Modern Philanthropy in Historic Estates

Over the past year I’ve had the privilege to facilitate the vision of Drs. Sachiko Kuno and Ryuji Ueno and their S & R Foundation in Washington DC, at two of the most remarkable historic estates in Georgetown.

In 2011, the couple purchased the Evermay Estate and Halcyon House, two of the most beautiful estates in Georgetown, setting the community abuzz and thrusting the Drs. into the local celebrity spotlight. “We did not intend to make ourselves very public people,” Dr. Kuno explained. Because of the rich history and public admiration of the houses, the doctors have taken it upon themselves to preserve the buildings and their history, and it’s hard not to admire them for their efforts. Both homes are of the Federal period; Halcyon circa 1787, Evermay 1801.

Dr. Kuno knew Evermay had been on the market a long time, but the initial asking price, $49 million, was prohibitive—the highest on record for a private home in DC. Recently, though, she had Googled it and learned that the price was down by half, and now here they were with a dream at hand. “Everything was beautiful,” she recalls. “We decided there in the garden that we would buy Evermay.” Seller Harry Belin accepted their offer of $22 million. Like Evermay’s, Halcyon’s asking price had started at $30 million. But three years later and well into the recession, its price was dropping too. By fall 2011, it was down to $15 million.

In the beginning, S&R Foundation’s mission was grounded in its support of talented artists and scientists involved in work for charitable, scientific, literary or educational purposes. Over the past 13 years, S&R’s mission to support talented individuals has evolved to encompass broad support of individuals with great potential and high aspirations in the arts, sciences and social entrepreneurship, with a special emphasis on furthering international cultural collaboration and ensuing social benefits. It was Dr. Ueno’s musical upbringing that led the doctors to seek out a way to skillfully combine the arts and sciences. To accomplish this goal, the houses serve different functions, fulfilling the various missions of the Foundation.

Evermay plays host to the artists. It’s currently home to the Evermay Chamber and the Evermay Chamber Orchestra, and weekly classical concerts dubbed ‘The Overtures Series’.  The Chamber, made up of nine artists from five continents, performs for different seasons and concerts in the DC area, while calling the 9 bedroom, 22,000 square foot estate home. In addition, the Evermay Chamber has entered partnership with the Washington Ballet—a passion of Dr. Ueno’s. Having been without live music for quite some time, the Washington Ballet is teaming up with the Chamber to perform Swan Lake in April 2015. During the Chamber weeks, the house is full of great food, wonderful conversation, music, and a sampling of Dr. Ueno’s diverse wine collection.

With such tremendous success in fostering musical and artistic talent, the Foundation is now beginning to focus heavily on social entrepreneurship. After an extensive multi-million dollar renovation, Halcyon House will serve as the base for the S&R Foundation’s new incubator program, whose first class began in September. For the Halcyon Incubator, the Foundation has set three main goals: to support talented individuals, to move the needle on 21st century social challenges, and to help catalyze Washington, DC as the center for social enterprise start-ups.

The idea was inspired by Dr.  Kuno’s student year abroad. While working on her PhD, Kuno, now 59, spent a year in Munich, where she had access to professors, all the resources of a university and a huge, beautiful garden to relax in. “As a young scientist and student, I was very much impressed and helped by them, it was a life-changing experience for me.” Instead of giving scholarships to young entrepreneurs, she wanted the Halcyon Incubator to replicate her hands-on experience in Munich: Sharing time and space with other bright young people from different fields, away of the daily demands of work and habits. “I think it is a special opportunity to separate from the everyday”.

Evermay and Halcyon have a tremendous impact on the Foundation’s projects and the people who work on them. Dr. Kuno explained, “Sharing time and space always give us some inspiration, as a scientist or as an artist…I am a believer that Evermay and the Halcyon house, these types of buildings, have some sort of power to give inspiration.”

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