Philanthropist Alexander Dreyfoos dies at 91

Published: May. 28, 2023 at 2:20 PM EDT
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Alexander Wallace Dreyfoos, whose cultural legacy includes a performance hall named after him at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts and Dreyfoos School of the Arts, both in West Palm Beach, died early Sunday. He was 91.

Former Kravis Center CEO Judith Mitchell, who was mentored by Dreyfoos, confirmed to WPTV he died peacefully in his sleep at Lourdes Noreen McKeen Residence in West Palm Beach.

"He really was my mentor," Michell said. "I would have not had my career if not for him. He was a wonderful man and mentor. He drew the whole community together in building the Kravis Center. For me, he was my friend and long-time mentor and biggest cheerleader."

Iris Way — the road that runs east to west between the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts and the Dreyfoos School of the Arts — was named Alexander W. Dreyfoos Way on April 6. West Palm Beach commissioners approved the change.

"In my estimation, Alexander Dreyfoos is one of the most consequential people in the history of Palm Beach County, and he is either solely or partially responsible for a number of very important institutions in our community," historian Harvey Oyer III told the Palm Beach Daily News. "We probably should have named something after him a long time ago."

Dreyfoos founded the Palm Beach County Council of the Arts in 1978.

The Kravis Center opened in September 1992 and includes the 2,195-seat Alexander W. Dreyfoos Jr. Concert Hall.

Dreyfoos School of the Arts students seeking shelter at the Kravis Center for the Performing...
Dreyfoos School of the Arts students seeking shelter at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts on May 13, 2022.

"Our deepest sympathies are with Renate (his wife) and the Dreyfoos family," Keavis Center CEO Diane Quinn said in a statement. "Alex will always be remembered as a visionary and a man who understood deeply the impact that the arts would have on the development and attraction of people and business to Palm Beach County. We are so fortunate to have had him in our lives and his legacy lives on in all that he touched. It was an honor to have him as our founder and guide for the Kravis Center — he was truly a great man."

The former Palm Beach High School, which opened in 1908, was transformed into an arts magnet school on Aug. 27, 1990.

In 1997, Dreyfoos made the largest private contribution ever to a public school in Florida: $1 million to support the school, which was subsequently named the Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts. In 2020, Dreyfoos made a second $1 million pledge to support a scholarship for nursing.

Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts is photographed Feb. 23, 2023, in downtown West Palm...
Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts is photographed Feb. 23, 2023, in downtown West Palm Beach, Fla.

"He was very proud of the school and students," Mitchell said. "And, in fact, a magnet school for the arts was important to him."

In 2004, Dreyfoos donated $1 million to kick off support of Scripps Florida on the John D. MacArthur Campus of Florida Atlantic University in Jupiter. Scripps' campus has merged with the University of Florida.

"I am deeply sadden by the news of Mr. Dreyfoos' passing," Principal Blaker Bennett posted on Twitter. "Mr. Dreyfoos' passion for the music and arts has given countless students in PBC a place in which they can access a one-of-a-kind academic & arts-based education. I am sending my thoughts and prayers to the Dreyfoos family."

Dreyfoos was an "arts aficionado" but his background was as a scientist and inventor.

"Dad was a bit of an inventor," Dreyfoos told the Palm Beach Post in 2019. "He came up with several machines — one of which speeded up the printing process and allowed him to make inexpensive pictures for an artist to go give to their fans." Dreyfoos recalled his dad giving him 8x10 pictures of movie stars who were performing in the theaters.

He was accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and, after graduation in 1954, enlisted in the Air Force Reserve Office Training Corps while at MIT. He was sent to Germany.

Dreyfoos founded Photo Electronics Corporation in 1963 and helped developed Video Color Negative Analyzer in Dreyfoos' Port Chester, N.Y., basement. The VCNA makes it easier to develop high-quality prints of a picture.

The VCNA was marketed worldwide by Eastman Kodak Company and in 1970 a motion-picture version of the technology earned Dreyfoos an Academy Award in 1971.

Photo Electronics Corporation bought WEAT-TV in 1974, and it was renamed WPEC, using his company's letters.

Dreyfoos was born on March 22, 1932, at New York's Presbyterian Hospital to Alexander and Martha Dreyfoos. He is a former Palm Beach resident.

"He was important to me and my family, including my husband," Mitchell said. "I traveled with him on his many adventures." In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations be made to the Kravis Center or the Dreyfoos School of the Arts.

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