A number of Allen businesses have gone extinct in recent years, including Cinerama, the Living Computer Museum, and the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum at Paine Field in Everett. Vulcan, the umbrella corporation for many of Allen’s nonprofit and for-profit businesses, closed and fired all of its Arts + Entertainment and film production divisions in 2020, making the future of the Seattle Art Fair and Cinerama uncertain. (Vulcan’s real estate arm continues to spend 0.5% of construction costs on the purchase and commissioning of artwork for the exterior and interior of its developments.) In 2019, donations from the Paul Allen Family Foundation to local arts groups have dropped nearly 80%, from a total of $225,000 to $50,000; the number increased slightly in 2020, the latest year for which financial details are available.
As was the case during Allen’s lifetime, much remains shrouded in mystery and mired in NDAs. “Allen is known for his nondisclosure agreements; its employees should get ‘No comment’ tattooed on their foreheads, to save journalists time,” art critic Blake Gopnik once wrote. A former employee, who asked to remain anonymous, described Vulcan employees as an “elite group of soldiers” who close ranks once a staff member leaves the fold.
Lips sealed aside, here’s what we know: In 2010, Allen pledged to bequeath the majority of his wealth to philanthropy. (During his lifetime, Allen gave more than $2 billion, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.) Charged with this mammoth undertaking is his sister Jody Allen, trustee and executor of his estate, who is bound by the wishes of his brother as stated in the trust.
“Everything changed on Paul’s death, and he left instructions for the future of his assets and appointed his sister Jody trustee of the Paul G. Allen Trust and executor of his estate,” a spokesperson wrote. from Vulcan in an email. “As such, she is obligated to carry out her wishes, which will take time given the size and complexity of the field.”
Vulcan and Jody have kept their cards close to their chests, but it’s clear the estate has lost a lot of its holdings: undeveloped land in Beverly Hills with ocean views (bought by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt; $65 million). Two apartments on New York’s Upper East Side ($101 million). A 4,000-acre Teton Ridge Ranch in Idaho ($35 million). A group of Mercer Island properties ($67.1 million). A group of Allen’s superyachts, including the 300 foot long Tattoo ($89.4 million) and the 414-foot Octopus. Allen’s sports teams, the Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Seahawks, will likely be sold at some point in the future, although Jody Allen said in a recent statement that “areas of this size and complexity can take 10 to 20 years to complete”. . There is no set schedule by which teams should be sold.
Here in Seattle, the uncertainty of its artistic legacy is epitomized by the cultural buildings that currently sit in limbo as unused real estate.