CELEBRATING 2000; REVELRY, INTROSPECTION MIX AT BAY AREA PARTIES

As 2000 made its surprisingly emotional westward trek from the South Pacific Friday, Bay Area residents were fairly sure by midafternoon that the new millennium would not usher in the technological meltdown that would lead to darkness and cave-dwelling.

Here, as throughout the world, the arrival of midnight was a joyous moment that gave many people more of an emotional wallop than they had expected.

“Like any click of the calendar, you feel as if your life is going to be different on one side compared to the other. I think this will be a watershed, and what makes it a watershed may just be because we say it is,” said San Francisco architect Ira Kurlander.

“I think that’s why a lot of people didn’t want to go out, not just because they didn’t want to be among a lot of teen-age kids getting drunk, but I think it’s more of a religious thing and I’m usually, totally indifferent to New Year’s Eve.”

Those who went out to celebrate throughout the Bay Area rang in the new year with the sound of joyous voices and tinkling glass a surprisingly sedate version of the requisite drunken bacchanal in downtown San Francisco. The San Francisco celebration was capped with an only-in-San Francisco fireworks show around the Ferry Building, with the colorful firebursts accompanied post-midnight by the sound of Tony Bennett singing “I Left my Heart in San Francisco.”

But for many people, reaction to the change in the year/century/millennium demanded a considerable amount of introspection, along with the reveling.

“If people ask me 10 years from now what I did New Year’s Eve 2000, I didn’t want to say I stayed at home,” said Bridget Segurson, who was celebrating at the big band dance aboard the U.S.S. Hornet in Alameda.

In a very real sense, these were revels with a cause, going well beyond the standard New Year’s Eve celebration for a number of reasons, not the least being that most people, whether they would admit it or not, had the tiniest bit of apocalyptic fear creeping into their fantasies of a new millennium.

And here, at the cutting edge of the computer age, there was the added fear that the monster we created in our own backyard would be the beast of our undoing.

Perhaps the most reassuring and inspiring midnight event, though, was the birth of Victoria Elise Gregory to Katie and Tom Gregory of Brentwood at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Walnut Creek. The 7 pound, 9 ounce infant, born at 20 seconds after midnight, was believed to be the Bay Area’s first millennium baby.

But the celebration began well before the clock hit 12. Here are some snapshots of how the Bay Area celebrated the final few hours of the 20th Century.

4:55 p.m. As the new year reached Greenland, guests and friends at the Manor Care Nursing and Rehabilitation Facility outside Rossmoor in Walnut Creek began blowing horns and singing “Auld Lang Syne.”

Greenland was close enough most of these people would be in bed when midnight reached Walnut Creek.

Irene Jacobs, 96, sat front row while a Dixieland band played. Jacobs reflected on nearly a century’s worth of change, including the first automobile she saw.

“It belonged to our doctor, who came to our house,” said Jacobs. “There it was. We children all went out and petted it.”

Jacobs said she saw things portrayed in comic books as a child become real before her eyes: “I’ve come from the horse and buggy to the moon.”

***

6:05 p.m. About 6,000 purple and gold balloons fluttered down from the cerulean ceiling of the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco, to the delight of 2,800 kids and parents at the final 1999 performance of the San Francisco Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.”

Along with the other kids, 10-year-old Piper Connelly stomped as many balloons as she could, and the noise was deafening.

“This is her thing more than the ballet,” said her mother, who didn’t wish to be named.

Ariane McDonald, who announced her age as “6 3/4,” said she’d be taking three balloons home. Her mom, Susan, decided on “The Nutcracker” for their New Year’s Eve entertainment because “it was one of the few things that was child-oriented and that we could get home from early.”

***

6:12 p.m. Tina Boyer, the catering coordinator at Pleasanton’s Sheraton Four Points Hotel, distributed flashlights to the bartenders, but she was more worried about things more pressing than technological hazards.

She said her boss called in sick “about 20 minutes into my hairdo,” and the other boss was waiting at home to go into labor. As employees scurried among empty banquet rooms, pushing carts and unloading bottles, Boyer seemed remarkably calm. She was more concerned with people drinking too much than the Y2K bug.

