The closing of the Langford Resort Hotel has been a protracted, emotional affair. Last Saturday's Final Farewell Party was merely the most elaborate in a series of going-away soirees that will continue until May 30. Not since Celine Dion announced her semi-retirement has a parting gesture enjoyed such longevity. That's a strained analogy, I know: Everyone I've talked to is sorry to see the Langford go.
Saturday's shindig -- and its attendant opportunity to dance, drink and socialize like there was, um, no tomorrow -- drew one of the largest crowds of the well-dressed and well-connected I've seen at the hotel in years. To paraphrase the old saw, you don't know what you've got till it's bulldozed.
When he wasn't lending buzzing guitar to the ad hoc house band, The Delusionaires, in the Empire Room, Aaron Jarvis made clear his displeasure at the loss of the venue. An ordained minister, Jarvis privately hoped his direct line to the Lord would help him to "condemn" the property, dooming its new owners to failure in their renovating endeavors. (He's obviously read "The Shining.")
Sigrid Tiedtke, co-founder of the Florida Film Festival, was more optimistic in her remarks to the assembled audience, choking back tears to declare the transition "the beginning of an era, and not the end." But her feelings of regret surfaced when she remembered the years of support the Langford had shown the festival, the 10-day showcase of independent cinema that was the evening's charitable beneficiary.
This party, Tiedtke said, would have a '50s-nostalgia theme, and she offered a time-capsule portrait of what life had been like in Winter Park when the hotel opened its doors in 1956. The monied types in the room laughed when they heard how little houses cost in those days.
Going down for the last time
The fun kicked into high gear at the outdoor pool, where a team of aquabats led by Rosa Loukanova, a Bulgarian swimming champion, backstroked their way through a short program of watery tableaus. Only when the two-song presentation was repeated did many of us realize that the second-floor balcony was the only proper vantage point from which to observe the chlorine-churning choreography; from ground level, we might as well have been watching vacationing kids playing Marco Polo. There's a reason all of those Esther Williams routines were shot from above.
Live aquatics gave way to a projection screen, and 3-D glasses were handed out so we could sample the comin'-at-ya pleasures of clips from "The Creature From the Black Lagoon" and other gimmicky epics of the Eisenhower era. The panorama of red and blue lenses at poolside was a dead ringer for that famous Life magazine cover, or at least what it might have looked like had the movie houses of the 1950s sold cocktails with the Jujyfruits.
Back in the Empire Room, Anne Deason, the former host of Time-Warner Cable's "Ballyhoo," emceed a fashion show that made equal room for retro and modern styles. Apparel from Nicole Miller, Déjà Vu, Galaxie, Tunis and other local retailers was shown off by a rotating coterie of models. As this was no ordinary runway event, a running game of "spot the tattoo" was possible; one belonged to Kali Webb, Deason's former partner in the late, lamented Bitch Rag fanzine. "I was praying to God that no one would fall," Webb later said of the semiprofessional crew's turn in high heels. (It's the Langford, Kali; someone's always there to pick you up.)
Having a bash
Around midnight, Tiedtke's husband, Phil, took the stage with some of his college buddies to blast their way through a rereading of the Kinks songbook. Tiedtke's drum stool was eventually usurped by Billy Joel sideman Liberty DeVito. Guess who sounded better? Then again, DeVito probably doesn't know much about film festivals.
The never-ending lines for bar service made it easier for the partiers to network. Megan McInnis, a former production assistant at the Disney Institute, chatted up her new film-distribution company, FADS, and Webb announced plans to launch a publication that will appeal to "less of the lowest common denominator" than Bitch Rag. (What fun is that?) Johnny Garlic, a talk-radio host on WPRK-FM (91.5), proudly pointed out that he had been swimming in the Langford pool for more than 20 years. But he didn't look a bit pruny.
For a true send-off, only a brief audience with Pam Langford, the hotel's grande dame emeritus, would do. Her spirits as high as could be expected under the circumstances, Langford said the hotel's furnishings would be auctioned off at a later date -- if anything remains unpilfered. Sticky-fingered customers, she said, have been helping themselves to any memento they can get their hands on, including 15 chairs and a mounted swordfish that almost walked out the door before it was snatched back by the staff.
As if to right the balance, someone left a gift behind on Saturday. It was a pair of women's shoes that laid ownerless in the dirt as the crowd subsided. Whoever deserted those shoes was on to something: With the Langford gone, Orlando will be all dressed up with no place to go.