It feels like a giant time machine. For one afternoon each second Sunday in September, the lawn of an historic estate near San Francisco is transformed into Long Island, New York in the 1920’s. While it seems like a page right out of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famed 1925 novel, “The Great Gatsby”, it is in reality site of the Art Deco Society of California’s Annual “Gatsby Summer Afternoon” in Oakland, California.
Now in its 33rd year, the annual event attracted more than 1,000+ party goers and fans of the Art Deco era in a scene straight out of the 1920’s. Held at the Dunsmuir Hellman Estate, the annual “Gatsby Summer Afternoon” event is an opportunity for revelers to dress in vintage clothing from the 20’s through the early 40’s, and to picnic, party, and dance to the music of Don Neely’s Royal Society Jazz Orchestra.
In the Spirit of Jay Gatsby’s West Egg gatherings, the music, style and fashion of a bygone era trumped “all things of the Gatsby Era”, including some 100 pre-war antique cars ranging from 1918 to 1941 on display, croquet lessons, a Great Gatsby Bathing Beauty Revue with the Decobelles, and prizes for the best picnic, best fashion and best Charleston dance, among other things.
Despite the 85-degree heat, most all the participants seemed comfortable dressed up in their “Sunday Best”, including straw hats, suits and tie. Summonsing the splendor and yet simplicity of a bygone era, guests were encouraged to tote their picnics to the event in old suitcases, bring pillows and use parasols to keep the sun at bay, and of course enjoy dancing to the music of the San Francisco Bay Area music institution, the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, which has performed at every “Gatsby” event since the beginning.
Participants ranged from 18 to 88, and all seemed to equally have a good time. The event continues to attract younger crowds, fueled in part by films like “The Great Gatsby” and TV series like “Downton Abbey” and “Boardwalk Empire”. The allure of the event is characterized by everything 1920s- an era bookended by World War I and the Great Depression- that allows participants to escape the high-tech, social-media driven complexity of today into classier yet simpler times.
In addition to the annual “Gatsby Summer Afternoon”, the Art Deco Society of California hosts events and seminars throughout the year, including their annual Art Deco Preservation Ball, held in the spring. More information can be found here.