In the wake of the Seattle Symphony's June 1962 performances of its first-ever opera production -- Giuseppe Verde’s Aida -- the symphony found itself with a serious budget deficit of $35,000. Local volunteers, led by prominent arts supporter Paul Friedlander (1912-1994), quickly responded by founding PONCHO and promoting an auction dedicated to erasing the symphony's debt.
That first PONCHO event featured -- for a whopping $150 entry fee -- dinner, drinks, live music, and a chance to bid on an array of more than 200 auction items solicited from the public.
Among the notable lots auctioned that night were a hand-written letter by President James Madison (donated by Robert F. Kennedy), a newly built ($45,000) mansion, a Polynesian vacation, two automobiles, a yacht cruise, and a few puppies. Bidding was enthusiastic enough that the Symphony’s Aida debt was more than covered and the community was inspired to make the auction an annual event.
For half a century, PONCHO continued on as a tradition with strong community support, in later years raising as much $1 million annually to benefit Seattle’s symphony, opera, ballet, and theaters. PONCHO's signature gala fundraisers were discontinued in 2008, and in 2013, its 50th anniversary year, PONCHO announced it would close down all operations and set up a legacy fund within the Seattle Foundation.