“There’s no time to even think about that,” she said. “Tomorrow is just another day.”

***

6:15 p.m. A few eager partygoers arrived early for the Ambassador Christian Fellowship celebration at the Sheraton Four Points (it was supposed to start at 7 p.m.) Bonnie Curry of Dublin, who said she hasn’t been out on New Year’s Eve in 14 years, said this particular year offers a unique opportunity.

“God’s always got new beginnings for us,” she said. “It’s special. It’s really a fresh start. How often do you get to do that?”

Curry laughed off the notion of any midnight mayhem.

“It’s the Lord; he protects us. Have no fear; it’s in God’s hands.”

***

6:50 p.m. Things had started to roll at the Crockett Community Center’s first New Year’s Eve party, sponsored by the Crockett Recreation Department. About 250 people, dressed in their best evening attire, were expected for the $75 celebration, which featured a 16-piece orchestra and a DJ.

Marilyn Adair, 56, a Crockett native, had two tables reserved and was celebrating with 40 friends. “Crockett is such a fantastic town; people go all out for you.”

At midnight, she said, she planned to “find someone to kiss.”

***

6:53 p.m. Ben Morrow and his buddy Peter Robertson, 19, had flown in from Boise, Idaho, to join more than 3,000 fans at the Primus concert in Oakland’s Henry J. Kaiser center. They arrived at 4 p.m., and rode a bus and BART to the event, where many a Mohawk could be seen.

“What a great way to spend the millennium,” said Robertson. “It’s kind of a thrill to be with the worst people on Earth at the worst possible time. If we see riots here, what a thing to remember.”

***

7:15 p.m. Millennium or not, it was only another session at the office for rocker Jeffrey Osborne.

“It’s just another day to me; it’s way, way overblown,” said Osborne, who was preparing for two New Year’s Eve shows at Casino San Pablo.

He thinks people have been running scared and that parties have taken a dive, because they were overplayed and because party planners were gouging people trying to enjoy New Year’s Eve. Limo drivers in Phoenix told him in November that they were planning to charge $2,500 for the night, for instance.

“I’m looking forward to the year 2020. It just sounds cool,” Osborne said.

***

7:20 p.m. “Hey! hey! hey! Hey! Hey!”

San Francisco ska band Red Session had just started playing on a portable stage at First Night Martinez. The six members wore black tuxedos; the trombonist had a matching stocking cap. The first song was disrupted by terrible squeals. “Apparently the sound system isn’t Y2K-compliant,” joked the guitarist.

But pretty soon they hit a groove. Little kids were bouncing to the beat. Gray-haired women in sensible coats were bouncing. Moms and dads and teen-agers were bouncing. Twelve minutes into the set, the inevitable happened people were dancing in the street.

***

7:30 p.m. Glitter, leather pants, heck, even Stevie Nicks or a reveler who looked a darned lot like her hustled and bumped at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. The crowd boogied down to such hits as “Kung Fu Fighting” in their best Angel Flight pants, shiny halter tops and platform heels.

The DJ was in the mood, too, wearing a mondo Afro and a cheesy Hawaiian shirt.

Charlene Johnson of Healdsburg threw a little a leather and lace together to become Nicks. “It just happened,” she said, smiling. “It was just meant to be.”

Mike Green of Atherton knew just what to wear, though he had to buy his sheer polyester zebra shirt on this day. “If you’ve lived in New York, you always have funny stuff to wear.”

Why did they choose a ’70s-’80s party to attend? “Because I’m from it, for God’s sake,” said Clark Parsons.

***

8:05 p.m. Of all the people having to work New Year’s Eve, the special-events staff at Livermore’s Ivan Tamas Winery may have been the happiest.

Six employees and their significant others were setting up a giant tent bordering the windswept vineyards of South Livermore.

All 12 were obligated to work only an hour; afterward, they could join the party, the first New Year’s celebration ever held at the winery. It was a small price to pay plus, nobody would run out of wine anytime soon.

