Sol, alarmed by the late-1980s rise in gang violence, crack cocaine, and generational poverty in City Heights, took the community under his investment wing. The multiethnic enclave still draws immigrants from war-torn nations to its dense four-square-mile neighborhood, crisscrossed by freeways and thoroughfares and dotted with Craftsman homes.
Benefiting its 74,000 people, shoulder-to-shoulder between Colina Park and Ridgeview, Corridor and Fairmount Park, are low-income apartments and townhomes, a new library and police station, and two new schools. The latest addition is a children’s clinic, catering to families with mental health issues, whose operating expenses Robert Price shored up with a $1.4 million grant.
5. Debbie Turner and Conrad Prebys (1933–2016)
Estimated net worth: $575 million
Major donations: Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Center in 2016: $100 million | Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center: $65 million | Scripps Health in 2006, 2009, and 2011: $55 million
For years, I thought “Conrad Prebys” was a construction company that designed and erected buildings. I didn’t realize there was a man who’d ponied up the money for these health, education, and arts centers, winning, hands down, the citywide sweepstakes for naming rights. His name is immortalized on a collection of buildings he funded: the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union at San Diego State, UC San Diego Prebys Concert Hall, the Conrad Prebys Elephant Care Center at the zoo, and the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center — future home of the La Jolla Music Society — set to open in 2019. They’re already calling it “The Conrad.”
Prebys, who died of cancer, donated $45 million for the Conrad Prebys Cardiovascular Institute, a heart hospital in the Golden Triangle. I visited the Prebys as a patient last year. Post-surgery, for my overnight recovery, I was wheeled into a private room. “There must be some mistake,” I said, worried I’d owe extra. “No mistake,” the nurse said. “Mr. Prebys insisted everyone have his own room.”
The San Diego State alumnus, who endowed a chair in its Biology Department for research into viromics (the genetics of viruses), built his empire developing real estate. Over 50 years, he was a housing builder extraordinaire, owning 90 properties and 8000 rental units through his Pacific Beach Progress Construction and Management Company. His life partner is Debbie Turner, who continues to give away money. Indeed, San Diego musicians might still be playing in garages if not for Prebys’s demanding ear. The best estimate of his local donations floats, like the Jacobses’ buoy, near the half-billion mark.
6. Mary and Gary West, both 70
Rancho Santa Fe
Estimated net worth: $1.5 billion
Major donations: West Wireless Health Institute in 2009 and 2010: $70 million | Gary and Mary West Senior Emergency Care Unit at UC San Diego: $11.8 million | Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center: $2 million
The Wests made oodles of money with call centers. Their telemarketing empire was WATS Marketing of America, later West Corp, the one job, cold-calling, where opportunities are always available. When they sold their stake in 2006, they raked in $1.45 billion.
Pockets bulging, the Wests launched a small fleet of hospitality, private equity, and real estate businesses, most of which operate elderly housing communities and healthcare centers. Their munificence helped open Serving Seniors, a day program that attracts hundreds of attendees, 95 percent of whom live below the poverty line. The Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness at Fourth and Beech, downtown, pulses with fun: line-dancing, tai chi, bingo, knit-and-crochet circles, and round-trip bus jaunts to “Over 60” classes at San Diego State.
7. Darlene, 70, and Donald Shiley (1920–2010)
Penthouse overlooking Balboa Park; also Pauma Valley
Estimated net worth: $440 million
Major donations: University of San Diego in 2002 and 2012: $30 million | The Old Globe Theater in 2006: $20 million | University of California San Diego in 2000 and 2005: $6 million
In a half-century career, the biomedical engineer Donald Shiley developed medical implants and surgical machinery. His chief invention was a mechanical heart valve and tracheotomy tubes to enhance breathing during and after surgery. His own eye disease led him to make donations for ophthalmological research and treatment. One such is the Shiley Eye Center that treats more than 100,000 patients per year.
Shiley’s widow, Darlene, a former actress, is a familiar face. Her beaming countenance introduces and encourages the public to support public television as she has; in particular, PBS’s Masterpiece Theater. The apple of her eye has been the Downton Abbey series, for which she showered the Masterpiece Trust with $1 million and unstinting on-screen praise.
8. Robert S. Howard, 94
Rancho Santa Fe
Estimated net worth: $390 million
Major donations: Scripps Health in 2005, 2007, and 2009: $45 million | Scripps Memorial Hospital in 2004: $2.5 million | San Dieguito Boys and Girls Club in 2005: $1 million
A newspaper baron in the pre-internet days, Howard held a chain of 19 dailies, including the North County Times and the Blade-Citizen in Oceanside. He sold the whole kit and kaboodle in 2002 for $694 million.
His Howard Charitable Foundation, begun in 1999, gives “primarily to health care, educational, and domestic humanitarian charities.”
After searching all evening, I note that the extant public information on Howard, who’s made a parallel fortune in oil and gas exploration and production, will not fill a wine glass. Perhaps that’s just as he wants it.
9. Ted Waitt, 53
La Jolla, Hollywood Hills, Beverly Hills
Estimated net worth: $720 million
Major donations: Salk Institute for Biological Studies in 2008, 2009, 2010: $29 million | Waitt Institute of Discovery in 2006 and 2007: $6.9 million | Rady’s Children Hospital in 2000: $3 million
Last December, Waitt was appointed chairman of the board at Salk, succeeding Irwin Jacobs. Waitt cofounded Gateway, famous for its opening gambit — selling personal computers via mail order and shipping them in cardboard boxes, printed with faux Holstein cowhide. A very lucky duck, indeed, he sold his business in 2007 for $710 million, just before the Great Recession devalued the worth of nearly every American company.