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Tents today can do it all. They can create an intimate setting or provide extra room for hundreds of guests. Here, tent pros who found inventive places to put tents and others who invented new ways to look at tented events.

GOING UP When Childrens Hospital Los Angeles planned a donor cultivation dinner for 100 guests in May, it wanted to showcase the hospital. But the hospital didn't have a room to accommodate the crowd. The event team checked out the top floor of the eight-story parking garage, says Terri Chapman, manager of special events. "It was the perfect venue; it looks down on the new surgery center we're building."

To help turn the oil-spotted rooftop into a charming event site, Chapman's team turned to Los Angeles-based Classic Party Rentals. The crew had two days for installation, including an overlay of cream carpeting and a 30-by-50-foot clear vinyl tent.

As guests arrived for the cocktail party and dinner, they were taken in groups of six to the rooftop via elevator. The rooftop tent was a surprise that left the guests speechless, Chapman says.

Floral and soft pastels dominated the decor. Pin-spotting on the tables and elegant chandeliers provided a romantic look after sunset. "We wanted it to be very dreamy, like an enchanted, exclusive dining room," Chapman says.

The location also provided another interesting scene - the hospital's helipad was in clear view for a liftoff. "The helicopter came and hovered over the party," Chapman says. "The pilot waved at them."

MAGIC MOUNTAINS For the 10th anniversary of the Vancouver, British Columbia-based Face the World Foundation fund-raiser in June, Lonsdale Event Rentals of North Vancouver was charged with building excitement for 300 guests and donors. The event always has been on the grounds of the FTWF founder's home, which overlooks the Burrard Inlet.

With a view of the water in the foreground and mountains in the background, "It's such a spectacular setting that we thought a clear-top tent would highlight it," says Sylvia Stephens, director of sales.

To house the guests, Lonsdale used three clear-top frame tents manufactured by Olympic Tents in Wilsonville, Ore., a 40-by-60-foot, a 30-by-30-foot and a 15-by-15-foot tent.

Lonsdale began installation a week before the event. "Installation was very difficult as there was no extra space to actually put the tents up," Stephens says. The 1,200-pound tent frame stood just 6 inches from the house. A 30-foot drop to the beach threatened on the other side.

"We had to be meticulous in the way that we raised it," Stephens says. "Normally you do one side first because you need extra space to rock it back and forth. We didn't have that space. We had to delicately raise all four corners at the same time."

The hard work paid off with the guests enjoying the view of Vancouver, the water and the mountains. "We were really lucky and had a clear, beautiful night," Stephens says.

LONG WAY DOWN Last November, a wedding at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park, Ill., called for fancy tent work. The clubhouse facilities couldn't hold the 300 guests for a seated dinner, so Chicago-based party rental company Events Chicago created a dining tent on the club's golf course.

After cocktails in the clubhouse, which was atop a steep hill, the guests walked through a marquee-tented hallway down to the dining tent 240 feet away, says Kendra Kroll, director of sales and marketing.

The descent was too steep for a ramp, so "we fashioned a series of steps made out of our modular flooring system," Kroll says. "We used a lot of guardrails and put ivy garland on them."

Events Chicago created a subfloor to compensate for the uneven terrain under the 60-by-100-foot reception tent, a New Century tent from Anchor Industries of Evansville, Ind.

"We also had cross bracing under the subfloor to enable the load on the floor," Kroll says. Smaller tents housed the Exmoor's kitchen facilities.

UNDER THE BIG TOP Today's tented events provide more than just shelter; they create an environment. For the retirement party of a company's CEO, King Dahl Event Design of Agoura Hills, Calif., created a festive, big-top atmosphere using tents at a private residence in Bel Air, Calif.

The two-day May celebration took place in two tented areas to the theme of All Night Long.

Company owner King Dahl hired 12 acts to entertain the guests. During the cocktail hour, a calypso band and a tightrope artist performed inside a 10-foot clear canopy that stood 20 feet at its peak. The tightrope walker "was on a 20-foot tightrope about 8 feet off the ground," Dahl says. El Segundo, Calif.-based Regal Rents provided the tents.

