The Early Years of the American Foundation (Part 7 of an 8-Part Series)

This eight-week blog series delves deeper into the history of Bok Tower Gardens and provides a rich historical accounting of the early days. The source document is from a collection of statements entitled “Its Origin, Meaning, and Purpose” created by The American Foundation, Inc. You can read the First Installment, Second Installment, Third Installment, Fourth Installment,Fifth Installment, and Sixth Installment at Blog Tower Gardens.

Written by The American Foundation’s President William G. Nagel, the seventh section discusses the financing of the Foundation.

Financing the Foundation
Whatever Edward Bok spent on the Mountain Lake Sanctuary prior to the creation of the American Foundation in 1925 is not available. It is a matter of record that Edward Bok donated between $100,000 and $150,000 to the Foundation each year between 1925 and his death in 1930.

Fortunately, this trust fund was invested in government and other gilt-edge bonds and did not suffer gravely during the calamitous stock market crash of 1929. In addition, his will provided an endowment of $2,000,000 and was similarly invested, thus providing the Foundation with financial stability during the Great Depression. There was only one default mentioned in the Foundation’s minutes. Bok’s wife, Mary Louise, compensated the Foundation for that loss with a cash contribution. Though capital was not decimated during those depression years, cash flow was reduced and it was necessary to cut back on program expenditures. Salaries to Major Nornabell, Esther Lape, Anton Brees, and others were reduced. At a time of mass layoffs nationally, the American Foundation continued the employment of its staff.

Though the depression was devastating for the nation in 1935, the Foundation hired a New York investment advisor to help manage the funds. This move was financially rewarding and by 1961, the portfolio grew substantially. A few years later, Mellon Bank would manage the Foundation’s investments and instituted a very conservative investment policy. Through the 60s and 70s, the annual operating budget was derived from the income created by the Foundation and not capital gains from portfolio investments. Funds were used for the purchase of Pinewood Estate, other land purchases, the gift shop, some substantial grants, and major upgrades to the Tower.

In the early 1970s, the board moved towards a “total returns” policy that was rewarding for the long haul; however difficult at the time. This change coupled with unparalleled inflation led to salary reductions and reduced funding for Nature Conservancy projects including Tiger Creek. The Foundation ended the Institute for Corrections program and after 52 years of operations, the Gardens began charging an admission fee.

Prior to this change, a small parking fee of 50 cents was collected per car. The admission charge produced significant changes and allowed the Foundation to continue operations. By 1998, Bok Tower Gardens was collecting over a half-million dollars in revenue.