a state of calm," said Farrington, as guests were lined up early, no less, outside the lobby atop an orange carpet awaiting the start of this soiree. "Now I'm on the edge of having fun. But the best thing about tonight? No speeches!"

"Tonight will be magic," Farrington continued. "Just look around -- not only is this building beautiful but this party is set up so beautifully."

A nod to world-renowned architect, Renzo Piano, Gala Chairwoman Randi Fisher and our own homegrown creative genius, Stanlee Gatti.

If it's possible for a building to inspire exhilaration and joy among its denizens and visitors, then that building is the dazzling new Academy.

Together, the cosmic forces of Piano, Fisher and Gatti conspired to make the Big Bang gala one of the most exciting openings in recent gala history.

Especially with so many gathered grandees in this glittering new space that spilled over with glamour, graciousness and great music outdoors (where 800 more revelers joined for a late-night dance party) in the Schwab Garden (under a balmy and starlit sky, no less) featuring Matt White and Elvis Costello.

Oh, swoon!

Playing off the International Orange architectural accents that grace the Academy, Gatti went all-out orange -- from the tent and circular tables (some fetching $15K each) where some 1,200 guests dined, to the eye-popping cocktail marketplace Gatti created in Piano's glass Piazza.

Though Gatti joked he forgot one decor detail: "Shoot! I should've had buttons made for everyone that read, 'I'm an evolutionist AND I believe in global warming!"

The hand-crafted market stalls overflowed with every kind of orange produce known to man, from which cocktails and canapes were served.

"Stanlee did all the orange food and I prepared all the non-orange food," teased McCalls Executive Chef Lucas Schoemaker.

In a nod to the party and his homeland, Schoemaker had a special chef's jacket created that sported his name embroidered in orange thread: "Queen Beatrix would be so proud!"

Gala guests also knowingly decked-out in theme, with top honors going to Pam Baer who (gasp!) boldly wore the same knock-out Coltrane Conui gown she'd donned mere weeks ago at the Academy's major donor dinner. This time, the electric green fringe rows were trimmed with trails of fresh ivy.

As well as Brook Byers and his wife, Academy Trustee Shawn Byers who wisely recycled and reused in their choice of accessories: Brook's bow-tie and cumberbund and Shawn's purse had been crafted from The Chronicle's Comics pages.


Surveying the scene, one guest wondered aloud if Piano would "have a fit" to see his pristine Piazza filled with food stalls.

"Well, it will all come down tomorrow," said Piano, with a smile. "But after all, it is a Piazza and should be filled with people. This morning, Mr. Gatti took me on a tour to show me that everything was orange.

"I said to him, 'Perhaps we should call the guests and tell them all to wear orange tonight'!"

Of the building itself, Piano said that works like these are always a challenge.

"But we were lucky with the Academy. It went quite smoothly. And, tonight, I feel both happy and surprised," said the Pritzker-prize winning architect. "Whenever a building is finished, it is always a miracle!"

Such a miracle that guests had to be encouraged to sit-down to the delish Dan McCall dinner because they were so busy zooming from the Rain Forest to the Penguin Tank and stargazing atop the domed Living Roof.

"Wow, look at those sharks and manta rays," exclaimed Supervisor Bevan Dufty, peering into a pool beneath him. "I feel right at home -- it's just like City Hall!"

"Everyone seems to have a fond memory or a childhood story about the Academy," said Randi Fisher, delighted with the excitement of the evening. "And now with the re-opening, we can create whole new chapters of great memories and experiences."

Randi was also instrumental in gathering the stellar on-stage talent -- up-and-comer (and major hottie) Matt White, who is among the talent under the GAP Artists banner (the apparel behemoth founded by her father-in-law, Don Fisher, and now run by her husband, Bob Fisher).

And with the help of the GAP Artists group, inspiration on a lunch break at Le Video and sheer luck of great timing -- the gang signed up supernova Elvis Costello who'd played Oracle World the night before and is still in town for Warren Hellman's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival this weekend.

"Next time I have to plan a gala," enthused Jim Ludwig, "I'm going to hire Randi!"

A stellar idea.

Greeting the late-night revelers who crowded the stage awaiting Elvis, Randi paid homage to every shining star -- from Academy staff to Piano.

"I am only one tiny speck in a universe of people who have created this wonderful space we call 'The Kingdom of Wow'," said Randi. "I just wish I spoke more Italian because the Academy is just magnifico!"

In a coincidental nod to the years of hard work that created the Kingdom of Wow, Elvis kicked-it off in signature style with Welcome to the Working Week as hordes of mid-aged women in gala gowns rushed the stage-- not caring a whit as their heels were sunk into the dewy grass.

Figuring the concert was over after the iconic Alison was played, we left the building and wandered out into the park in search of a cab. The clapping continued, so we stopped in the middle of the darkened Music Concourse to see what might transpire.

Suddenly the guitars began to wail again, the cheers subsided and this music of the galaxies swirled anew -- flowing over the brightly lit glass-and-steel Academy walls and across the Concourse and bouncing off the mighty copper clad tower of the de Young Museum.

"What's so funny 'bout Peace, Love and Understanding," boomed out Elvis.

What, indeed?



California Academy of Sciences entrance

Academy architect Renzo Piano with his wife, Milly Piano, and their son, Giorgio

Big Bang Gala chairwoman and Academy Trustee Randi Fisher

Elvis Costello (center) with keyboardist Austin DeLone (left) and drummer Peter Thomas

Jean Farrington and her husband, Academy Director Gregory Farrington

Academy restaurateur and Slanted Door owner-chef Charles Phan and Big Bang gala designer Stanlee Gatti

Allison Speer and Angelique Griepp

Arriving guests promenade along the orange carpet

CA State Assemblywoman Fiona Ma and Supervisor Bevan Dufty

Cal seniors and twins, Matthew Goldman and Jason Goldman

Claudia Castillo Ross (left) with PG&E Government Relations Manager Brandon Hernandez and Nadine Weil

Denver Art Museum major donor Frederic Hamilton (left) with Wendy Bingham and her husband, New Academy Founding Chairman Dick Bingham, Jane Hamilton and Carter Walker

Dick Goldman and Helen Hilton Raiser

Gala chairwoman Randi Fisher with performing artist Matt White and Elliott Donnelley

Gallerist Sabrina Buell and industrial designer Yves Behar

Publishing pooh-bahs, Chronicle Books' Nion McEvoy and 7x7 Magazine's Heather Hartle

Gatti-designed tables

Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife, Wendy Schmidt (left) with Academy Trustee Shawn Byers and her husband, Kleiner Perkins pooh-bah Brook Byers


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