The stately stone building was streaming in lights and smoke.
The first thing guests saw as they entered the home of the Organization of American States last night were floor to ceiling balloons, Brazilian vegetation, dancers dressed as everything from new wave gladiators to scantily feathered birds of paradise. Even the busts of George Washington and Simon Bolivar were spangled and feathered for the occasion.
The first thing they heard was a Brazilian samba band, soon drowned out by Top 40 dance music.
There were girls and boys, dressed in a few strategically placed feathers, most of which were on their heads, perched on platforms throughout the building. Then there was Alexis Lee, wearing a 5-foot-tall Carmen Miranda-sort of paper fruit me'lange headdress, who burst out of balloons shortly after midnight.
Welcome to "Carnaval Magique."
About 500 Young Friends of the Red Cross and their Yuppiest pals plunked down $150 each to bring in the New Year at a evening billed as a serious effort to put Washington on the party map.
"I believe people can have an exciting evening here in Washington," said the chief organizer of the event, Davis Camalier, president of the Camalier & Buckley luggage firm.
"I'm a third-generation Washingtonian, and I like to think of myself as a fun person. Besides, I had to do this. No one else invited me for New Year's."
Camalier, 30, is such an admirer of the New Year's bashes that banker H. Loy Anderson has been throwing for the past 10 years in Palm Beach, Fla., he decided to bring the party to Washington and start his own tradition.
And he had no regrets. "Isn't this the greatest," yelled Camalier above the music.
"Davy never does things in a small way," said Connie O'Brien of Camalier. "This is very unusual for us," said her date, Lin Grubbs. "Usually on New Year's we go to small personal parties. It's just too bad Ronnie's in California."
"This is just like a Hollywood set," shouted interior designer Carlos Deupi. "It reminds me of Rio."
"I was expecting something a little more conservative," said Chris Schrichte, 24, one of the guests. "Actually, I didn't know what to expect."
"This is fantastic," said Alice Foster, who brought her husband, Dr. James Foster, to the party. Foster, who appeared to be twice the age of most of the under-30 crowd, had a hard time hearing anything over the music, but seemed to be having a good time. "I'm a little overdressed," said the black-tied Foster, as he gazed up at a young male dancer dressed only in a G-string, a few feathers and a smile on his face.
"I'd say I brought it 1985 in with a hell of a bang," said one member of the conga line shortly after midnight. When asked to identify himself, he quickly said, "No, change that to a big bang" and congaed out of sight, back into the main room where at the stroke of midnight a balloon bag less than successfully released its contents.
Elbow room was never a problem on the dance floor. "You need at least 750 people here at one time to really have the electricity you need," said Anderson. "We've had calls from Minnesota, Cleveland, New York and California about bringing this party to them, but we can't spread ourselves too thinly. It might be eight years before we start another party."
Anderson and his wife Inger, who was dressed in red and black netting, gave it their all on the dance floor and were probably the fun party couple of the evening. But the reticence of some of the guests didn't faze the Andersons at all. "This is great!" yelled Inger Anderson above a 50-decibel Springsteen blast. Added her 35-ish husband, "young people are young people everywhere."
Another couple, Henry Wheelwright, 42, and his wife Celeste, 30, were the only guests who came in costume as had been requested. Henry looked as if he just escaped from the cast of "Cats" with his feline mask and tail, while his wife sported an elegant peacock mask.
"We're here because my wife's on the committee," said Henry. "No dear, I'm not on this one," said Celeste. "Oh, I get them all mixed up. This is fabulous," said Henry, quickly changing the subject. "We usually travel." The Wheelwrights have marked New Years past in Cancun, Europe and in front of a fireplace in Vermont, but now "everything's right here in Washington."
But it wasn't all frivolity. The last attraction of the evening, which ended at 3 a.m., was a "survival tent," complete with coffee dispensed from i.v.'s, volunteers making sure revelers were fit to drive home.
Asked how much the event was expected to raise for the Red Cross, Camalier said, "Perhaps $20-$30,000. But in three years we expect to be up to the Palm Beach level of $100,000."
And how to preserve the novelty of last night's fete in years to come? "We've already thought about that," said Camalier. "We're going to keep on updating the guest list to make sure we have young, exciting people."