In Richmond, hard times are no excuse to stay home — they're grounds for celebration.
Even during the darkest days of the Depression, Richmonders found a way to get down, throwing three lavish Beaux Arts Balls at the Jefferson Hotel. Hundreds of costumed men and women showed up. Jazz filled the air. In the event's first year, a beautiful woman named the Spirit of the Ball rode into the lobby on a horse. The next year, she trumped that entrance by being lowered from the ceiling in an enormous tulip.
The Beaux Arts Balls mostly have been forgotten, but the Art Deco Society of Virginia aims to resurrect their boisterous spirit with its first Jazz Age Preservation Ball, set for Jan. 19 at the Bolling Haxall House.
"We thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to recreate something of this caliber?'" says Olivia Lloyd, president of the society. "Our goal is to make it that when you step through the doors of the Bolling Haxall House, you feel like you've stepped back in time."
To that end, the group has booked the Winn Jazz All Stars, led by local singer John Winn, a 2005 Pollak Prize recipient. Burlesque duo the Garter Snaps also will perform, and Charleston dance lessons will be offered to those attendees who want to walk the walk of the Roaring '20s.
Partygoers are encouraged to dress in the style of the times. Mary Atkinson, a sales associate at Bygones, recommends that women lean toward dropped-waist dresses, long beads and bobbed hair. "The Jazz Age and Prohibition was about sparkle," she says — "going out, having fun and dancing."
Unlike its predecessor, which had to contend with the constraints of Prohibition, the Jazz Age Ball will include a bar, as well as food, and is sponsored by St. Germain.
But this affair is about more than '20s-style hedonism. Besides raising awareness of Virginia's rich art-deco heritage, the event aims to raise money for the preservation of the Byrd Theatre. Proceeds from ticket sales and a silent auction held during the ball will be donated to the theater foundation.
"We were really thrilled when the Art Deco Society reached out to us," says Jaclyn Witthoefft, president of the Byrd Theatre Foundation. The money will contribute to the Byrd's efforts to raise $500,000 by the end of June as part of a Mary Morton Parsons Foundation challenge grant. If the theater meets this goal, the Parsons Foundation will donate $250,000 to the landmark's preservation efforts.
The Byrd needs lots of work, Witthoefft says. The theater recently completely two significant projects — replacing its boiler and installing a digital server system to allow it to screen digital films — and hopes to replace the air-conditioning system before summer. The Jazz Age Ball will help fund this work, as well as other ongoing high-priority projects that are tackled whenever funds become available.
"I'm hoping people will open up their hearts and wallets," Lloyd says.
The Art Deco Society hopes to make the ball an annual affair, rotating the beneficiary each year. As a starting point, the Byrd seemed a solid choice. "Everyone loves the Byrd," Lloyd says. "Everyone wants to see it around for generations." S
The Jazz Age Preservation Ball will be held Jan. 19 at the Bolling Haxall House. Tickets are available at Bygones and Bella Flora and online at artdecova.com.