Hong Kong businessman honors father, Woo Hon Fai, with major gift to UC Berkeley

David Woo, who began his career in 1967 as an architect working on the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive at UC Berkeley, has chosen to honor his late father, Woo Hon Fai — and to celebrate the now-historic structure — with a major gift to the campus.

A UC Berkeley alumnus and now a successful businessman and director of the Hong Kong-based Woo Hon Fai Holdings, Woo and his family took part in a campus event today (Monday, Dec. 19) that was given in appreciation for the $15 million gift. UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau has designated $14 million of the contribution toward the museum’s new building campaign and $1 million for an endowed faculty chair in the College of Environmental Design. The latter portion will double to $2 million when matched by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation as part of the Hewlett Challenge for Faculty Support.

David Woo and Chancellor Birgeneau outside the newly renamed Woo Hon Fai Hall

Chancellor Birgeneau thanked David Woo for a $15 million gift to the campus in memory of his late father, Woo Hon Fai. The building currently housing the Berkeley Art Museum has been renamed Woo Hon Fai Hall in his honor. (Photo by Peg Skorpinski)

“David Woo used the strength of his ideas and the energy of his youth to help build one of our notable and beloved campus buildings,” said Birgeneau. “Four decades later, Mr. Woo renews his commitment to this world-class university with his generous philanthropy. This gift is a moving and significant tribute to the campus, international alumni community, future Berkeley scholars and to Mr. Woo’s family.”  

Woo graduated from UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design in 1967 and was immediately hired as the resident architect for the firm that constructed the home of BAM/PFA, then called the University Art Museum. The award-winning structure since has become a cultural hub in the Bay Area, showcasing the world’s finest art and film for hundreds of thousands of people.

Woo proposed the gift in memory of his father after the museum made public its plans to move in the coming years to a new location on Oxford Street in downtown Berkeley. University officials say the naming marks an exciting new era in the life of the Bancroft Way building, which will bear Woo Hon Fai’s name now and continue to do so after the museum moves out.

During his career, Woo Hon Fai was the founding chairman of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, president of the Gold and Silver Exchange Society of Hong Kong, deputy chairman of the Hong Kong Commodity Exchange and vice chairman of the Hong Kong Real Estate Association. The respected businessman was made a commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth before his passing more than 25 years ago.

“In my life, I was guided tremendously by the example of my father, whose hard work and contributions were crucial toward building the Hong Kong that we cherish today,” said Woo. “By enshrining his memory, it is my hope that future generations of students, faculty and campus visitors will learn a little bit more about him and his legacy.”

The museum will continue to be based at the Woo Hon Fai building on Bancroft until its new home is completed.