Sanford Diller, real estate developer and philanthropist, dies

Diller was best known as founder of Prometheus Real Estate Group, the largest privately held owner of apartments in the Bay Area. Diller and his wife, Helen Diller, who died in 2015, created the Helen Diller Foundation in 1999, which has gifted more than $500 million to UCSF — the largest donation in campus history and one of the largest contributions ever made to a U.S. public institution.

The Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, a cancer research and treatment center at UCSF’s Mission Bay campus, was named in her honor after the foundation contributed $35 million to UCSF in 2003.

The Dillers believed investing in health care was the best way to make a global impact, said their daughter, Jackie Safier.

“They liked that UCSF was local, where they were raised,” said Safier, who is president of Prometheus. “They placed their votes on UCSF being a place to help health care worldwide.”

The Diller foundation has also given millions to the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the de Young Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, as well as several city parks.

Sanford Diller was born June 4, 1928, in San Francisco to Jewish immigrants from Austria. After graduating from UC Berkeley and the University of San Francisco School of Law, he was a practicing lawyer for many years before founding Prometheus in 1965. The San Mateo real estate firm was a major driver in developing downtown Mountain View in the 1980s, and is credited with pioneering high-density mixed-use development in the region.

“He was the hardest-working person in the business, he was really humble and thought his success was driven by hard work and discipline,” Safier said.

Besides Safier, who lives in San Francisco, Diller is survived by sons Brad Diller of Redwood City and Ron Diller of Israel, and seven grandchildren.

Private services will be held in Jerusalem. Contributions can be made in his name to the Jewish Community Federation’s Diller Teen programs or the Helen Diller Comprehensive Cancer Center at UCSF.

Catherine Ho is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @Cat_Ho

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