Our History

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1922: Foundation Building Opens

Charles August Heckscher, a visionary who achieved great financial success, believed that wealth should be shared with others less fortunate. He started the foundation in 1921 as one of his many benefactions. Its assets consisted of land at Fifth Avenue between 104th and 105th Streets in New York City and securities intended to provide funds for the construction of a building on the site for the foundation’s operations. The original building opened in 1922 but its operating costs far exceeded its budget. As the Depression deepened, the foundation’s assets were in default and the foundation itself was on the verge of collapse.

1930s: Ruth & Arthur Smadbeck Revitalize the Foundation

Arthur Smadbeck, a friend of August Heckscher and a fellow philanthropist who shared a deep dedication to public service, reluctantly took over a shattered financial and management structure in the 1930s and made possible the survival and emergence of the foundation as a major benefactor. Arthur was one of the first and most prolific suburban real estate developers of the era. Until his death in 1977, he donated his time and efforts to building the profitable platform and endowment that allowed the foundation to support major charitable efforts, while also overseeing his own successful businesses and extensive philanthropic endeavors.

Ruth Smadbeck ran the foundation for over 50 years including its programs in dance, orchestra, exercise, and swimming; the purchase and distribution of necessities for indigent children; a kindergarten; a theater; a craft room; a senior lounge; a photography group; a library; and a thrift shop, all while broadcasting two weekly radio programs offering guidance on childcare. She began as a volunteer several years after the foundation’s building opened and brought to its philanthropic activities a lifelong dedication to, and love for, children.

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1980s: The Foundation Evolves

At Ruth Smadbeck’s death in 1986, annual distributions to charity had grown to over $1 million and assets had exceeded $22 million. Louis Smadbeck, a renowned real estate entrepreneur and civic leader, became Chairman of the foundation in 1986 and continued in this capacity until his death in 1992. Virginia Sloane was elected President in 1986 and President Emeritus in 2012.

1990s: A New Generation Assumes Leadership

In 1997, Howard G. (Peter) Sloane became Chairman and CEO of the foundation. He continues to preside over its many philanthropic projects. Today, assets have grown to well over $300 million and annual distributions to charity have dramatically increased.