The Benaroya Gift
On March 7, 1993, Seattle Symphony Music Director Gerard Schwarz and his wife
were at a luncheon with their friends of eight years, Jack and Becky Benaroya.
Mr. Benaroya had, as he termed it, "a situation he wanted to discuss," and
suggested a meeting "tomorrow." The next day the two men dined together at the
Rainier Club. Jack got to the point immediately.
Jack had read a recent article in The Seattle Times by its classical music
critic, Melinda Bargreen, who had written for the second or third time about the
Kreielsheimer Foundation hiring LMN Architects to do research on symphony halls
nationally and internationally, and argued the case for a new concert hall. Jack
said that he was considering a major gift to the City and asked what it would
take to pursue the construction of a new concert hall–would $10 million or $15
million get the project started? Maestro Schwarz prompted, "It's the perfect way
to get this thing going, and $15 million is the right number."
Schwarz' direct answer to this question inspired Benaroya to act decisively.
He conferred with his family and within a few days, Becky and Jack Benaroya made
a $15 million commitment through the Benaroya Foundation. Mr. Benaroya
personally committed an additional $800,000 to help the Symphony deal with
immediate operational deficits.
Another example of Jack's generosity relates to the wonderful quote by
composer Aaron Copland on the north (Union Street) wall of Benaroya Hall. When
viewing one of the models of the proposed hall, Jack noticed the large pre-cast
concrete blank wall, pondered a while, than suggested that the wall be upgraded,
and clad with kasota limestone, and further suggested finding a suitable
quotation that could fill that space with a meaningful message. He also funded
this $840,000 amenity.
The quote reads: "So long as the human spirit thrives on this planet, music
in some living form will accompany and sustain it and give it expressive
meaning." This quote is from a 1954 radio address titled "Music as an Aspect of
the Human Spirit."
Jack initiated a series of meetings that ultimately culminated in
commissioning Dale Chihuly to create "Crystal Cascade," the two imposing
chandelier-like glass sculptures at the north and south ends of The Boeing
It is a measure of Jack Benaroya's character that he had to be convinced to
allow the building to bear his name. He clearly was not interested in creating a
public image, nor, for that matter, did his motivation stem primarily from a
love of music (though it helped, of course). It came from a deeply-held
conviction that, as a successful entrepreneur, he and his family owed much to
the community where they have lived and prospered. What finally persuaded him to
permit the use of his name was that, in so doing, it would inspire other people
to contribute to the creation of a new concert hall for the people of Seattle.
The Benaroya story is the American dream writ large. Born in Montgomery,
Alabama, of immigrant Jewish parents from Lebanon, Jack and his family moved to
Seattle in 1933. He graduated from Garfield High School served in the U.S. Navy
for 3-1/2 years during World War II. After his discharge, he returned to Seattle
and rejoined the family business–Consolidated Beverages. By his thirties, he
felt the need for a new, creative challenge and left the family business to
carve a niche for himself in real estate.
He began his new career by building and leasing U.S. post offices to the
government, as well as buildings for lease to Pacific Northwest Bell and a
number of medical and commercial buildings. He subsequently moved to larger
projects including several business/industrial parks in the greater Puget Sound
area and in Portland, Oregon. In the mid-1970s he built the Design Center
Northwest and the 6100 Gift Mart Building in Seattle. In 1984, the Benaroya
holdings were sold to Trammell Crow, the nation's largest commercial real estate
developer in a joint venture with the California Public Employees Retirement
System and the California Teachers Retirement System.
The Benaroya Company is now run by his son, Larry, while Jack concentrates on
fund-raising for–and contributing to–charitable and civic causes. He believes
in giving back to the community, and one of his favorite quotes is by Winston
Churchill, "You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you
give." Significant gifts by the Benaroya Family fund diabetes research at the
Virginia Mason Hospital and Research Center, the University of Washington, and
the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1995, Jack Benaroya was inducted into the Puget Sound Business Hall of
Fame, an award sponsored by Junior Achievement, and was also the recipient of
the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors' First Citizen Award in 1998.
Becky and Jack Benaroya received a 1995 Seattle Symphony Individual Arts Award
for their extraordinary commitment to the community.