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S. Niles Gates, 91; Helped Found Opera Pacific

May 03, 2003|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

S. Niles Gates, whose anonymous challenge grant of $50,000 in the early 1960s provided important seed money for the formation of Opera Pacific, has died. Gates was 91 when he died in his sleep April 26 at his Newport Beach home after a long illness.

Martin G. Hubbard, the company's executive director, said this week that Gates was not only one of the principal founders of Opera Pacific, he also was instrumental in creating an education outreach program and, with Ruth Ding, creating the opera ball, which is the company's principal fund-raiser.

"Within the Opera Pacific family, he was viewed as Mr. Opera Pacific," Hubbard said.

The Santa Ana-based company, whose four-opera season is presented at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, dedicated the opening night performance of Verdi's "Il Trovatore" on Tuesday to Gates. It also will dedicate the entire 2003-04 season to his memory, Hubbard said.

A native of Spokane, Wash., Gates was a graduate of Hollywood High School, where he had his own band, and UCLA, where he was president of the Glee Club.

He later became an industrial real estate developer in Los Angeles and Orange counties. He and his brother Bob formed Gateway Co., which they ran from 1955 through 1961.

Thereafter Gates operated independently, selling and leasing property to such companies as Vons Cos., Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Schick Safety Razor Co.

His challenge grant to the Lyric Opera Assn. of Orange County in the early 1960s helped the fledgling organization gain financial stability. In those days, it presented modest productions of operas at various theaters in Orange County and helped conduct the Metropolitan Opera's annual regional auditions.

In 1983, the name of the company was changed to Opera Pacific to expand the company's regional identity in anticipation of the opening of the Performing Arts Center, where it has been a resident company since 1986. The company has since grown to an enterprise with an $8-million budget.

In addition to his interest in opera, Gates was a benefactor of the Performing Arts Center, Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach and the Violence Intervention Program at USC.

Gates' survivors include his third wife, Mimi; three children, John and Tara, of Orange County, and Brian, of Rome; and four grandchildren.

Services will be private.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Opera Pacific or the Rotary International Foundation.

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