Late in his life, David Copley (right) bought Bela Lugosi’s former home in Hollywood.
  • Late in his life, David Copley (right) bought Bela Lugosi’s former home in Hollywood.
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Its new website suggests that the David C. Copley Foundation, formerly known as the Helen K. and James S. Copley Foundation, may be about to flex some new-found financial muscle, thanks to major asset sales by the late publisher’s estate. The San Diego Union-Tribune owner died in November 2012 following a heart attack suffered in La Jolla while driving his Aston Martin home from a board meeting of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. In a previously unreported bit of news, the charity’s site says that before his death Copley named the foundation “as the sole residuary beneficiary of his estate.”

Helen was David’s mother, whose second husband Jim adopted David in 1965 when he was 13. Known for his drinking bouts, lavish parties, and even more conspicuous collection of flowery mansions, David settled down somewhat after Helen died in 2004 (bequeathing him a shrinking and deeply troubled newspaper empire) and he got a heart transplant the next year. Long regarded as the bulwark of local cultural causes such as the Old Globe, the foundation changed direction under David, who lavished $6 million of the foundation’s cash on a costume-design program at UCLA. The nonprofit also came up with $2 million to finish San Diego’s downtown library.

By the end of 2012, according to IRS charity filings, assets had spiraled down to $4,265,370. But since Copley’s death at 60, his estate has been liquidating his assets, including his Mission Beach house that went for $3.85 million and the $33 million yacht Happy Days, disposed of for an undisclosed, but presumably sizable, sum. One listing said the vessel was “designed for entertaining, complete with day head, shower, Jacuzzi, bar, elevator to all decks, and outdoor galley.” Copley’s so-called Fox Hole bachelor’s mansion also went on the block, as did a Los Angeles behemoth once occupied by horror-movie star Bela Lugosi that Copley acquired late in life. Just exactly how much was raised from the mass liquidation and who is the beneficiary of the cash has never been made public, but some speculate the foundation may get a sizable chunk of change.

According to its new website, which features smiling portraits of the late publisher, “upon David C. Copley’s passing, the foundation is now governed by the independent trustees he appointed to carry on the mission of his philanthropy.” Headed by Copley Press chief operating officer Chuck Patrick, the small board is said to be divvying up the spoils behind closed doors. Those who think they have a good idea of how to spend the money are invited to get in touch by submitting a form by email.

“The Foundation provides funding for responsible, creative charitable and civic organizations focusing on community, culture and arts, education, medical and health, and youth development, which continue the Copley family legacy of supporting life enriching organizations and foster community and civic improvement.” Despite Copley’s penchant for spreading his charity money to Hollywood and financing Broadway shows, the trustees seem to prefer to stay local. “The Foundation focuses its funding primarily in San Diego County. From time to time, the Trustees will consider programs outside of San Diego County if deemed particularly relevant to the mission of the Foundation and the family’s legacy.”

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