Art collectors, music lovers, friends, and family alike will surely miss Stephen Hahn, the distinguished billionaire art dealer, philanthropist, and Montecito resident who passed away on Saturday, April 2. Hahn, whose name adorns the magnificent concert hall on the Music Academy of the West’s Miraflores campus that opened in 2008 after the remodeling that he principally financed, was an extraordinarily generous patron of the arts, even by Montecito standards. Hahn made contributions to many of the classical music organizations in Santa Barbara and gifts to the Music Academy of the West alone well in excess of $6 million.
Born in Hungary and raised in Paris, Hahn was a refugee during World War II who spent several years in the Dominican Republic before finding his true calling in New York’s Greenwich Village, where he began his career selling art. An acknowledged expert on the authentication of Picasso and Degas, among others, Hahn was an early champion of the work of Jean Dubuffet. His personal collection evolved into one of the world’s most significant private holdings of 20th-century masters during the years that he operated the Stephen Hahn Gallery at 75th Street and Madison Avenue in New York City. Hahn was also instrumental in the formation of one of California’s most important museums, as he functioned as Norton Simon’s agent at the auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, acquiring many of the collection’s best known and most important pieces.
As a resident of Montecito, Hahn was known for his gentle wit and charm, and for the wonderful hospitality that he and his wife, Carla, extended to many talented musicians at their estate, Lilybelle, on Cold Springs Road. Scott Reed, president of the Music Academy of the West, offered this encomium to the man who made so much of the Academy’s recent development possible:
“Stephen’s dedication to the Music Academy and the Santa Barbara arts community was nothing less than extraordinary. His vision and support for Hahn Hall has forever transformed the Academy and the musical experiences we are able to provide our Fellows, audiences, and the community. We are extremely proud to have his legacy so meaningfully associated with our organization.”
Hahn is survived by his wife, Carla; his sister Suzanne; his children Robert, Elizabeth, Thomas, Isabella, and Lily; his stepchildren Zachary, Brandon, and Katharine O’Brien; six grandchildren, a niece, and a nephew. In lieu of flowers, contributions in his name may be made to: Music Academy of the West, Attention: Gift Processor, 1070 Fairway Road, Santa Barbara, CA, 93108.