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Remembering longtime Stanford philanthropist John Arrillaga

Alumnus John Arrillaga reshaped the Stanford campus with extraordinary generosity, professional expertise and volunteer service.

John Arrillaga, ’60, a former scholarship recipient who became one of Silicon Valley’s most successful real estate developers and Stanford’s most generous donors, died on Jan. 24. He was 84.

Stanford alumnus John Arrillaga has played a key role in the development of many campus projects and has made extraordinary contributions to undergraduate scholarship programs, capital projects and athletics at the university over the years. (Photo: Courtesy John Arrillaga)

For nearly six decades, Arrillaga devoted his expertise and significant financial resources to projects across the Stanford campus, from athletics facilities to graduate student housing, as well as to a broad range of programs supporting undergraduate and graduate students. While numerous buildings bear his family name, many other contributions were made quietly – he preferred to stay out of the limelight, often working directly with university leaders, vendors and staff to advance a project. In 2009, Arrillaga was awarded the Degree of Uncommon Man, Stanford’s highest honor, for his service to the university.

“Our community mourns the loss of John Arrillaga, whose extraordinary generosity has had a profound impact on our university for more than half a century,” said Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne. “John’s support has been life-changing for countless Stanford students. He has also transformed our physical campus – his deep philanthropic support matched only by the gift of his time and his expertise in architecture, construction and more. I will personally miss John’s dry wit and sense of fun. I’m deeply grateful for his remarkable vision and commitment to Stanford, which will be felt for generations to come.”

Perhaps no single project is testament to Arrillaga’s service more than Stanford Stadium. Demolition of the old stadium started 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 the unprecedented completion time for a project that would normally take multiple years.

Arrillaga was legendary for his meticulous attention to detail, whether that involved managing design and construction of a large-scale project, tasting hot dogs to serve in the concession stands or rolling up his sleeves to rearrange stones in a fountain. He could often be spotted driving around campus in a golf cart, stopping to chat with a university leader, coach or student – and always picking up errant pieces of trash along the way.

His most significant gifts to the university include a donation of $151 million in 2013, which was made to support a variety of university projects, and was the largest single gift to Stanford from a living individual at the time; major support for the Escondido Village Graduate Residences, which has created much-needed on-campus housing for more than 2,400 graduate students; and a transformational gift to eliminate medical school debt for students with need. Since many of his gifts were in kind and difficult to quantify, the full value of his lifetime contributions to Stanford is unknown.

“John repaid his student scholarship many times over – he never stopped giving back,” says 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 making great spaces, which served the entire Stanford community, are evident throughout 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 6-foot-4 senior.

He first made a name for himself playing basketball at Stanford. In those days, an athletic scholarship covered tuition, and scholarship recipients were required to help pay their way by working for the university. Arrillaga held up to six jobs at a time to make ends meet – from washing dishes to delivering mail and working as a gardener. On the court, he was a three-year starter for coach Howie Dallmar, making first-team all-conference and third-team All-American, and serving as team captain during the 1959-60 season.

Black and white photo of young John Arrillaga with a basketball

John Arrillaga served as captain of the men’s basketball team during the 1959-60 season. (Photo: Courtesy Stanford Athletics)

Arrillaga graduated with a degree in geography and a desire to pay it forward. He contributed modestly to the university’s athletics department at first. Over time, his initial gifts increased in size and extended to other areas of the university.

Over the years, Arrillaga expressed his passion for Stanford with increasingly generous financial gifts and by applying his knowledge of architecture, engineering, construction and landscaping to improving 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 SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and lesser-known projects such as an annex for the university security force, among many other projects. He applied his time, funding and expertise to renovating the Old Union as well as 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 as broad and enduring an impact on Stanford as John Arrillaga,” said Persis Drell, provost of Stanford University. “He poured his time, skill and financial resources into transformational projects at Stanford and at SLAC, and he delighted in always going above and beyond the expectations of others. We are immensely grateful for all he has done for Stanford students and for our community as a whole.”

