On December 10, 1985, Harvard University announced an endowment gift of $5 million from Walter and Phyllis Shorenstein for a new center to be named the Joan Shorenstein Barone Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. In subsequent years, Mr. Shorenstein contributed an additional $10 million to the endowment as well as numerous other gifts in support of the Washington office and Center programs. The name was changed to the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy in 1995, and in 2013, the name was changed to the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.
On September 27, 1986, the Shorenstein Center officially opened for business. Benjamin C. Bradlee delivered an address on national security and the press, and remarks were made by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, David Broder, Derek Bok, Walter H. Shorenstein and Jonathan Moore. The Shorenstein Center became the first named research center at the Harvard Kennedy School.