Richard Driehaus in his office, which is in the restored Ransom Cable mansion
Laima Gaudinskas, Driehaus and wife Inese, Que Shelby, and Jessica Fitzgerald at the annual Driehaus Design Initiative fashion show fundraiser
Driehaus helped restore his high school, St. Ignatius College Prep
Father Jack Wall built Old St. Pat’s into a thriving community
South side native Richard H. Driehaus’s eye for design was honed by his youth in architecture-rich Chicago. “I’ve admired good architecture from the time I was a young lad delivering newspapers to interesting homes in Brainerd,” says the fund manager and philanthropist. But his deeper commitment to the cause came when he restored the Ransom Cable mansion for Driehaus Capital Management’s office space (at 25 E. Erie St.), and he was introduced to Landmarks Illinois, a group dedicated to historic building preservation.
Now, as one of the country’s most prolific philanthropists, architecture is one of the many causes he helps fund, along with dozens of other arts programs, museums, and cultural institutions. His annual Richard H. Driehaus Prize, which celebrates its 10th anniversary on March 24, awards $200,000 to an individual who has made an extraordinary contribution to classical architecture, while his foundation also gives an Architectural Excellence in Community Design award via The Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards.
“I think we have helped encourage and develop good design in many low to moderate income communities,” he says. “Everyone deserves to live in, to grow up around, beauty.”
For the past two years, his architectural vision has taken a unique turn, thanks to Father Jack Wall, a priest at Old St. Patrick’s church in the West Loop (where Driehaus is a parishioner) and the president of Chicago-based nonprofit Catholic Extension. When Father Wall approached him about possible funding, Driehaus suggested the Driehaus Challenge, a donation-matching program that would help support the organization’s mission to rebuild neglected churches in underfunded areas. (Since 1905, Catholic Extension has donated a half-billion dollars to communities across the country.) During a time when organized religion is besieged by controversies, weakening spirituality, and flagging congregations, the Driehaus Challenge serves as a beacon of light for communities in need of a solid foundation. “I did it very intuitively,” he says, “like a venture deal.”
His intuition was on point: For the last two years, his Richard H. Driehaus Charitable Lead Trust has matched 500 gifts of $1,000 from donors to Catholic Extension. The challenge helped bring in $3.75 million in 2010 and cultivate a strong donor base in Chicago: 20 percent of the program’s total donations come from Chicago-area residents, and 30 percent of donors who qualified for the Challenge came from the Chicago area.
“Good design doesn’t cost—it pays. It helps economic and community development; it instills pride and connection in neighborhoods; it encourages healthy living,” he says.
While Catholic Extension has built 12,000 churches across the country, it’s the restored Chicago institutions that Driehaus holds near and dear. He gave nearly $250,000 to prevent Holy Family, a Gothic marvel on the Near West Side, from being torn down. He helped restore his grammar school, St. Margaret of Scotland, and his high school, St. Ignatius College Prep, by donating more than $2 million, plus terra cotta, fireplaces, and woodwork from his collection of architectural artifacts to return the school to its circa-1870 splendor. “I’m grateful to the institutions that helped shape my life,” says Driehaus. “Besides the academic education, [they taught me to] give back, to remember where I came from. I’m grateful to be able to give back to them now.”
And for Driehaus, keeping Chicago churches in top condition is good for both locals and visitors alike. “It’s good for tourism to honor a city’s history,” he says, “and it’s certainly good for the people who grow up and live here—or in any city—to save its past as it looks to the future.”