“I think we won’t,” said special events director Rachael Lavezzo. “That’s when the barrels get popped.”

“We’d just go next door and bust open a barrel at Wente,” said Tim Ossun.

Ossun equated working on New Year’s to helping a friend throw a party.

“It’s our party, so we’ll make it or break it.”

While Ossun and fellow worker Jeremy Levenberg inflated balloons, the topic of 21st-century lingo came up.

“What are we going to say Oh, the zero year was great’?” said Ossun.

“That’s weird,” Lavezzo said. “I keep thinking I’m going to have grandchildren say, What was it like in the ’90s?’ We’re from the old century!”

***

8:45 p.m. It was another glittering, sold-out gala at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, with Michael Tilson Thomas presiding over an eclectic program including “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair” and the overture to “Candide.”

“The place looks so festive,” said Palo Alto resident Ellen Ehrlich, there with her husband, Tom. “We’re feeling thrilled to be here and not philosophical at all.”

San Jose resident Erin Krasnove felt differently. “My father is very ill,” she said, “and I keep thinking of what it must be like to know that he is facing a new century knowing he’s not going to live very long.”

***

8:45 p.m. Jennice Acosta accessorized her outfit with black elbow-length gloves and a martini. “Steve and Carolyn do the best parties it’s awesome,” she said, looking around.

The Gonzales home on Antioch’s Shannondale Drive was transformed into a chic private club. A bartender mixed drinks and a DJ spun soft jazz through the early evening air as guests in ball gowns and tuxedoes nibbled on chocolate-covered strawberries.

The family began planning the formal party last January, deciding that since they enjoyed entertaining, they should do something special for the millennium.

Acosta, a cousin, wanted to watch the calendar turn over with family. “It’s historical, it’s something we’re able to see that our children won’t be (able to).”

***

9 p.m. Berkeley streets were so quiet you could find parking less than half a block from La Pena Cultural Center on Shattuck.

Four teen-agers were trying to unload their tickets to the show there so they could head to San Francisco to meet up with 20 friends and see the fireworks.

As Afro-Cuban dance band Ritmo y Armona did its sound check, Cynthia Gilbert and Colin Hammond of Oakland were drinking at the bar and waiting for the doors to open. Gilbert wore a feather boa, and both were wearing “Happy New Year 2000” tiaras, gifts from Hammond’s mother. They planned to duck out at 11:30 p.m. to watch the San Francisco fireworks from Alameda. Normally, they’d be at a big party, but this year, said Gilbert, “Not a damn thing. Most people are staying at home.”

The reason?

“End of the world!” said Gilbert.

“They’re losers!” said Hammond.

Both, though, felt their friends were generally positive about the new millennium, and next year “We’re going to all the mathematicians’ parties.”

The band still hadn’t started at 9:50, but by 10 the members came on in their shiny white suits and hats, and it didn’t take long for the first couple to hit the floor for some salsa dancing.

***

9:58 p.m. Elliott’s in Danville has greeted 92 new years since it opened in 1907. With two hours to go, it looked like its transition to 2000 would be its quietest, with no more than four people at the bar at any given time.

“Man, this is getting spooky,” said bartender Mark Derwingson, watching the final minute of Chicago’s countdown on television. “Wait a minute,” he said, as fellow bartender Ralph Goddard poured celebratory drinks for Derwingson and friend Kevin Reid, who was seated at the bar.

“Do we toast to Chicago or New Orleans?” He paused. “Who cares let’s toast to the St. Louis Rams.”

“I’ve done this three times already tonight,” said Reid, who was also watching the television. “Three-two-one mushroom cloud,” he laughed as the televised confetti flew.

Both bartenders said a typical Friday at Danville’s most storied bar brings more people than this.

“Even in the late ’80s there’d be a ton of people out on New Year’s,” Derwingson said. “It’s just the DUI laws now. This is damned unusual. I haven’t seen only three people at this bar ever.”

