Philanthropy is a Greek word meaning “love of humanity.” Of course, many philanthropists also love the sound of their own names. They love their names so much they pay millions of dollars to have them engraved on hospitals, museums, gymnasiums, and educational institutions. As playwright George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “a millionaire does not really care whether his money does good or not, provided he finds his conscience eased and his social status improved by giving it away.”
Shaw was, perhaps, a cynic, but it is a fact that the Pritzker family loves to put its name on stuff. The Pritzkers are the ninth richest family in America, with a fortune of $32.5 billion, mostly derived from their ownership of the Hyatt Hotel chain. That money has purchased a lot of naming rights, which have undeniably improved the family’s social status. One of its members, Penny, was Secretary of Commerce in the Obama Administration. Another, J.B., is governor of Illinois. Between their philanthropic and political activities, the Pritzkers can rightly claim to be the first family of this state.
The name “Pritzker” is so inescapable in Chicago that there’s really nothing left to name after the family but the city itself. If the City Council does sell Chicago’s naming rights to the Pritzkers, it should demand more than the $1.1 billion we got for the parking meter deal — since the Pritzkers have a lot more.
Here are a few places to see the name Pritzker in Chicago. Not that you have to look hard.
In the pre-Millennium Park era, the Grant Park Music Festival was held in the Petrillo Music Shell, named for James C. Petrillo, longtime president of the Chicago Federation of Musicians. Today, it’s held in Jay Pritzker Pavilion, named for the governor’s uncle. The Pritzkers put up $15 million of the $60 million cost to build the Frank Gehry-designed outdoor theater.
Northwestern is a “T-14” law school — the top tier in the nation — and the alma mater of two Supreme Court justices: Arthur Goldberg and John Paul Stevens. It’s not going to sell its identity cheaply. In 2015, the Pritzkers paid $100 million to put their name on the school, which has also educated Jay and J.B. (The law library is named the Pritzker Legal Research Center.)
The Pritzkers paid $12 million to name U of C’s medical school after themselves in 1968. A bargain compared to Northwestern, right? Not really. That’s $81 million in adjusted dollars. In 2019, the family did spend $100 million to found the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering.
J.B.’s grandfather graduated from this Wicker Park elementary school at 2009 W. Schiller St. in 1913. He established a trust fund for the school, and it was renamed for him after his death in 1986.
Founded in 2003 by Illinois National Guard Col. Jennifer Pritzker, a cousin of J.B.’s, the institution is located across the street from the Art Institute of Chicago and displays military artifacts. The library holds 65,000 books on military topics, for the purpose of “[increasing] the public’s understanding of military history, military affairs and national security by providing a forum for the study and exploration of our military — past, present, and future — with a specific focus on their stories, sacrifices, and values.”
Established in 1979 by Jay and Marian “Cindy” Pritzker, uncle and aunt to the governor, as a sort of Nobel Prize for architects, the prize consists of a bronze medallion and $100,000. The first winner was Philip Johnson, followed by — among others — Frank Gehry, I.M. Pei, and Rem Koolhaas.
In her day, Cindy Pritzker chaired every charitable fundraising drive in this town. In 1986, she co-founded the Chicago Public Library Foundation, which has raised more than $20 million. When the Harold Washington Library was built soon after, its basement auditorium bore her name. The auditorium hosts the annual Cindy Pritzker Lecture on Urban Life and Issues. Pritzker Park, a pocket park/art installation across the street from the library, is also named for Cindy.
The restaurant on the top floor of the Chicago Athletic Association hotel is named for Cindy Pritzker. A private dining room there is decorated with an Andy Warhol portrait of the silver-haired matron. (Warhol charged his wealthy clients $25,000 for a commission.)
This endowed chair is currently held by artist Tao Wang.
The Pritzker name does not just appear in Chicago. They’ve spread it far and wide across this land. In California, the family funded the UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families and the Pritzker Family Endowed Chair in the School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA. In Massachusetts, Harvard graduate Penny Pritzker gave her alma mater $100 million for a new economics building — without the promise of naming rights! Also in Massachusetts is the Milton Academy Pritzker Science Center, at J.B.’s prep school. At the University of Michigan is the Pritzker Neuropsychiatric Disorders Research Consortium. At the New College of Florida is the Rhoda and Jack Pritzker Marine Biology Research Center.
Pritzker, Pritzker, Pritzker, Pritzker. Say it dozens of times, and you still won’t say it as many times as it appears on public institutions in this country.