Over the last 71 years, the Las Patronas signature Jewel Ball has changed fundamentally. It went from a simply orchestrated, one-beneficiary fundraiser organized by 14 stay-at-home women to a La Jolla icon that raises hundreds of thousands of dollars to dole out to dozens of beneficiaries each year, with its décor growing ever more elaborate under the direction of some 50 volunteers.
One thing that has not changed is the Jewel Ball’s home: the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club. As the ladies of Las Patronas ready this week for the 72nd annual Jewel Ball — a nod to artist Frida Kahlo themed “Viva La Vida” and set for Aug. 4 — chair Jennifer Edstrom and Beach & Tennis Club owner Bill Kellogg spoke to La Jolla Light about the decades-long partnership.
While neither were actually present for the initial partnering, the history of these two institutions runs deep and is known to members.
“In the world we live in now, we couldn’t put on this event and give what we give without the Beach & Tennis Club’s generosity,” Edstrom said. “It’s such a valuable, irreplaceable relationship to us. They are so wonderful to work with. They open their arms to us every year.
“Most of the Las Patronas founding members were members of the Beach & Tennis Club, so when they were looking for a venue for the first Jewel Ball, it was a natural fit. It was hub for La Jolla, and it was where people liked to be, and it continues to be.”
Kellogg added: “We were only partially developed when the Jewel Ball got started; there were almost no trees or houses on the hillside. It was in a remote area, so before UC San Deigo came to town, the Beach & Tennis Club was the center of social activity; that and the La Jolla Country Club.”
Kellogg said his grandmother was involved in social issues, and because the Jewel Ball’s first beneficiary was the United States Service to China organization in the aftermath of World War II, she wanted to support the event.
Las Patronas was formed in 1946 by Kathryne Hosmer and 13 other women to host a Jewel Ball. Since then, the group has raised and distributed more than $19 million to various non-profit beneficiaries.
The ball’s décor in the early years was more scaled back and featured dinners prepared by members, and an evening of music and dancing. In subsequent years, the dinners were catered, the bars were improved and the themes were playfully introduced.
By the end of the 1950s, the Club property had expanded and increased the number of tennis courts, so Las Patronas members extended the physical reach of the Jewel Ball, as well.
“The ladies had the idea to build a bridge over our pool, believe it or not, which they still use, and the Ball expanded from the patio to the tennis courts. Now they use three courts as the dance floor,” Kellogg said.
Having first attended the Jewel Ball at age 16, Kellogg said he has consistently attended the event since the late 1970s.
“Each succeeding year, I think they want to outdo the décor from year before,” he laughed. “There was a period when these decorations rivaled Hollywood sets. There were intricate 3-D designs. We’ve had elephants, white tigers, jugglers, everything you can imagine.
“Then, during the recession, people wanted to not be so ostentatious about it, and the decorations were pulled back and made simpler, which also allowed Las Las Patronas to give even more money to their beneficiaries. In recent years, simpler has been better, but I still see how they try to outdo themselves.”
A forever-favorite for Kellogg was the Jewel Ball of 1992, the year his wife was the chair with the theme “It’s Your Move.” The reason it’s his favorite, he jokes, is obvious.
Building the Ball
This week, the ladies of Las Patronas are building the Ball on the Club grounds, laboring that has become a spectacle to watch for Club members and accompanying La Jolla Shores Hotel guests. Edstrom said there are people who visit the facilities as an annual tradition, and often stop by to see what the theme is and how it manifests.
This year, Edstrom said she wanted to pay homage through the Ball décor to both the Frida Kahlo painting “Viva La Vida,” and the Beach & Tennis Club. “When I was thinking about the theme, I was looking at the Beach & Tennis Club’s Spanish-style architecture and how we could work with it instead of cover it,” she explained. “There’s colorful tile work here, and we have that repeated in our décor elements. We wanted to give structure to the Beach & Tennis Club and not make it disappear the way we have in the past.”
Regardless of whether the Club is showcased or covered, Kellogg said the partnership has been mutually beneficial overall. “The Jewel Ball helps the Beach & Tennis Club stay in touch with the community and make a positive impact. We’ve been able to lend professional guidance and technical support behind the scenes. We’ve helped the organization evolve over the years from a loosely run volunteer organization to a very professionally run organization,” he said. “It’s clearly a partnership, and the community is lucky to have this partnership. It’s done a lot of good for a lot of people.”
— The “Viva La Vida” Jewel Ball is set for 8:15 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4 at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, 2000 Spindrift Drive. Ticket and sponsorship details at laspatronas.org