PORTOLA VALLEY, Calif. — Louise M. Davies, the philanthropist whose name graces San Francisco's symphony hall, has died. She was 98.
Davies, who with her late husband contributed millions to Bay Area cultural arts projects and charities, died Monday at a retirement home, family members said.
The philanthropist gave San Francisco the $5-million down payment for its symphony hall, later contributing $3 million more to attract visiting conductors to the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall. She also commissioned composer David Del Tredici's "Happy Voices," performed by the pianist Rudolph Serkin and the symphony, for the hall's opening in 1980.
"When she gave money for the symphony hall, a magazine asked her why she gave it. 'Because I had it,' is what she told them," said her grandson, Ralph Davies Lewis. "She was real grass roots, tied right down to the ground."
The gift earned her the California Confederation of the Arts' Leonardo da Vinci Award.
Among her other beneficiaries was the University of San Francisco. In 1982, she gave the school $1 million to bring international leaders to campus as Davies Fellows for a forum titled "The Search for Values in Contemporary America."
"She was a pretty wild thing, kind of like 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown,' " said her granddaughter, Lucy Dreyer. "When she came into a room, you knew there was a new and fresh element. They used to call her 'Elan,' meaning 'style.' "
Davies grew up on a farm in Plumas County, riding her pony, Dolly, to school. After graduating from a convent school in Rio Vista, she took a job as a stenographer in Oakland for $25 a week.
In 1925 she married Ralph Davies, who later went on to become vice president of Standard Oil. The Ralph K. Davies Medical Center is named after her husband, who died in 1971.
San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown praised Davies as "truly a generous person."
She is survived by a daughter, Maryon Davies Lewis of San Francisco, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Services were scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday in Redwood City.