No one seemed particularly moved by the passing of a century. As Goddard pointed out, the biggest change the bar has seen in the last 90 years was replacing the icebox with a refrigerator.

“They said it’s the millennium bug and that people are aware of drinking and driving,” he said, explaining the bar’s emptiness. “I can’t imagine it having to do with terrorist attacks. What do terrorists care about Danville?”

***

10:15 p.m. Things were heating up at Supernova 2000, where techno music throbbed in five rooms. If you were looking for glam rock, sand painting or floating amoebas on dropcloths, this party, at the International Dance Center in San Francisco, is where you wanted to be.

Here you could find people dressed and undressed for the occasion. One man in a black cape and women’s underwear was showing more than some people probably wanted to see. Another was wired for the evening at least his suit was adorned with small tubes of light that flashed off and on. With a computer chip installed to make his multicolor suit shine, he was truly a man of the new millennium.

***

10:36 p.m. Remember that frat party? Where you got sick all over your friend?

Well, SFNYE at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium brought back “fond” memories of that. It was nowhere near midnight, and a number of twentysomethings were slouching over their dates, and not because they were tired.

The large auditorium was crammed with dancers, and so were the three tents, with swing, disco and world-beat music and the sound of empty bottles crashing.

If there was one free-for-all, this was it

***

11 p.m. Passing by the immense ghost ships on the way to the U.S.S. Hornet in Alameda, guests climbed a long plank of metal steps to get into the Navy aircraft carrier that had been such a big part of history.

Anyone afraid of heights would have been wise not to look down.

A swing band came through loud and clear, even outside. It was a glitzy gathering of about 600. Sisters Bridget and Sheila Segurson of San Francisco got their tickets for the event a week ago. They decided not to stay in San Francisco because of the crowds.

“We didn’t want anything crazy,” said Bridget. Besides, the two sisters also wanted to try out their two months’ worth of swing dance lessons.

***

11:45 p.m. Michael Zumbo of Danville wanted to throw a party so great, 250 people would remember it for the rest of their lives.

“It’s pretty extravagant for us,” said Zumbo, the president of Pacific Telemanagement Services. “We just spent about 50 grand on this. But like my wife said, it’s going to be another 1,000 years until we can do this again.”

As children ran back and forth from the huge makeshift arcade in Zumbo’s garage, the adults danced in Zumbo’s tented back yard.

***

11:50 p.m. The crowd clustered in the ballroom at Oakland’s Claremont Resort seemed more expectant than excited. Florence and Patrick Phillip and their 4-year-old son Roddy always do something together on New Year’s Eve, and this year they didn’t mind the $399 per couple Claremont price for the “once in a lifetime event.”

Ten seconds before midnight, the silver, black and white balloons dropped. Mouths were kissed. And the band struck up “Auld Lang Syne” as adults and children alike stomped on balloons.

***

11:30 p.m. Jason Broers, 26, got down on one knee in the Hofmann Theatre at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek and said, “Will you marry me?”

She said, “Yes.”

“We talked about getting married, because I’m pregnant, but I never expected he would ask that in front of everyone,” said Katie Van Dyke, 17. Afterward, they were all smiles.

“I’ve been sick for like two weeks, just being nervous, not being able to eat,” Broers said. “Now I can just grub.”

***

11:50 p.m. It suddenly grew quiet at the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco. But it was just the lull before the storm.

It may not have been the river of fire on the Thames, or the fireworks climbing up the whole length of the Eiffel Tower, but San Francisco did itself proud, with fireworks like hearts, smiley faces, reversed waterfalls and bouquets of flowers, a dazzling explosion of light and color.

Fremont resident Chris Langwell got together with six friends from Arizona State University to watch the show. They were partying, taking photos of each other and singing “Kumbaya.”

As for the millennium, Langwell said he was feeling pretty good. “I’m a pessimistic optimist,” he said. “I hope the glass is half-full.”

Times staff writers Anita Amirrezvani, Vera H-C Chan, Tony Hicks, Randy Myers and Sara Steffens contributed to this story.

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