John L. Santikos. Photo courtesy of the San Antonio Area Foundation.
John L. Santikos (1927-2014) Credit: Courtesy / San Antonio Area Foundation

Ever since the Dec. 30, 2014 death of John Louis Santikos, it’s been an open secret that the Greek immigrant and San Antonio arts patron had bequeathed his business enterprises and the bulk of his considerable fortune to the formation of the John Louis Santikos Charitable Foundation. Santikos, the founder and owner of Santikos Theaters, the largest family-owned theater circuit in Texas, was an avid patron of the arts and other community organizations. Until his death at age 87, however, Santikos maintained a low public profile and was not known as one of the city’s leading philanthropists.

Santikos saved his greatest act of giving for last. The exact dimensions of his charity were made official Monday when Dennis Noll, president and CEO of the San Antonio Area Foundation, announced the Santikos Foundation will begin operations in early 2016 with assets appraised at $605 million, making it the largest single philanthropic gift in the city and region’s history. The Foundation will benefit five major giving areas in eight counties.

San Antonio Area Foundation CEO Dennis Noll. Courtesy photo.
San Antonio Area Foundation CEO Dennis Noll

“San Antonio has a wonderful history of philanthropy with folks like Charles Butt, Bill Greehey, Harvey Najim, the Kronkosky and Brackenridge, and Ewing-Halsell Foundations, and this gift from our dear friend John Santikos to create the Santikos Foundation will leverage the work of the giants who have come before us in this city,” Noll said Monday. “We are going to try to work with these other philanthropists. We see Mr. Santikos’ gift as the next step forward.”

Noll called the $605 million gift, which will continue to grow in future years from the profits earned by Santikos Enterprises, “a truly transformative gift.”

“He led a quiet, private life, but his final acts in life to prepare for the future of others speak loudly upon his legacy and showcase the visionary that he was, both in business and civic-minded matters,” Noll said. “I’ve had the privilege to work with four visionary philanthropists in my life, one of them being Mr. Santikos. Mr. Santikos was a true visionary in the theater and real estate industries. Mr. Santikos has now shown that he was a true visionary in philanthropy. That much is evident as we work through the amazing philanthropic plan he designed for the San Antonio community. It is an honor and a privilege that Mr. Santikos has entrusted the Area Foundation with his theaters and real estate developments. This unique gift will have an incredible impact in the nonprofit community and our city.”

The Santikos gift is larger even than the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation, with assets of nearly $370 million, which has been the city’s largest individual charitable foundation since its began operations in 1997. Just as the Kronkosky Foundation changed the philanthropic landscape nearly two decades ago and continues to play a leading role in the city’s charitable and nonprofit enterprises, so, too, will the Santikos Foundation, a number of nonprofit leaders said Monday.

Noll announced $6.5 million in immediate “memorial gifts” on Monday that are being made in advance of the Santikos Foundation’s active operations in 2016. The Foundation’s newly-named board of trustees will meet for the first time in January to review the charity’s strategic plan. A total of 141 grants were made to 113 agencies on Monday. Twenty different arts and cultural organizations were named as recipients of gifts ranging in size from $7,500 to the Urban-15 Group to $60,000 to the Bexar County Foundation for the Arts, which supports the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.

Five contributions to the capital campaigns of arts organizations or gifts made for naming rights also were announced, including $1.5 million to the Southwest School of Art, which completes the school’s $10 million capital campaign and will result in the renaming of the Navarro Campus after Santikos. The San Antonio Museum of Art received three gifts totaling $725,ooo, including $500,000 to renovate its 173-seat auditorium that will be renamed the John Santikos Auditorium, and $200,000 to support SAMA’s popular Second Friday Arts Party, which will be named for Santikos for two years. A third gift of $25,000 will help underwrite some of SAMA’s education outreach programs to area schools. SAY Si received $200,000 and the McNay Art Museum received $100,000.

“The two biggest recipients were the two he loved the most, the Southwest School of Art and the San Antonio Museum of Art,” Noll said. “Hardly a week went by that he didn’t go to SAMA, and quite often to the McNay, too.”

“We’re still joyous over here because we just found out the week of Thanksgiving,” said Paula Owen, president of the Southwest School of Art. “We are truly honored to be the recipient of this extraordinary gift, a gift that enables us to complete our 50th Anniversary Capital Campaign and to achieve the campaign’s objectives, which include launching the only independent college of art in Texas. This also provides the opportunity to celebrate John Santikos by naming our Navarro building for him.”

