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TRANSFORMING A HANGAR into a Harlem Renaissance scene took patience, perseverance and three days of intensive setup, according to Steven Boyle. But all the work was worth it to be part of the Magic Johnson Foundation's “Magic's Harlem Nights” event, says the owner of San Diego-based Gardenia Design Group, which produced the 4,250-guest fund-raiser at Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, Calif., in July.

Before any on-site work could even begin, the event team had to jump the hurdle of city approvals. “The one drawback to working in Santa Monica is permitting,” Boyle explains. “You have to check your checklist. You have to check things that aren't even on your checklist.” Among the permits Boyle had to secure were those for stages, tents, propane and ground use, plus on-site health permits for the event's 25 food vendors.

Once permits were in order, the event's real work began. Boyle says the biggest challenge was reining in expansive Barker for his chic, intimate Cotton Club design scheme. To minimize the venue's vast interior, he enlisted the lighting expertise of San Diego-based Southwest Show Tech, which covered the hangar's side walls with custom PIGI projections of Harlem Renaissance-era artwork. While the projections — at $16,000 plus required royalties for use of the artwork — were “a huge expense,” Boyle says, they were critical. “The hangar is so empty, you have to have an impact in that room.”

Helping to cozy things up while enhancing the theme were props and furniture recalling the era and its energy. On two VIP risers flanking the entertainment stage, silver angel figures, silver palm trees and funky red banquettes from North Hollywood, Calif.-based 20th Century Props awaited guests of the event's major corporate sponsors. Meanwhile, the main floor was dotted with white-spandex-encased highboy tables topped with simple, sleek white-feather centerpieces.

On event night, too much empty space became a non-issue, as guests flooded into the hangar to hear the sounds of India. Arie, Chaka Khan and the legendary Stevie Wonder. Seeing the stellar lineup, along with the fruits of his own labors, was “amazing,” Boyle says. More impressive still, he adds, was the support of vendors like Raphael's Party Rentals, which the producer brought up from San Diego to work on the event. With the help of such suppliers, costs for the event came in at about $200,000. Without it, Boyle says, “it would have been half a million, if not more.”

Gardenia Design Group 1123 W. Morena Blvd., Suite A, San Diego, CA 92110; 619/275-7010;

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