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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 Company Gallery.

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.