If not for the rather large display of neon lights shouting "A BALL," a cardboard palm tree and the steady stream of limousines, 17th Street motorists might never have guessed there was a party at the Corcoran Gallery. It was the 28th Corcoran Ball, a traditional, glitzy moneymaker for the private museum.

The theme was art deco, decidedly Hollywood. Or was it New Yorkish?

"Social life is V-E-R-Y different in Washington," explained Michael Botwinick, the new director of the Corcoran who recently arrived from Brooklyn. "It was all very frenetic in New York; everyone did business. In a small town like Washington, parties are better organized. Everyone is meant to have a good time. I wasn't even nervous before this party."

Occidental Petroleum chairman Armand Hammer, financial guardian angel of the Corcoran, arrived like he always does--with great fanfare. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor chatted intently with former CIA chief Richard Helms. The 1,300 guests ate roast beef off of crystal china set upon silver lame' tablecloths.

Tickets sold for $165 each, and this year's ball grossed more than $100,000 for the museum. It also marked the opening of the show "William Christenberry: A Restrospective."

But it was the $20,000 from New York's Shubert Organization--currently known for the production of "Cats"--that provided for the neon lights, silver Mylar palm trees and black-and-white enamel decorations.

Bernard Jacobs, president of the Shubert, said most assuredly, "Yes, 'Cats' will be coming to Washington."