In the 50-by-100-foot main tent, guests were delighted by the talents of trapeze artists and a contortionist who performed while hanging from swags of chiffon. For the performers, "We brought in professional circus truss rigging," Dahl says. Also in the tent, loops of performers were projected onto waterfall "curtains" provided by Kinetic Sculpture of Beverly Hills, Calif.

BEAUTY IS ON THE INSIDE For a July wedding, a Nashville, Tenn., couple wanted to create a European garden landscape, including columns and statues, in a tent behind the Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art.

Enter Nashville-based Zeigler and Co., which created more than 3,000 square feet of hand-painted drops to cover the walls of the 80-by-150-foot tent. Four people painted the drops in two weeks, owner Sandy Zeigler says.

Installation took 10 days, starting with lighting and flooring. Finally, the drops were hung from wood framing. Nashville Tent & Awning provided a Genesis tent by Eureka Tents & Seasonal Structures of Binghamton, N.Y.

The muted colors in the backdrops complemented the floral used in the 14-foot-tall topiaries designed by Nashville-based Joseph E. Smith & Co. The topiaries covered the four tent poles on the dance floor.

SHORT NOTICE ON A TALL ORDER In January, the event team at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, Calif., was finalizing plans for a health-care organization event. But eight days before the event, the guest list jumped from 300 to 2,200, requiring more room than the ship alone could provide.

The Queen Mary team called on Design Quest of Chatsworth, Calif., to help solve the problem. DQ president Christopher Marella called Regal Rents to secure the largest tent structure it had - a 100-by-300-foot structure by Los Angeles-based Academy Tent and Canvas. "We were installing two days after I got the phone call," he says. The tent was erected on a grassy area near the ship.

In addition to the large tent, "We had to use 10-by-10 popouts all around the structure to fit everyone in," Marella says. "That's where we put the food stations, bars and interactive entertainment."

Despite its size, the tent sat only 1,300 people. Design Quest added shuttle service between the tent and the Queen Mary to keep the crowd flowing smoothly. Additional buffets were set up on board the ship.

QUICK-CHANGE ARTISTS Southfield, Mich.-based Star Trax Corporate Events was working double time in June when it coordinated an annual shareholders' meeting/breakfast in the morning followed by a VIP reception and boxing match for a different client in the evening.

Star Trax transformed the parking lot at MotorCity Casino in Detroit into two ballrooms, using clear-span structures measuring 82 by 132 feet and 82 by 148 feet, provided by HDO Productions, Chicago.

"For the breakfast tent, we utilized colorful satin linens and tons of floral and greenery," project director Sheri Wagner says. The meeting ended at noon, and "then we had six hours to flip the tents for a VIP reception for 300 people."

For the evening reception, Star Trax brought in high-top tables and rounds. The adjoining tent contained a boxing ring with Samsonite chairs.

"It wasn't an event where we got to necessarily show our creativity, but our organization," Wagner says. "The only thing MotorCity provided was food, which was harder on us. It was our chance to shine. And we actually finished an hour ahead of schedule."

RESOURCES: Academy Tent and Canvas, 323/277-8368; Anchor Industries, 812/867-2421; Anza Tents, 310/320-6200; Aztec Tents & Events, 310/328-5060; Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, 323/669-5972; Classic Party Rentals, 310/202-0011; Design Quest, 818/678-0490; Eureka Tents & Seasonal Structures, 607/779-2200; Events Chicago, 773/775-5000; HDO Productions, 800/548-5479; King Dahl Event Design, 818/708-7282; Lonsdale Event Rentals, 604/986-5651; Nashville Tent & Awning, 615/329-3701; NTI Global, 800/947-7767; Olympic Tents, 503/570-8700; Regal Rents, 310/535-3660; Star Trax Corporate Events, 248/263-6300; Tentnology, 604/597-8368; The Wright Group/Rent-Rite West, 303/399-9947; Yifat Oren & Associates, 818/344-2304; Zeigler and Co., 615/244-6696

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