PONCHO holds inaugural fundraising auction, to benefit Seattle Symphony, on April 27, 1963.

  • By Peter Blecha
  • Posted 7/16/2002
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 3892

On the evening of April 27, 1963, PONCHO (Patrons of Northwest Civic, Cultural and Charitable Organizations) sponsors the organization's inaugural event at the Seattle Center’s Exhibition Hall.

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.

The Auction 

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.


Robert Heilman, "Poncho’s First Auction Strikes Lively Note for Charity," The Seattle Times, April 28, 1963, p. 9; Lornet Turnbull, "Pioneering Arts Patron Poncho to Fold into Larger Fund," Ibid., February 24, 2013, p. B-1; "Esther W. Campbell, Bagpipes In The Woodwind Section (Seattle: Seattle Symphony Women’s Association, 1978), 150; Don Duncan, Meet Me At The Center: The Story of Seattle Center (Seattle: Seattle Center Foundation, 1992), 58; Hans and Thelma Lehmann, Out Of The Cultural Dustbin: Sentimental Musings on the Arts & Music in Seattle from 1936 to 1992, (Seattle: Crowley Associates Inc., 1992), 48.
Note: This essay was updated on March 24, 2013, and corrected on April 5, 2013.

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