Southwest School of Art President Paula Owen poses for a photo on the school's kiln patio. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Southwest School of Art President Paula Owen poses for a photo on the school’s kiln patio. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Owens talked about Santikos’ unassuming manner in life contrasted with his unprecedented gift as his legacy.

“John Santikos had been a member of the Southwest School of Art since the ’80s, and he would come to our openings and other events. He truly loved art and could speak knowledgeably about art, and he truly loved students and knew he could give them a big boost,” Owen said.  “I’ve surmised that he had an immigrant’s scarcity mentality, but he had a master plan of leaving it for posterity and not spending it in his own lifetime. I had a friend who did some work for him and he was paid in Santikos movie tickets.”

Katie Luber, the Kelso Director at SAMA, said Santikos’ gift would be of great benefit to the museum but the larger message Monday was one connecting philanthropy to the importance of the arts in the city.

“More than the size of the gifts to SAMA is the fact that Dennis Noll stood up there today and said. ‘Mr. Santikos was a philanthropist who loved the arts.’ This gift is going to change the face of San Antonio and the arts in ways that we can’t even imagine yet, my mind is boggled,” Luber said. “It’s so great for the city. There are school kids who have not had the chance to see and experience the arts and that will change because of this. We will have better arts schools, better museums, better access, this is huge. The pool of available money is going to be so much bigger.”

SAMA Kelso Director Katherine Luber poses for a photo in front of museum's new property donated by CPS Energy. Photo by Scott Ball.
SAMA Kelso Director Katie Luber. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The Area Foundation, now in its 51st year, currently manages $290 million for 500 local charitable funds and foundations. That sum will now grow to nearly $900 million.

The University of Texas at San Antonio, the University of Texas Health Sciences Center, and dozens of other community nonprofits were among those who received gifts on Monday. Click here for a complete list of recipient organizations.

Santikos Enterprises & Santikos Foundation

Noll also is serving as chairman of the board of Santikos Enterprises, which will continue to operate as a for-profit entertainment business with plans to expand its theater portfolio, to add individual theaters with multiple screens, concierge food and beverage service, private boxes for parties, and bowling alleys. Fellow board members include:

* Ed Kelley, former CEO and president of USAA Real Estate who currently served on the CPS Energy board.

* GP Singh, the founder of Karta Technologies, which developed software to operate power plants and nuclear facilities and grew to become San Antonio’s largest defense contractor before it was sold in 2007. Singh serves as vice chair of the Area Foundation.

* David Hennesee, the retired chief financial officer of Holt Caterpillar and immediate past president of the Area Foundation.

* John Hayes, president and founder Activia Resources, an oil and gas company.

* Guyla Sineni, co-founder of United Commercial Realty, now known as Jones, Lang & LaSalle.

* Palmer Moe, retired managing director of the Kronkosky Foundation and a former senior executive with Valero Energy.

* David Holmes, CEO of Santikos Enterprises.

Santikos Enterprises consists of five asset categories:

* 144 movie screens at nine theater complexes in San Antonio and Houston, with a 10th theater, the 16-screen Casa Blanca located north of Sea World opening in March.

* The actual theater buildings

*  920,000 sq. ft of shopping centers with tenants.

* 320 acres of undeveloped land, almost all of it in Bexar County.

* A multi-million dollar cash sum.

“We’ve had multiple appraisals of every operating business, every piece of real estate and everything else, and the value on the date of Mr. Santikos’ death was $605 million,” Noll said, adding, “It’s been a pretty good year for real estate values since then. We are evaluating every piece of property. We really like owning the shopping centers, we like that steady stream of income. We are looking at raw land to determine what we want to keep long-term and what we want to sell.”

Noll also is serving as a trustee on the newly-named board for the Santikos Foundation, which includes seven other members who will meet for the first time in January and elect a chair:

* Dr. Nan Clare with the University of Texas Health Sciences Center.

* GP Singh.

* Luis de la Garza, a retired executive with Toyota and Valero Energy.

* Ommy Strauch, owner of Ommy Strauch & Associates, a human resources firm.

* Susan Steves Thompson, the vice president for grants, services and programs at the Area Foundation.

* Darryl Byrd, the former CEO of SA2020 and now principal with ULTRAte Consulting, a community development firm.

* Bruce Tilley, a financial advisor with Wells Fargo Advisors.

Santikos had a daughter and grand-daughter who also were beneficiaries of his estate and who live in New Mexico and are not involved in the Santikos businesses or foundation.

This story was originally published on Tuesday, Dec. 15.

*Top image: John L. Santikos. Photo courtesy of the San Antonio Area Foundation. 


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Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.