The estate of the late Texas movie-theater mogul John L. Santikos has donated $605 million to the San Antonio Area Foundation, the San Antonio Express-News reports. The bequest, representing the bulk of Mr. Santikos’s estate, more than triples the size of the foundation, which administers giving by some 500 charitable funds.
The donor, who died last in 2014 at age 87, was a native of Greece and the second-generation owner of Santikos Theaters, which encompasses nine movie houses, and pioneered innovations such as multiplexes and digital projection. The cinemas are among the cash, investments, and property left to the San Antonio foundation, which will manage giving by the John L. Santikos Charitable Foundation.
Mr. Santikos dictated that 10 percent of annual disbursements from his fund go to Doctors Without Borders USA and International Orthodox Christian Charities. The remainder is expected to benefit primarily nonprofits and causes in the San Antonio area.
Family, employees, friends and business associates today are mourning the passing of John Louis Santikos, who built the largest family-owned theatre circuit in Texas. John died December 30, 2014 at Methodist Hospital after a short illness. Born September 8, 1927, he was 87.
John is survived by his daughter, Violet Santikos, sister Kiki Pringle (husband Albert Lymberry), grand-daughter Cassandra Sophia Frank, nephews Thad Bonduris (wife Kathryn), Argie Bonduris and Christopher Bond, nieces Nikki and Heather Bonduris and Shara Lynn Graves and husband Duane and true friend caregiver Susan Schadel. It was his wish that the theater and real estate operations bearing his name continue in their current form. He had created the John L. Santikos Charitable Foundation in 2011 which will be administered by the San Antonio Area Foundation.
John Santikos led a long and eventful life. He was born in Athens, Greece to Toula and Louis Santikos. Louis Santikos first came to the United States in 1911 from Greece, originally settling in Waco, where he originally worked in a grocery store. At the store, he noticed long lines of people who lined up every day to get into the Rex Theatre, a nickelodeon across the street. Sensing the opportunity, he saved his money and was able to buy the theater, beginning what would be a century-plus of involvement in movie theaters by him and his son, John. In 1918, John’s father was invited by San Antonio businessmen to move to the city and enter into the movie theater business. Louis began by operating the Rialto Theatre on Houston Street, and then opened the Palace Theatre on Alamo Plaza – San Antonio’s first “movie palace” and the forerunner of the Majestic, Aztec and Texas theatres.
He returned to Greece in 1925 where he met and married Toula Gatos and brought her back to San Antonio. In 1927, Louis Santikos sold most of his business interests in San Antonio and moved back to Athens, Greece where he became a successful film distributor and where John was born.
During World War II, Germany occupied Greece and Nazi officers took over the Santikos home, living upstairs while the family lived downstairs – a time of great tension and fear for the family, John recalled. When the German occupation ended in 1944, a civil war broke out between Communists and British/American-supported forces. At one point, Louis Santikos and John fled the house just hours before Communist guerillas arrived, looking for them. The civil war lasted until 1949.
Fear for his family’s safety, Louis sent John and then his sister Kiki and brother Dean (now deceased) back to San Antonio in 1946. John entered St. Mary’s University in 1947, taking academic courses and learning English at the same time. He earned his business degree in only two and a half years, during which time his father and mother also moved back to San Antonio.
In 1950, Louis built and opened the Olmos Theatre on San Pedro Avenue, which became the basis of the “new” Santikos Theatres company. John joined his father at the Olmos, taking tickets, handling concessions and managing the theatre in all aspects, learning film booking, marketing – a practical education from his father and by hands-on experience.
By 1958, Louis and Toula decided to return to their home and film distributorship business in Athens, with John taking over the company in San Antonio.
He grew Santikos Theatres rapidly, purchasing and building theatres up through the Texas real estate downturn of 1987, when he sold all his theatres to Act III Theatres, owned by TV impresario Norman Lear. Act III later sold all of its theatres – including those in San Antonio – to Regal Cinema. When Regal filed for bankruptcy in 2001, John was able to buy back all the San Antonio theatres he had originally sold to Act III.
In 2003, he build the Silverado 16 Theatre on Bandera Road, and followed that with the Palladium 19 IMAX in The Rim in 2006. In 2008, he built the Silverado 19 IMAX in Tomball (suburban Houston).
Santikos Theatres celebrated its Centennial Year in 2011, which John marked by making major scholarship gifts to both St. Mary’s University and the University of Texas at San Antonio. An active arts supporter, Mr. Santikos believed in community service. The company he founded partners with many 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 Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Church.
Over the years, Santikos Theatres brought the “latest and greatest” in cinema technology to San Antonio. From the first drive-in theatres (the San Pedro Drive-In) and multi-plex indoor theatres, to THX and digital sound technology, Santikos Theatres led the way in innovation. More recent additions include 3D presentation, Hollywood IMAX films, HD digital projection, in-theatre dining and the city’s only art-house (the Bijou). Santikos theatre patrons enjoy Red Carpet premieres and exclusive showings of concerts and special attractions.
In recognition of John’s real estate achievements, the San Antonio Business Journal named The Legacy, his 100-acre lifestyle center project at Loop 1604 and Highway 281, Best Real Estate Project in 2006. The project includes a power center component featuring anchor tenants Lifetime Fitness, Best Buy, and Sportsman’s Warehouse. Most recently, construction began in November of this year on Dwell at Legacy, a 289-unit Class A apartment complex situated on 8.28 acres of The Legacy complex and scheduled to open in June, 2015.
Santikos Theatres contributes much to the local economy, employing over 1,000 workers ranging from theater ushers to managers and corporate officials. Equally known for its work with charitable organizations, Santikos Theaters offers canned food drives for the local food bank, helps with Red Cross donation and the Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving Dinner, and encourages patrons to support fundraisers for many non-profit organizations.