John Arrillaga Sr., who helped build Silicon Valley, dies at 84

SAN FRANCISCO — John Arrillaga Sr., the real estate developer who physically transformed Silicon Valley into tech office parks from orchards and became a major donor to Stanford University, died Monday in Portola Valley, Calif. He was 84 years old.

His daughter, Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, announced his death in a post on Medium. His family declined to cite the cause.

Beginning in the 1960s, Mr. Arrillaga transformed the bucolic farmlands of Silicon Valley into a sprawling network of corporate campuses. At the time, the semiconductor industry was booming in the Santa Clara Valley, with companies like Intel growing as fast as they could find buildings to expand into.

To meet this demand, Mr. Arrillaga and his business partner, Richard Peery, purchased thousands of acres of farmland around California cities, including Mountain View, Sunnyvale and San Jose. Even before they found tenants, they created developments of low-slung concrete buildings that were inexpensive and easy to construct.

They eventually built over 20 million square feet of commercial real estate. Many of these developments were home to technology companies, including Intel, Apple, Hewlett-Packard and Google.

Mr. Arrillaga and Mr. Peery became billionaires as property values ​​soared. Forbes pegged Mr. Arrillaga’s net worth at $2.5 billion.

As the tech industry grew and Silicon Valley’s population grew, some locals began to oppose the development. Several of Mr. Arrillaga’s projects have encountered obstacles: residents protested the height of proposed 100-foot office towers in Palo Alto and disagreed with the location of a new library in Menlo Park.

Later in life, Mr. Arrillaga also physically transformed Stanford, which he had attended on a basketball scholarship. He donated money for more than 200 projects and buildings at the university, including at least nine buildings and rooms named after his family and 57 scholarships. In 2013, he pledged $151 million to the university, the largest donation to Stanford from a single living donor.

He was born on April 3, 1937 in Inglewood, California. His father, Gabriel, was a professional football player who later became a laborer in a produce market in Los Angeles. His mother, Freda, was a nurse.

Mr. Arrillaga enrolled at Stanford in 1955 and studied geography there. At 6ft 4in tall, he captained the basketball team while juggling jobs to cover his expenses.

After graduating in 1960, he briefly played professional basketball – he was on the San Francisco Warriors roster for six weeks, according to Fortune magazine, although there is no record of his involvement to a game – before getting into commercial real estate.

He and Mr. Peery founded the real estate company Peery Arrillaga in 1966, a partnership that lasted five decades. In 2006, they sold about half of their 12 million square foot portfolio for $1.1 billion to a real estate investment division of Deutsche Bank.

In 1968, Mr. Arrillaga married Frances Marion Cook, a sixth grade teacher and another Stanford graduate. They had two children. She died of lung cancer in 1995. In 2003 he married Gioia Fasi, a former lawyer from Honolulu.

In addition to his daughter, his wife survives him with his son, John Jr.; two sisters, Alice Arrillaga Kalomas and Mary Arrillaga Danna; one brother, William Arrillaga; and four grandsons.

Mr. Arrillaga’s ties to the technology industry were further strengthened in 2006 when his daughter, a lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, married Marc Andreessen, a venture capitalist and founder of Netscape.

Mr. Arrillaga began making small donations to Stanford right after graduating. By the early 2000s, his donations to the school, primarily to its athletics department, had soared to over $80 million. In 2006, he gave Stanford $100 million, which was the largest single donor sum until he eclipsed it with his 2013 donation.

For 30 years, Mr. Arrillaga rebuilt and donated nearly every athletic facility at Stanford, including Maples Pavilion in 2004 and Stanford Stadium in 2005 and 2006. The Arrillaga name is so ubiquitous on campus – found on the Frances C. Arrillaga Alumni Center, the Arrillaga Family Dining Commons, and the two campus gymnasiums – which students dubbed the “Nearrillaga” and “Farrillaga” gymnasiums to tell them apart.

Mr. Arrillaga, who avoided media coverage and interviews, developed a reputation for attention to detail in his construction projects.

While rebuilding Stanford’s football stadium, “he selected every palm tree, worked out the best shape for each structural element, and created his own designs for the seats,” Ms Arrillaga-Andreessen wrote in her Medium post.

She added that he’s been known to “personally pick up every trash he sees and rearrange individual stones in fountains across campus.”

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