The billionaire businessman and philanthropist Eli Broad has told The New York Times that he’s ready to step out of the spotlight. He built two massive corporations (perhaps you’ve heard of KB Home?), amassing considerable wealth, and made a pledge to give 75 percent of it away in his lifetime. At the age of 84, he’s donated around $4 billion (his net worth is $7.3 billion), primarily to support the art, culture, education, and health of Los Angeles and its residents.
“I love this city—it’s a great meritocracy. I’ve been able to do a lot of things here I wouldn’t be able to do in other cities,” Broad told Los Angeles magazine in a 2014 interview.
Broad moved to Los Angeles with his wife, Edythe, in 1963 and settled into a Brentwood house just about two miles from the one where they still live now. In that same year, on a trip to Paris, Edythe bought an original Toulouse-Lautrec poster, which would prove pretty significant for the Broads—and for the city of Los Angeles.
“I’d buy a piece of art—works on paper, prints—and then I’d show him what I got. He’d say, ‘That’s nice, that’s fine.’ The poster elicited a different response,” she told Los Angeles magazine in 2003. “All of a sudden he recognized the name, and he said, ‘Oh, God, where did you get it? How much did it cost?’ Then he got a little interested. It was like, ‘What are you doing?’ Whereas before, it was an accessory.”
From there, art collecting became a passion the couple shared. In 1972, Eli Broad co-chaired Democrats for Nixon (“which I hate to admit to,” he said in 2003) where he met Taft Schreiber, one of the founders of LACMA. Schreiber became his entry point to the world of museums, galleries, and high-end art dealers in L.A., New York, and Europe. By 1979, Broad would be instrumental to the founding of MOCA, donating a million dollars, and involving himself at every phase, though not always making friends in the process.
“There’s a level at which an outsized ambition is the only way to achieve something extraordinary,” Sherri Geldin, MOCA’s first employee and later an associate director, said in 2003. “I think anyone would say that Eli has outsized ambitions in everything he undertakes.”
MOCA would be just the beginning of Broad’s contributions to our cultural—and physical—landscape. What Grand Avenue, or DTLA in general, really, looks like now is largely the result of his vision. He played significant roles in bringing the Walt Disney Concert Hall to life, among other architectural projects, and, of course, there is The Broad.
The Broad museum, perhaps the most visible of the Broads’ many endeavors in the arts, displays a permanent collection of over 2,000 works collected by the couple. Many of the pieces are from artists that they met with personally as they traveled the world together. The 120,000 square foot museum, designed by architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, cost some $140 million to build and holds an endowment larger than any museum in Los Angeles besides the Getty.
Broad’s retirement is immediate, but not sudden. He has quietly overseen a transition of leadership at the Broad Foundation to a long-time aide, Gerun Riley, and left the foundation with an endowment of an estimated $2.5 billion to continue his work in the arts and other fields, The New York Times reports. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer years ago, and while it is currently in remission, Edythe has reportedly been advising him that the time to retire has come.
“Cities aren’t remembered for their accountants or businesspeople. They are remembered for their arts and their architecture,” Eli Broad said in 2014. Broad may have been an accountant and a businessperson in his career, but he has made very sure he will be remembered.