Eli Broad, a giant in the worlds of business, art, and philanthropy, and a tireless champion of Los Angeles and the rebirth of downtown, has died. He was 87.
Broad’s name is indelibly imprinted across Los Angeles. The $140 million Broad Museum, which contains many of the 2,000 artworks he and wife Edythe collected over the course of decades, opened in 2015 on Grand Avenue. His moniker is emblazoned on the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, designed by Renzo Piano, at LACMA. There is a Broad Stem Cell Center at UCLA and the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC. The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation is one of the area’s most prominent philanthropies.
The magnitude of the loss is being expressed across Los Angeles.
“Eli Broad, simply put, was L.A.’s most influential private citizen of his generation,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said on Twitter. “He loved this city as deeply as anyone I have ever known.”
“Eli Broad’s mark on Los Angeles is as permanent as it is widespread,” tweeted Supervisor Hilda Solis, whose territory includes Grand Avenue. “His philanthropy in education, medical research, and the arts have made a lasting impact on Los Angeles County.”
“Eli Broad was a doer—a man of action,” Councilman Mark-Ridley-Thomas tweeted.
Broad had an outsized influence on a city, and one that may have seemed unlikely for an only child who, according to his bio on the Broad Foundation website, was born in New York to Jewish immigrants from Lithuania on June 6, 1933. The family moved to Detroit in 1940, and Broad (rhymes with road) attended Michigan State University, where he studied accounting and economics. While in his senior year he met his future wife—then a senior in high school–named Edye Lawson. They would have two sons.
Broad was barely out of college when he founded what would be the first of two Fortune 500 businesses; Kaufman and Broad, now known as KB Home, built affordable homes. The company went public in 1963.
In 1971, according to his bio, he paid $52 million for a small Baltimore life insurance company. He would later transition the firm, Sun Life, into SunAmerica, which provided financial planning and retirement services.
Broad left Kaufman and Broad in 1995 and, three years later, sold SunAmerica to AIG for $18 billion, earning $3 billion for himself in the process. By that time he was already deeply active in philanthropy and the arts in Los Angeles and beyond.
It was in 1972 that he and Edythe bought their first artwork, a Van Gogh ink drawing. Seven years later, he helped found the Museum of Contemporary Art. When MOCA suffered financial distress decades later, he came to the rescue with a financial bailout.
Grand Avenue became a focus for Broad. In the mid-’90s, when a plan to build a new home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic stalled, Broad worked with then-Mayor Richard Riordan to raise the $200 million needed for the Frank Gehry-designed building. Walt Disney Concert Hall opened in 2003, and instantly became one of the most photographed buildings in Los Angeles.
His work on the street had only just begun, and he helped spur the city and county to create a joint powers authority that would lead to the groundbreaking of the $1 billion project known as The Grand, another Frank Gehry-designed development, that is now under construction.
Perhaps his greatest achievement was The Broad, located just steps from the Disney Concert Hall and the result of years of work and an extensive architecture competition. Not only did he pay for the construction of the museum designed by the firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Broad also ensured that admission is free.
For Broad, the focus on Grand Avenue was part of a desire to help revive the center of Los Angeles. When, shortly before the opening of The Broad, I asked him why he kept returning to the street, he said that every great city in the world needs “a vibrant center.”
“Los Angeles really didn’t have a vibrant center,” he told me. “Los Angeles was frankly a divided city. People from the Eastside didn’t go to the Westside, Westsiders didn’t go to the Eastside. So now having Grand Avenue serving the entire region, especially Grand Park, I feel good about that. I think it helps make Los Angeles a greater city.”
Broad was known to be tough to deal with, and famously clashed with Gehry after the architect was hired to design a house for Broad. He not only accepted that reputation, but embraced it. His 2012 book was titled The Art of Being Unreasonable: Lessons in Unconventional Thinking.
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