Our History

Our History

World War II transformed the Bay Area into the center of the country’s military and industrial complex. Nearly two million soldiers, sailors, and civilians passed through San Francisco en route to Asia. Cities and towns saw their populations surge, some by five-fold. And it wasn’t just sheer numbers that were changing; it was also the racial makeup of the Bay Area. The entire Japanese American population on the West Coast, one of the region’s largest communities of color, was imprisoned in internment camps. San Francisco’s black population grew from less than 5,000 to more than 40,000. While the economy boomed with war contracts, not everyone thrived.

It was during the war that Marjorie Elkus, the executive director of the Columbia Foundation, began receiving inquiries from attorneys, trust officers, and others working with charitable trusts, asking how their clients could help improve life for the Bay Area’s most vulnerable residents. Elkus, together with Leslie Ganyard, the executive director of the Rosenberg Foundation, met with businessman Daniel E. Koshland Sr. and attorney Gardner Bullis to discuss the concept of a community foundation, the likes of which had already been established in several other large cities around the country. Koshland and Bullis then formed a 25-person exploratory committee (see below) and began visiting other community foundations to learn about their operations.

On January 14, 1948, with no more than $20 in its coffers, the San Francisco Foundation officially launched with a luncheon at the Sir Francis Drake hotel just off of San Francisco’s Union Square. Koshland served as the foundation’s first chairman. The foundation was established to provide the community with “a contemporary agency sensitive to current social needs, and one which will help build a future which will magnify the opportunities of generations yet to be born,” according to the foundation’s inaugural press release.

Exploratory Committee
Daniel E. Koshland Sr., chairman
Gardner Bullis, vice chairman
James Black
Charles Blyth
W.W. Crocker
Charles deY Elkus Sr.
Mrs. Charles deY Elkus Jr.
W.P. Fuller Jr.
Mrs. Leslie Ganyard
Mrs. Frank Gerbode
A. Crawford Greene
Hyman Kaplan
Beverly Letcher
Samuel Lilienthal
James K. Lochead
J.W. Mailliard Jr.
Harold McKinnon
C.O.G. Miller
Mrs. Ryer Nixon
T.S. Petersen
Herman Phleger
Mrs. William P. Roth
Harold Winey
Dean Witter
Jean Witter

Chief Executives of the San Francisco Foundation
John R. May (1948 to 1974)
Martin A. Paley (1974 to 1986)
Robert M. Fisher (1986 to 1996)
Sandra R. Hernandez, M.D. (1997 to 2013)
Fred Blackwell (2014 to present)