By Kat Anderson
October 11, 2012
A banker, a model, a former mayoral candidate, Miss Yvonne from the Pee-Wee Herman show, and a guy in a Lou Seal costume – what could these folks have in common? They all participated in last night’s 20th annual Celebrity Pool Toss, an only-in-San Francisco fundraising/auction tradition started by the Tenderloin Housing Development Corporation with proceeds benefiting after school programs for low-income families.
Sited at the chic Phoenix Hotel in the Tenderloin, TNDC hosted as many as 600 guests who came out to see San Francisco community luminaries get dunked in the hotel’s kidney-shaped pool, lit up with random sixes and nines (hmm… not sure what that’s about).
More than a half-dozen intrepid San Franciscans put their clothing and hair on the line to help raise funds for a noble cause. Each “tossee” was introduced by a special friend and put up for auction. The highest biddee was Michael Walker, Market President of US Bank’s Northern California Commercial Banking Group. His dunk raised $30,000 (no doubt from another banking friend). Other dunkees included Todd Traina, SFO director John Martin, and bicycle-riding/architect David Baker (who went in bike and all).
My favorite dunkin’ darlin’ was former mayoral candidate, Joanna Rees, who was introduced by model and Sex in the City star, Jason Lewis. Before her poolside debut, I asked Joanna what she would wear for her tossing. “My gymnastic leotard from college,” she quipped. I marveled at what this might look like since I knew Joanna had a big birthday last year. Turns out, she is amazingly fit, as she proved with handstands, cartwheels and the splits. Her performance generated the quote of the night. “Just what you want in a mayor…flexible and available,” quipped hunky Lewis.
I made it a point to greet Rees and the clever Lewis after she got all squeegeed off. Dare I say he kissed my hand? Yep, it’s not getting washed any time soon. (Thank you, Joanna!)
It was also big fun to see Harry Denton, Cheryl Jennings and Chuck Love all come out on stage together, as some of the first tossees from the 1992 inaugural event. Cheryl, ever the cheerful media professional, held up her iPhone and filmed us, declaring, “I’m tweeting this. This is what we’re down to with our resources in TV.”
Ubiquitous State Senator Mark Leno presented a commendation to TNDC for its good works — housing 3,000 people, providing community gardens and offering support to school-aged children. Leno also recounted his favorite “Toss,” which involved political consultant Jack Davis, grabbing the Borsolino fedora off of former Mayor Willie Brown’s head and threatening to throw it in the pool. Brown was visibly annoyed. The crowd, however, erupted in a bidding war over the hat. When the bidding reached $5,000, Brown yelled, “Throw the fucker in!”
TNDC Executive Director, Don Falk, was his usual glowing self. I asked him how he got involved with this strange cultural phenomenon of tossing the rich and famous into heated chlorine water. “I actually attended the first one when I was thinking about applying for a job,” he said. Falk had approached Brother Kelly and told him he’d like to come work with him. Even better, he told Brother Kelly he’d like to run his own department.
The rest is history and while Brother Kelly was alive, he and Falk had “the perfect business marriage,” as Falk put it. Brother Kelly was free to do his community work while Falk concentrated on building TNDC’s non-profit affordable housing portfolio.
Brother Kelly and Chip Conley, who presides over Joie de Vivre Hotels (owner of the Phoenix), came up with the Celebrity Pool Toss idea. It has proven to be a wildly successful auction and fundraiser, generating millions in funds for educational programs in marginalized communities.
Now, TNDC operates 30 properties around the city, providing what Rees calls “dignified housing” for some of San Francisco’s poorest. It also runs a popular after school program that serves over 200 children annually on a drop-in basis. The Celebrity Pool Toss’ proceeds go to fund that program, which includes services such as tutoring, college workshop series and tours for high school students, and art, science and cultural field trips.
Last night’s event raised $290,000 from the auctioning of the celebs, sponsorships and ticket sales, Falk said. Not a bad haul for a night’s work in a Tenderloin hotel with lots of scantily clad bodies and free drinks.