About :: History

Mortimer Fleishhacker was born in San Francisco in 1866. He became a businessman, banker, entrepreneur, and venture capitalist involved in the electrification of California. He was active in many non-profit and educational institutions in the San Francisco Bay Area. He was a founder of the Community Chest (forerunner of the United Way) and was for many years a trustee of the University of California. He also served on the boards of many cultural organizations in the City.

Mortimer Fleishhacker, Sr. Photo by Dorothea Lange

Mortimer Fleishhacker, Sr.
Photo by Dorothea Lange

The Mortimer Fleishhacker Foundation was founded in 1947 by Mortimer and run with his daughter Eleanor Sloss and son Mortimer Fleishhacker Jr. The original contribution, and the only contribution for three decades, was a building at the Southwest corner of Market Street and Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco. The rent generated enough to make contributions to worthy causes but did not provide enough income for any major funding.

After Mortimer Fleishhacker died in 1953, his son Mortimer Fleishhacker Jr. took over management of the Foundation. The board made yearly contributions to causes in which trustees were interested. In the 1960’s grandchildren of the founder joined the board.

Mortimer Fleishhacker Jr. was a civic leader interested in many causes including public television (KQED), the Asia Foundation, SPUR, International House in Berkeley, the World Affairs Council and many others. He also served on the San Francisco Library Commission and Planning Commission. In 1966, he became interested in The American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) which was looking for a new home. Fleishhacker, with Cyril Magnin and Melvin Swig, brought A.C.T. to San Francisco and set the company up in the Geary Theater.

In 1970, the Foundation’s building was sold and the money ($1,250,000) was turned over to an investment management firm, Dodge & Cox. Morris Cox had been a tenant in a building owned by Mortimer Fleishhacker.

In 1976, Mortimer Fleishhacker Jr. died and his sister Eleanor Sloss became Board President. In 1978 she died and Mortimer Jr.’s daughter, Delia Ehrlich, became Board President.

Mortimer Fleishhacker Jr.

Mortimer Fleishhacker Jr.

The Trustees met as needed to review an increasing number of applications. The process was very informal; requests were discussed and approved on the basis of individual interest. As applications increased, the need for a more formal grantmaking system became evident. In 1978 a part-time Executive Director, Susan Clark, was hired. The foundation decided on funding arts and culture in the Bay Area. In 1979 fourth generation family members joined the board.

In 1983 Sara Lutman was hired as Executive Director. Under her leadership the Eureka Fellowships were begun. Visual artists selected by three experts (from outside the Bay Area) were awarded unrestricted grants of $15,000. This program has evolved (see Eureka Fellowships) and continues to this day.

Mortimer Jr., through his will, created a foundation run by his wife, Janet. After she died their children, Delia Ehrlich, Mortimer III, and David, decided to merge the two foundations in 1988. Grants were made in the arts and pre-collegiate education (which was not well funded at the time). David Fleishhacker became the President and the Foundation hired Christine Elbel as the first full-time Executive Director in 1990. The Foundation was active in the Arts Earthquake Recovery Fund after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. In 1991 the Foundation made an emergency grant for the Eureka Theatre Company’s premiere of “Angels in America,” which went on to receive major acclaim.

The Foundation remains a family foundation of descendants of the founder and a family friend. It now accepts applications from small and medium-sized arts organizations, and funds literacy programs in grades K-5 for disadvantaged students.