John Arrillaga, ’60, a former grantee who became one of Silicon Valley’s most successful real estate developers and Stanford’s most generous donor, died January 24. He was 84 years old.
For nearly six decades, Arrillaga has devoted his expertise and significant financial resources to projects on Stanford campuses ranging from athletics facilities to undergraduate dormitories, as well as a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate support programs. While numerous buildings bear his family name, many other contributions have been made quietly – he preferred to stay out of the spotlight, often working directly with university leaders, vendors and staff to move a project forward. In 2009, Arrillaga was awarded the Degree of Uncommon Man, Stanford’s highest honor, for his services to the university.
“Our community mourns the loss of John Arrillaga, whose extraordinary generosity has profoundly impacted our university for more than half a century,” said Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne. “John’s support has transformed the lives of countless Stanford students. He also transformed our physical campus – his deep philanthropic support matched only by the gift of his time and expertise in architecture, construction and more. I personally will miss John’s dry wit and sense of fun. I am deeply grateful for his remarkable vision and commitment to Stanford, which will be felt for generations to come.”
Perhaps no project is more testament to Arrillaga’s service than Stanford Stadium. Demolition of the old stadium began just moments after the final football game of the 2005 season – and less than nine months later, a state-of-the-art facility was complete and ready for the Cardinal’s first home game. His personal oversight was credited with providing unprecedented completion time for a project that would normally take several years.
Arrillaga was legendary for his meticulous attention to detail, whether it was overseeing the design and construction of a major project, sampling hot dogs to be served at the concession stands, or rolling up his sleeves to help rocks in a fountain to rearrange. He could often be seen cruising around campus in a golf cart, stopping to chat with a professor, coach, or student—and picking up stray pieces of trash along the way.
Among his most significant gifts to the university is a $151 million donation in 2013, made in support of a variety of university projects, which was the largest single gift given to Stanford by a living person at the time. strong support for the Escondido Village Graduate Residences, which have provided much-needed on-campus housing for more than 2,400 graduate students; and a transformational gift to clear medical school debt for students in need. Because many of his gifts were in-kind and difficult to quantify, the full value of his lifetime contributions to Stanford is unknown.
“John has repaid his student scholarship many times—he never stopped giving back,” said John L. Hennessy, who served as university president from 2000 to 2016 and is now the Shriram Family Director of the Knight-Hennessy Scholars program. “His philanthropy and focus on creating great spaces that served the entire Stanford community are evident across our campus.”
From humble beginnings to All-American
Arrillaga grew up as one of five children in a working-class family in Inglewood, California. Money was tight: he couldn’t afford a suit jacket for his high school portrait, so he borrowed one from his chemistry teacher. The sleeves were 6 inches too short for the 6ft 4 senior.
He first made his name as a basketball player at Stanford. At that time, a sports scholarship covered the tuition fees, and the scholarship holders had to help finance their livelihood by working for the university. Arrillaga worked up to six jobs at a time to make ends meet — from washing dishes to delivering the mail to working as a gardener. On the field, he was a three-year starter for coach Howie Dallmar, made a first-team All-Conference and third-team All-American, and served as team captain during the 1959-60 season.
Arrillaga graduated with a degree in geography and a desire to pass it on. He initially contributed modestly to the athletics department of the university. Over time, his initial talents grew and spread to other areas of the university.
Over the years, Arrillaga expressed his passion for Stanford with increasingly generous financial donations and by applying his knowledge of architecture, engineering, construction and landscaping to improve Stanford’s athletic facilities. He also helped build the Munger Graduate Residence, the Graduate Community Center, the Physics and Astrophysics Building, the Arrillaga Science Center at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, and lesser-known projects such as an annex for the university’s security forces, among many other projects. He devoted his time, funds, and expertise to renovating the Old Union and several historic homes on campus. After the death of his first wife, he dedicated the Frances C. Arrillaga Alumni Center in her honor.
“Few people have had such a broad and lasting impact on Stanford as John Arrillaga,” said Persis Drell, Stanford University provost. “He has invested his time, skills and financial resources in transformational projects at Stanford and SLAC, and has always enjoyed exceeding the expectations of others. We are immensely grateful for all he has done for Stanford students and for our community as a whole.”
