The Gaytonia

The historic Gaytonia building will be a stop on the Steel Magnolias' home tour.

The members of Long Beach’s Steel Magnolias have a serious mission, but they have a lot of fun getting things done. Now in its 20th year of service, the group works with laughter and caring to “help children’s health blossom,” according to founder Shirley Wild.

Wild said she did not set out to start a charitable organization. Originally, her plan was to unite a circle of friends and fund-raising experts for a one-time campaign to save the Stramski Children’s Developmental Center at Miller Children’s and Women’s Hospital Long Beach. The center treats children with behavioral and developmental conditions, such as autism, Fragile X, ADHD/ADD, Down Syndrome, learning disabilities, behavioral sleep conditions, craniofacial abnormalities and cleft lip and palate.However, the group had fun and found they worked well together.

“Our goal was to raise $10,000 and in four months we netted $70,000,” Wild said.

And, the group had fun and found they worked well together.

Wild said the energetic assemblage instantly felt like a family, with everyone talking at the same time, laughing, arguing and caring. Well-known businessman and philanthropist Anthony Gagliardi made dinner for everyone at the first gathering, an act of generosity that became a tradition. Now the Chairman of the Board, Gagliardi continues to cook for each monthly meeting.

Members “share an enjoyment of having fun, having flair, and camaraderie,” according to Wild.

Steel Magnolia fundraisers have taken various forms over the years, ranging from a car show to a hat contest. One jungle-themed party featured a peacock, a gorilla, a cat lady dancer, and a human butterfly swinging in a tree.

human butterfly

A previous Steel Magnolias party featured a butterfly on a swing.

For the past 15 years, the organization has hosted an annual home tour in Long Beach. This year’s Home Design Tour will take place on Saturday, May 11. The event, titled “How Long Beach Lives,” will showcase a wide range of houses. According to public relations chair Elizabeth Borsting, the homeowners include a former city councilman, an Olympic medalist, environmental experts, and a preservationist.

Perhaps most unique is the tour’s peek inside the penthouse suite of the Gaytonia, a 1930s-era dwelling that looks like a castle.

“We are thrilled to have the Gaytonia as part of our annual home tour,” Sofia Riley, 2019 president of Steel Magnolias, said. “It’s a local landmark that everyone hopes to see, and the only way to see it — unless you live there, of course — is on our Home Design Tour on May 11.”

In addition to opening the doors of the Gaytonia, the self-driven tour through Belmont Heights, Alamitos Heights and Naples Island will lead ticket-holders to an off-the-grid “Net Zero Nest,” a recently renovated “Beach Retreat” and a “Spanish Beauty” with old-world charm. Docents will provide facts about each of the residences and the journey will conclude with an alfresco reception featuring food, wine, spirit, and live entertainment.

The Steel Magnolias hope this event will generate $45,000 for the Stramski Center. Since 1999, the all-volunteer group has raised $4.5 million and increased public awareness of the needs of the Center’s young patients.

“I had no idea we would succeed and sustain as we have,” Wild said. “It also pleases me immensely that we have a second generation of highly talented, accomplished, and dedicated women and men who are willing to take the leadership and help us sustain and continue to grow.”

The Steel Magnolias home tour will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p,m, this Saturday, May 11. Tickets, which are $50 per person, can be purchased at

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