John Arrillaga welcomed members of the Cardinal football team at his house to celebrate their 2016 Rose Bowl win. (Photo: Ray Purpur)

Cardinal’s biggest fan

Arrillaga was a true Cardinal fan and familiar figure to Stanford student-athletes. His achievements are recognized in the university’s Athletic Hall of Fame, and he was often spotted at Jimmy V’s Sports Café, a gathering spot for student-athletes, coaches and staff. He also hosted numerous barbecues at his home in Portola Valley for the Stanford student-athletes who had won national championships.

“Throughout more than five decades of involvement and generosity, John Arrillaga has been a foundational pillar of Stanford Athletics, and the Cardinal community is deeply saddened to hear the news of his passing,” said Bernard Muir, the Jaquish & Kenninger Director of Athletics. “John believed in college sports, and he believed in Stanford. Through his unmatched passion and transformational impact, he has laid a foundation for Stanford to achieve remarkable things, and we will do our very best to live up to his legacy. It is a sad day on the Farm. John will be missed often and remembered fondly.”

The Arrillaga Family Sports Center, Arrillaga Center for Sports & Recreation, Arrillaga Outdoor Education and Recreation Center, the Arrillaga Gymnasium & Weight Room, Arrillaga Hall and the Arrillaga Rowing & Sailing Center are all named for his gifts, among other sports facilities. He also played a key role in the Olmsted Road housing development for team staff and renovations to Maples Pavilion, the Sunken Diamond, the soccer and rugby stadiums, the softball stadium, the landmark Stanford Barn, the Stanford Boathouse and the Stanford Campus Recreation Association.

More than 300 students have attended Stanford supported by the need-based and athletics scholarships established by the Arrillaga Family. This year alone, nearly 50 students are the beneficiaries of his scholarships. Past student-athlete recipients have included Tiger Woods, Katie Ledecky, ’20, and Christian McCaffrey.

In 2001, the San Francisco Chronicle described Arrillaga as “the man more responsible than perhaps any other single person for constructing, literally and figuratively, the nation’s preeminent college athletic program.”

A legacy of giving

Arrillaga’s professional success started when he and his business partner, Richard Peery, bought fruit orchards in the lands surrounding Stanford University as the tech boom began to swell. At the time, before it was Silicon Valley, the Santa Clara Valley was called the “Valley of Heart’s Delight” for its flowering orchards and canneries.

Arrillaga and Peery began developing the land into small office parks, with the bet that if they built the space, the tech firms would soon follow. Their company, Peery-Arrillaga, became one of Silicon Valley’s largest commercial real estate developers, eventually leasing office space to companies like Intel, Apple, Facebook and Google.

Fortune once described Arrillaga as “perhaps the richest man in Silicon Valley who didn’t make his money starting a tech company.”

Arrillaga emphasized 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 in their own right.

Arrillaga-Andreessen is a philanthropic entrepreneur, lecturer in business strategy at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and founder and board chair of the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society. She is a previous member of the Hoover Board of Overseers and served on the boards of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, Stanford Graduate School of Education and Stanford Athletics; in addition, she served as co-chair of her 25th reunion. She and her husband, Marc Andreessen, are longtime supporters of Stanford Health Care and made the lead gift for the Marc and Laura Andreessen Emergency Department in 2007. In 2020, they made a generous gift to help with unexpected costs incurred in the fight against COVID-19.

John Arrillaga, Jr., is co-founder and principal at A&E Real Estate Holdings, which invests in neighborhoods in New York City. At Stanford, he has served as a volunteer for the DAPER Investment Fund, the Golf Course Advisory Board, the Stanford Athletics Board, and his 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 possibly can, and give equally from among 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 wife Justine Stamen Arrillaga; and four grandsons. He is preceded in death by his first wife, Frances C. Arrillaga, MA ’64, MA ’65, and a brother, Gabriel Arrillaga.

A celebration of life is being planned by the family. For more information or to register, email

This story originally appeared in Stanford Report.