Cardinal’s biggest fan
Arrillaga was a true Cardinal fan and a familiar figure for the Stanford student athletes. His achievements are recognized in the university’s Athletic Hall of Fame, and he was often seen at Jimmy V’s Sports Café, a meeting place for student athletes, coaches, and staff. He also hosted numerous barbecues at his home in Portola Valley for Stanford student-athletes who had won national championships.
“Through more than five decades of dedication and generosity, John Arrillaga has been a mainstay of Stanford Athletics, and the Cardinal community is deeply saddened by the news of his passing,” said Bernard Muir, Jaquish & Kenninger’s director of athletics. “John believed in collegiate sports and he believed in Stanford. Through his unmatched passion and transformative impact, he laid the groundwork for Stanford to achieve remarkable things, and we will do our best to live up to his legacy. It’s a sad day on the farm. John is often missed and will be remembered fondly.”
Arrillaga Family Sports Center, Arrillaga Center for Sports & Recreation, Arrillaga Outdoor Education and Recreation Center, Arrillaga Gymnasium & Weight Room, Arrillaga Hall, and Arrillaga Rowing & Sailing Center, among others, are named for his gifts. He also played a key role in the Olmsted Road housing development for team staff and renovations of the Maples Pavilion, the Sunken Diamond, football and rugby stadiums, softball stadium, the distinctive Stanford Barn, the Stanford Boathouse and the Stanford Campus Recreation Association.
More than 300 students have attended Stanford, supported by the Need and Athletic Scholarships established by the Arrillaga family. This year alone, almost 50 students are the beneficiaries of his scholarships. Past student athlete receivers have included Tiger Woods, Katie Ledecky, ’20, and Christian McCaffrey.
In 2001 the Chronicle of San Francisco described Arrillaga as “the man responsible more than perhaps any single person for building the nation’s pre-eminent collegiate athletic program, literally and figuratively.”
A legacy of giving
Arrillaga’s professional success began when he and business partner Richard Peery bought orchards in the Stanford University area just as the tech boom was beginning to swell. Back before it became Silicon Valley, the Santa Clara Valley was dubbed the “Valley of Heart’s Delight” for its thriving orchards and canneries.
Arrillaga and Peery began developing the land into small office parks, betting that if the tech firms built the spaces, they would soon follow suit. Her company, Peery-Arrillaga, became one of the largest commercial real estate developers in Silicon Valley, eventually leasing office space to companies including Intel, Apple, Facebook, and Google.
wealth Arrillaga once described as “perhaps the richest man in Silicon Valley who didn’t make his money by founding a tech company.”
Arrillaga stressed the importance of philanthropy to his family. His daughter Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, ’92, MBA ’97, MA ’98, MA ’99, and son John Arrillaga, Jr., ’92, MBA ’98, became philanthropists themselves.
Arrillaga-Andreessen is a philanthropic entrepreneur, lecturer in business strategy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and founder and executive chair of the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society. She is a former member of the Hoover Board of Overseers and has served on the boards of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, the Stanford Graduate School of Education, and Stanford Athletics; In addition, she served as co-chair of their 25th reunion. She and her husband, Marc Andreessen, are longtime supporters of Stanford Health Care, and in 2007 they made the main gift for Marc and Laura Andreessen’s ER. In 2020 they made a generous donation to help with unexpected costs incurred in the fight against COVID -19.
John Arrillaga, Jr. is a co-founder and director of A&E Real Estate Holdings, which invests in neighborhoods in New York City. At Stanford, he served as a volunteer for the DAPER Investment Fund, Golf Course Advisory Board, Stanford Athletics Board and its 10th and 15th Reunion Campaign Committees.
In 2013, Arrillaga-Andreessen wrote, “While my father taught me many important lessons … two stand out: Give as much as you can, and give equally of your resources — time, mind, and money.” These are principles I follow every day.”
Arrillaga is survived by his wife Gioia Fasi Arrillaga; two sisters, Alice Arrillaga Kalomas and Mary Arrillaga Danna; a brother, William “Bill” Arrillaga; his daughter Laura and her husband Marc Andreesen; his son John and his wife Justine Stamen Arrillaga; and four grandchildren. He is preceded in death by his first wife, Frances C. Arrillaga, MA ’64, MA ’65, and a brother, Gabriel Arrillaga.
The family plans a celebration of life. For more information or to register, email [email protected]