The Santikos Theatres logo is displayed in one of their many screens in San Antonio. Courtesy Photo.
The Santikos Theatres logo is displayed on one of the company's many screens in San Antonio. Credit: Courtesy / Santikos Entertainment

John L. Santikos, who died Dec. 30, 2014 at the age of 87, was a young boy when his family fled Nazi-occupied Greece in World War II and came to San Antonio, where he eventually took his father’s modest movie theater business and built the largest family-owned movie theater chain in Texas. He grew to be one of San Antonio’s wealthiest business owners and real estate investors.

Santikos formed the John L. Santikos Charitable Foundation in 2011, and since his death it has been an open secret in San Antonio’s philanthropic circles that Santikos left the bulk of his estate, his operating businesses which unofficial sources estimate are worth at least $200 million and perhaps substantially more, to be administered by the San Antonio Area Foundation.

The gift will transform San Antonio’s philanthropic landscape, representing the biggest infusion of charitable dollars into the city’s nonprofit world since the advent of the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation in 1991.

John L. Santikos. Photo courtesy of the San Antonio Area Foundation.
John L. Santikos. Photo courtesy of the San Antonio Area Foundation. Credit: Courtesy / San Antonio Area Foundation

“This is humbling, it truly is,” said Dennis Noll, CEO and President of the Area Foundation. “It’s sad that John Santikos is no longer alive and part of San Antonio, but with this legacy gift his name lives on and his name will stay on his businesses to the benefit of all San Antonians in need. Santikos will truly be San Antonio’s community theaters now.”

The Area Foundation, which offices at the Pearl where it hosts many nonprofit gatherings and events, is San Antonio’s community foundation.

“The Area Foundation manages nearly $280 million in assets and, since 1964, has distributed more than $240 million in grants and scholarships to educate youth, preserve the environment, protect animals, fund research and provide services that enhance the quality of life for people living in and around San Antonio,” the Area Foundation’s website states.

The Area Foundation made Santikos’ gift of his operating companies official on Wednesday, announcing that the Santikos Charitable Foundation will now be managed as an Area Foundation asset.

“The companies will remain in operation under the Area Foundation,” the press release stated. “Cashflow generated will be used for charitable purposes according to the guidelines left by Mr.Santikos. The Area Foundation anticipates that this legacy gift will increase our impact, but does not have a valuation at this time.”

The impact will be felt immediately in San Antonio’s nonprofit sector. The Area Foundation announced that more than $6 million in charitable gifts will be distributed this year from the foundation, and distributions in future years are expected to exceed that sum. Profit from the theaters, Santikos’ substantial retail rental holdings, and the sale or development of undeveloped land holdings, will serve to grow the Santikos Foundation.

The announcement also contained the first information about how Santikos wanted his wealth directed, which will be keenly studied by area nonprofit executives to see if the work they do will qualify their organizations as potential gift recipients.

Today’s announcements included a $255,000 matching contribution to The Big Give SA, $200,000 to United Way initiatives and more than $2 million to the Area Foundation’s annual competitive grants program.

“The Area Foundation is currently evaluating the most impactful ways to grant additional funds in a manner that benefits both the community and honors the legacy of Mr. Santikos,” the release stated. “Additional funds will be granted at the end of 2015. His desire was to support a wide range of charitable programs.” Those include:

  • People in need (seniors, individuals with special needs, victims of child abuse and disaster relief)
  • Youth and education (K-12 and higher education)
  • Public libraries, parks and museums
  • Arts and culture
  • Health and wellness

Mr. Santikos also named two global charities as gift recipients, the International Orthodox Christian Charities and Doctors Without Borders. While he was alive, Santikos was a generous benefactor of various arts and performing arts organizations, including the San Antonio Symphony, the San Antonio Opera, and the San Antonio Metropolitan Ballet. He was an active member and supporter of St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church.

He also made significant gifts to St. Mary’s University, his alma mater, and the University of Texas at San Antonio, and supported the Red Cross and the annual Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving Dinner.

“He loved the museums, the arts and culture in every respect,” Noll said. “But his list covers almost everything. It doesn’t cover housing or animals, but it covers education, all manner of people with special needs, victims of natural disasters, seniors, and more. He wanted to help people who can’t help themselves, he was the embodiment of the American Dream. His family escaped the Nazis, they flee to America and they come here and build an empire.”

This is not the first time the Area Foundation has received active, operating businesses as a legacy gift, although previous businesses were smaller in size and scope.

“We’ve had smaller operating businesses before, but we’re unique as a community foundation. We are a public charity and we are allowed to accept businesses,” Noll said. “Mr. Santikos loved the fact that his business would continue under the Santikos name and not have to be sold.”

The Santikos Foundation will include the nine theater complexes, including all the real estate where they are located except for the Bijou Theater; more than one million sq. ft. of rental retail space around the city; 350 acres of undeveloped property, much of it located around key highway intersections; and cash assets.

Noll said the Area Foundation is working closely with the Santikos management team  to establish a guiding set of operating principles that reflect the values Santikos exhibited while still alive. There are no Santikos family members associated with the theaters or other business now. Santikos had one daughter, Violet, who lives in New Mexico. All of his companies are professionally managed.

“The Area Foundation will work hard to fully integrate Mr. Santikos’ principles through the Area Foundation’s annual grants program and its relationship with Santikos Theatres and its affiliated real estate companies in order to achieve a lasting legacy for Mr. Santikos,” the release stated.

A board of directors has been established to oversee the Santikos Foundation at the Area Foundation once the probate court completes its work. Until then, it is operating as an advisory board. Members include:

  • Ed Kelly, 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 also 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.
  • Guyla Sineni, co-founder of United Commercial Realty.
  • Palmer Moe, the recently retired managing director of the Kronkosy Foundation and a former senior executive with Valero Energy.
  • Dennis Noll, CEO and president of the Area Foundation.
  • David Holmes, a former executive with Kinetic Concepts who now work at the Area Foundation.

This story was originally published on Wednesday, April 15.

*Featured/top image: The Santikos Theatres’ logo displayed in one of many company screens in San Antonio. Courtesy Photo.   

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is co-founder and columnist at the San Antonio Report.