John Louis Santikos, who built Texas’ largest family-owned theatre chain, died Tuesday at a San Antonio hospital following a short illness. He was 87.

Santikos Theaters logoThe chain includes seven theaters in the San Antonio area and two more in the Houston area and employs 1,500 people. The chain and its real estate were put into a charitable foundation in 2011 that will be operated by the San Antonio Area Foundation, to continue operating Santikos Theaters in its current form, said J. Bradley Jones, his attorney and estate executor.

The Santikos family’s involvement in the exhibition business dates back to 1911 and John Santikos’ father, Louis, who had immigrated from Greece to Waco, Texas. There, Louis first began working in a grocery store, hut noticed long lines outside a nickelodeon theater across the street. Sensing an opportunity, Louis Santikos saved his money and eventually bought the theater. In 1918, he opened the Rialto Theater in San Antonio, then in 1927, sold most of his Texas operations and returned to Greece, where he became a film distributor. John Santikos was born that year.

The family remained in Greece through World War II but when a brutal civil war broke out after the German occupation ended, Louis sent his three children back to San Antonio. There, John Santikos earned a business degree at St. Mary’s University in 1947, and his parents soon rejoined the family in San Antonio. Three years later, Louis would open the Olmos Theater in San Antonio, beginning the Santikos chain’s second life. John worked at the theater in all roles, from film booking to concession sales. When the parents returned to Greece again in 1958, John took over running the San Antonio theater.

The chain grew over the next three decades before Santikos sold it to Act III Theatres, owned by Norman Lear, who later sold to Regal. John Santikos bought back all the San Antonio theaters when Regal declared bankruptcy in 2001.

Santikos was a donor to numerous arts organizations, including the San Antonio Symphony, San Antonio Opera and San Antonio Metropolitan Ballet. His chain also frequently held campaigns to support non-profit organizations such as local food banks and the American Red Cross.

Mr. Santikos is survived by his daughter, Violet Santikos, sister Kiki Pringle, a grand-daughter and nephew. Funeral arrangements are pending.