Jack Benaroya was born in Montgomery, Alabama, on July 11, 1921, 20 minutes after his mother, father and four siblings arrived from Beirut, Lebanon, via New York City. Jack's father, Albert Benaroya, was born in Bulgaria in 1882 and the family immigrated to Palestine to farm, but farm life didn't appeal to Albert and he moved to Beirut. In 1909, Albert married Rachel Cohen, whose family had emigrated from the Greek island of Rhodes to Beirut. Albert and Rachel already had several relatives scattered around the United States and when their fifth child, Jack, was on the way, they decided to emigrate.
After a brief stay in Montgomery, where Rachel's family lived, the Benaroyas moved to Los Angeles. There Albert worked for another relative in the flower business, and in 1923 he bought a grocery-delicatessen in Vallejo, California, from a brother-in-law. The store served workers at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, but that customer base disappeared when the Depression forced the shipyard's closure.
In 1933, the Benaroyas moved to Seattle where another relative -- Jack's older brother Ralph -- had settled and had "extolled the area's natural beauty and the vigor of the Sephardic Jewish community" (Benaroya archives). In 1934, two years after Prohibition ended, Ralph started a beer-distributing business, Consolidated Beverages. Albert briefly operated a variety store in Pike Place Market before joining Ralph in the beer business.
The Family Business
Jack had helped in the family businesses from age 6 and did so while attending Garfield High School. He graduated in 1939 and immediately joined Consolidated Beverages full-time. In 1942, he married Rebecca Benoun, who had graduated from Garfield the previous year. They would have three children: Larry and Donna, both of Seattle, and Alan, of San Diego, California.
With the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States entered World War II and shortly thereafter Jack enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He was stationed at the Sand Point Naval Air Station in Seattle and in Pasco, before shipping out for duty in the Pacific Theater.
After his discharge from the Navy in 1945, he returned to Consolidated Beverage and quickly made his presence known. He devised a pallet system to more efficiently move the cases of beer and it became a standard throughout the industry. He also developed and patented a pallet-loading truck body for beverage distributors, the Work Saver Body, and in 1951 started a truck-body business.
The plant was in Wooster, Ohio, and Benaroya moved the family to Cleveland in 1953 so that he could oversee the business. But he returned to Seattle in 1955, at age 34, and turned his energies to construction and real estate, forming The Benaroya Company. "I never really liked the beer business," he said. "There's not much creativity involved" (Puget Sound Business Journal).
On His Own
He "started on a shoestring" (Godden), first constructing several buildings to lease to the U.S. Postal Service and Pacific Northwest Bell, as well as other medical and commercial properties. Then he took a huge gamble -- building warehouses and industrial properties on speculation, while convincing Washington Mutual Savings Bank to invest in his venture. Banks previously had been reluctant to loan money for speculative industrial properties, but Benaroya's vision involved a total package -- designing, developing, and building well-landscaped, architecturally pleasing "business parks." The concept was an instant success.
Jack Benaroya ultimately built complexes in South Seattle, Bellevue, Renton, and Kent, and in Portland, Oregon. He also built the Design Center Northwest, the Parkway Plaza Retail Center, and 6100 Gift Mart in Seattle, as well as other construction projects throughout the United States.
In 1982, he developed the Pavillion Outlet Center, the first off-price retail complex on the West Coast. By the early 1980s, Benaroya was the largest developer of industrial real estate in the Pacific Northwest, with properties covering more than eight million square feet. In 1984, at age 63, Benaroya sold his entire portfolio to Trammell Crow and the California Teachers and California Employees Retirement systems, for $315 million, "probably the largest real-estate deal in the history of the Pacific Northwest ..." (Young). A slice of those proceeds went to Howard Schultz, who was in the process of creating the Starbucks coffee empire. Benaroya called it "the best investment I ever made outside of real estate."
Since 1984, Benaroya's son Larry has run the Benaroya Company, which continues to focus on real estate and venture capital investments.
Giving Back to the Community
Jack Benaroya was "a very private man [who] finds it hard to talk about himself" (Godden), but his entrepreneurship and subsequent philanthropies made anonymity difficult. Of his philanthropies, he said, "This city has been very good to me, and I'm a firm believer in giving back to the community."
And he did. The list of philanthropies attributed to Jack and Rebecca Benaroya, directly and through the Benaroya Foundation, is impressive. It begins with the $15 million donated to the Seattle Symphony in 1993 to jump-start its quest for a new performance hall (later named Benaroya Hall), plus another $800,000 to help bail out the financially strapped orchestra. He contributed another $840,000 to upgrade a concrete wall with Kasota limestone and commissioned glass artist Dale Chihuly (b. 1941) to create two imposing sculptures for the Boeing Company Gallery.
The City of Seattle contributed $48.7 million and Washington State and King County also supported the $118 million artistic, architectural, and acoustical marvel. It was designed by LMN Architects of Seattle, with acoustics designed by Cyril Harris. Because it is located directly above a railroad tunnel that runs under downtown Seattle and is situated adjacent to a bus tunnel, the performance hall floats on rubber pads inside the building's outer shell, to dampen the outside noises. The hall provides a world-class venue for a wide range of musical events and in 2004, the Seattle grunge-rock band Pearl Jam recorded its "Live at Benaroya Hall" album.
One of the Benaroya grandchildren suffers from diabetes and in 1999, Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle completed construction of its state-of-the-art Benaroya Research Institute, a facility dedicated to solving the mysteries of diabetes and other auto-immune diseases such as arthritis, heart disease, and cancer. The Benaroyas have also contributed heavily to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
The Benaroyas have been patrons of the arts and supporters of Northwest artists, especially glassmaker Dale Chihuly and his Pilchuck Glass School. The Seattle Art Museum in 2004-2005 offered a special exhibition of Chihuly and other glass art from the collection of Becky and Jack Benaroya. They also have supported the University of Washington Medical Center, Children's Hospital and Medical Center, Lakeside School, and A Contemporary Theatre (ACT). Jack Benaroya was a member of the Governor's Planning Advisory Council, the Seattle Industrial Relations Committee, was active in the Seattle and Kent chambers of commerce, the Jewish Federation and Council of Greater Seattle and the National Conference of Christians and Jews. He also was a director of United Way of King County and of Alaska Airlines.
Jack was named to the Puget Sound Business Hall of Fame in 1995, sponsored by Junior Achievement, and received the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors First Citizen Award in 1998. The vice chancellor of Seattle Central Community College, Constance Rice (who was First Citizen of 1993), recalled "Benaroya's quiet generosity ... in providing banquet space for such non-profit groups as the Urban League in the 1960s" (Godden).
In 2001, Seattle Mayor Paul Schell declared July 11 -- Jack's 80th birthday -- Jack Benaroya Day. Garfield High gave him a Garfield Golden Grad Award. He and his wife also received a Washington State Arts Commission Governors Arts and Heritage Award for 1995.
In the years before his death he was slowed by Parkinson's disease. He and his wife, Becky, divided their time between Seattle and their winter home in Rancho Mirage, California. Jack Benaroya died on May 11, 2012.