Light glinted off the yards and yards of supple white satin that wrapped around nineteen young women who were making their debut at the Sixty-Eighth Cotillion at the Palace Hotel on December 22. The dresses variously boasted bows, a flounce, covered buttons down the back, a sharp “V” at the neck, or a pleated tulle overlay. The girls carried bouquets of rust-colored orchids, white roses, and small sprigs of white hydrangeas.
Once again the Cotillion Club Committee, fifteen members representing many of San Francisco’s esteemed families, created a spectacular ball to introduce young ladies and their gentlemen escorts to society. Old-fashioned? Of course. Fun for the debs and their beaux? Naturally. Nearly nine hundred guests occupied all four ballrooms of the famed Palace Hotel, beginning at 9:00 P.M. as three, and even four, generations of the city’s tribes greeted friends and relatives with hearty handshakes and air kisses. Most of the young participants were returning from their first year of college, enthused by new challenges and a multitude of new friends. A staged presentation of each debutante commenced at 10:00 P.M., with a formal curtsey and a promenade. Escorts in white tie with canes and white gloves accompanied their ladies through a series of rehearsed steps to the music of Earl Hecksecher’s Orchestra. Seated guests observed the young women parading through a canopy of crossed canes provided by the escorts and several in-line walks up and down the dance floor. All under the watchful eye of the red-sashed Floor Committee, a group of forty-eight former escorts and fathers, and even grandfathers of the debutantes, who greeted the guests and kept the procession in order.
Twenty-four guardian Patrons and Patronesses, seated on the dais at the far end of the ballroom, oversaw the grand performance, assuring that all of the traditions are pasted down from generation to generation.
Most all of the committee members, debutantes, and escorts stem from the area’s original founding families; it’s a celebration of carrying on legacies, which is readily and honorably recognized by all participants. Attendee Barbara Kendrick Callander was a debutante in 1946. She and orthopedic surgeon Dr. John Callander had six children. Their daughter Sarah Callander Stephens debuted in 1969. Four of their grandchildren participated this year. Debutante Eloise Kathryn Callander, daughter of Charles Callander, debutante Jayne Hardaway Callander, daughter of Bruce Callander, and her escort, John Westley Callander, son of Clark Callander. The father of Chonita Michelle Cleary’s escort, Clayton Kendrick Callander, is Kendrick Callander; Clayton is a midshipman at Annapolis.
“Five of my grandchildren were born the same year,” points out Barbara. Eloise is a freshman at Santa Clara, and Jayne attends Loyola-Marymount, where she has already joined four campus singing groups as a soprano II. (One of her choral groups is preparing a concert to be sung at St. Peter’s next fall.)
The Fay-Tobin-deYoung family also had four participants this year. Trish Tobin Kubal, mother of debutante Ramsay Katherine de Young Kubal, notes that Fiona Katherine Barbour, Nan Hamilton Fader, and escort Joseph Oliver Tobin III are cousins.
Debutantes and their escorts come to know one another in June, through parties given by each debutante’s family. Casey Zabala Collins, Abigail Burnett Jones, and Elena Anne Motlow joined forces at the Crocker Henderson Estate in Hillsborough for a summer picnic/pool party as a counterpoint to all the formal parties held by many of the families. This venue has special significance for all three of the host debs, who have attended Easter-egg hunts on the property given by Abigail’s grandmother, Cia Whitman Townsend, since they were small children.
Casey went to Thacher and is now a student of creative writing at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. “I chose Pratt to get back to an urban environment,” remarks Casey. Elena attends U.C. Berkeley and is a member of the women’s crew team. Abigail graduated from Sacred Heart Prep in Atherton and now attends Boston College, which she chose for its renowned Elementary Education program.
“During the six months of parties and training, it was surprising how quickly the debutantes and escorts became good friends,” comments Abigail. “By the night of the Cotillion, I doubt any of us wanted it to end. We are already planning a reunion.” The five older sisters of Abigail’s escort, Robert Woodward Abbot, are all former debs: Madeleine ’97, Elizabeth ’99, Leslie ’02, Christina ’03, and Elena ’06; his mother also came out, in 1971. Robert attends the University of Oregon.
Tatiana Eloise Owen wants to be an event coordinator. She got her inspiration from Mary Poland assisting with the Crystal Ball, a benefit for Marin’s Buck Institute; Tatiana will work with Mary, who is chairing this year’s Opera Ball. When Tatiana and Emily Adams Woodward’s joint deb party venue was canceled at the last minute, they were hard pressed to find a location. “Le Colonial turned out to be the perfect venue for our Night at the Kasbah event,” remarks Tatiana. “We had a giant python, belly dancers, [and] my sister [former deb Kate Owen] is a trained D.J.” Ladies dressed in colorful, bright cocktail attire, and the men donned coats and ties. Tatiana wanted to attend a Southern college for a change from the West Coast lifestyle. At the College of Charleston in South Carolina, she joined Kappa Alpha Theta, wears pearls and sundresses, and fried chicken is her new favorite food.
Most of the debutantes were able to find their gowns at Unique Bride or Marina Morrison. But Emily Woodward a found very elegant Carolina Herrera (on sale) at Saks; it features a full satin skirt covered with eighteen yards of pleated tulle. Charlotte Adams Livermore carried on tradition wearing the same gown her sister, Diana Livermore Heinz, had worn when she was introduced to society in 2001, along with original Mikimoto pearls, also worn by her late grandmother Jinny Livermore Byington in 1937. Jayne Callander wore a lavaliere formerly worn by her grandmother Barbara Callander, originally passed down from her great-grandmother Catherine Kendrick. Eloise Callander wore her great-grandmother’s pearls.
Aunt of debutante Molly Alexandra Budge, and long-term committee member, Katie Budge summed up the event. “The Cotillion has changed very little since the days when Rhoda Schultz and Barbara Kendrick Callander came out together in 1946. They have served as guardians of this tradition,” states Katie. “Every year it is a pleasure to watch the young debutantes and their escorts experience a bit of old San Francisco. I think everyone on the committee agrees that in this day and age when casual lifestyles reign, the formality of the Cotillion is unique and gives family and friends an evening to remember.”