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David Nelson / Society

How Sweet It Was During 'Housing' Auction

December 18, 1986|DAVID NELSON

SAN DIEGO — Several sweet deals were made in the real estate market over the weekend.

An auction of about 20 residences held Saturday at Neiman-Marcus netted the sellers, the San Diego Repertory Theatre, several thousand dollars. The homes, each one new and all appearing on the market for the first time, were built by contractors who employed traditional building materials but revolutionary techniques in their construction.

The basic building material, gingerbread, was employed so lavishly that several sources interviewed on the scene acknowledged that the prices of flour, butter and spices were forced into an upward spiral on the local commodities exchange. Among the basic decor elements used for each house were gumdrops, candy canes, crystallized sugar and, in one especially upscale model, seed pearls and crystal beads. Glue, rather than mortar and nails, held the structures together.

The auction attracted about 240 bidders, a mixture of Repertory Theatre board members and supporters, and a largely La Jolla social set drawn by "Visions of Gingerbread" co-chairmen Pam Allison and Barbara ZoBell.

The pre-auction entertainment included a performance by the San Diego Girls' Chorus, who offered up seasonal songs at the department store's entrance. Further entertainment was provided by the Foothills Glory Ringers, a troupe of more than 20 white-gloved youths whose syncopated bell-ringing resulted in spine-tingling renditions of such holiday favorites as, not too surprisingly, "Jingle Bells."

The gingerbread houses, constructed by such noted master builders as George and Piret Munger, Lois Stanton, Leonard Simpson and J.B. Catering (which also supplied the event's edibles), were on display in the store for a week before the auction.

"Retailers will take dough any way they can get it," noted Neiman-Marcus general manager Marian Smith.

The Mungers' "Gingerbread Mountain Town," an edible village dominated by a church on a hill, over time became as much a triumph of determination as of design. The weighty montage collapsed of its own bulk the first time around, requiring a total reconstruction completed only moments before the event, when George Munger pulled a cookie cross out his pocket and gingerly placed it atop the church steeple.

"This is solid gingerbread, solid ," remarked Munger, who added that the task was about the hardest he ever had undertaken. "I'll do another one on a $10,000 bet," he said.

Although sampling the goods in advance of the auction was considered bad form, several of the sneakier guests did purloin surreptitious samples of the coconut snow that filled the yard of "Stagecoach Relay Station," the frontier-style confection built by the Silas St. John restaurant.

Gingerbread moguls Michala Lawrence and Valerie Lee, whose "Into the Woods" paid homage to the new Stephen Sondheim musical playing at the Old Globe Theatre, soon discovered that they had baked, frosted and sugared the smash hit of the event. They found, however (and rather neatly in accordance with the theme of Sondheim's musical), that success engenders it own difficulties. In other words, they hated to part with an object that had taken three months to build.

"This is my firstborn, my first child," said Lee of the structure.

Her partner, Lawrence, added, "That's why it's going to be awfully hard letting someone take it away from us."

But lose it they did, in an auction conducted by Jack Berkman that brought in generally lower prices than the event's sponsors had hoped, but that nonetheless reaped a tidy sum for the theater. The event had unanticipated beneficiaries, however, because several purchasers announced plans to donate the houses to Children's Hospital, the Azeltine School, and several other children's institutions.

It was a coyly edible event. Several women wore earrings made of gingerbread men baked in their very own kitchens, and Rich Wise sported a gingerbread bow tie baked for him by the Horton Grand's ErnstC Wally. Joan Wilson, discovering the display of spiced pear cakes in the footwear department, said, "It's only right to have pears where there are pairs of shoes." In its more serious moments, the catering turned to a Provencale seafood stew, and roast pork and turkey.

Santa Claus occasionally left his throne, where guests could have their pictures taken while sitting on his lap, to wander through the crowd taking mental notes on who was being naughty and who was not. A somewhat surreal Christmas tree (actually a costumed model) also wandered through the throng, pausing occasionally at the buffet tables and thus proving that even foliage has taken to the new grazing craze. After the auction, several cast members of the Rep's "A Christmas Carol" turned up fresh from the stage at the Lyceum Theatre, and entertained with songs from the musical production of the Dickens classic.

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