The Good Life Barbershop Harmony Quartet strolled through the three floors of the Georgetown Park shopping mall, while guests at The American University's 90th anniversary party were photographed in their 1890s attire. Grand Victorian manners were the order of the evening.
"You look lovely, Madame Chairman," said former managing director of the Washington Performing Arts Society Patrick Hayes greeting Gail Berendzen, wife of university president Richard Berendzen. She was bedecked in a contemporary jewel-studded burgundy gown fashioned after turn-of-the-century styles.
As for her husband: "I'm Richard Berendzen, the president of American University," he said to welcome about 500 AU patrons and supporters to the black-tie celebration. "I say that not for most of you here, but for the faculty and students that may be confused."
Not many of last night's chuckling guests were confused about Berendzen's identity or the reason for the get-together--a journey back to the Gay Nineties for a lesson in 1980s fund raising.
The American University, faced with decreasing admissions and a small endowment, in the past 18 months significantly has reduced its nonacademic staff and raised its admission standards. Last night's event raised about $25,000 for student financial aid, one of the university's programs to attract more students.
"I think the worst is over," said Donald Treizenberg, vice president for development and planning, discussing the much-publicized budget cuts at AU. "We look forward to some good years."
The evening included a bona fide turn-of-the-century menu--from Billi Bi Soup (mussels and thyme in cream), to Inspiration Bread, a favorite during the Garfield administration, and Cucumber Sagamore Hill, named after President Theodore Roosevelt's garden. And the music during each of the seven courses was authentic, with boisterous sing-alongs of "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" and "God Bless America."
But the highlight of the evening was the panorama photograph taken at the beginning of dinner as guests crowded to the brass railings to get in the picture.
"We are about to get you all captured on film for the memory of the next 90 years," said Berendzen, optimistic for the school's future.
He felt good enough, in fact, to needle some local competition.
Referring to late shoppers and onlookers gazing down from the top tier of the fashionable mall, he said: "They're from Georgetown University , and they were wishing they were from AU."