When Eli Broad envisioned the future of Los Angeles, he saw a thriving metropolis whose cultural and artistic resources matched the tastes, appetites and ambitions of its people. As one of its wealthiest residents, he was able to shape and fund his personal dream of what Los Angeles should be like.
Grand Avenue, on the crest of the city’s old Bunker Hill, was perhaps his signature. He helped pay for the museum of contemporary art. He also funded the Walt Disney Concert Hall and built the Broad Museum. Speaking when it opened in 2015, he declared Grand Avenue “the cultural center” of the city which “has become the world capital of contemporary art”.
But even as he worked out and executed his vision, the city was changing around him. Over the decades, a vast economic divide has opened, polarizing communities and exposing inequalities in housing, income and opportunity.
Broad’s death on Friday at age 87 leaves an obvious void in philanthropy and leadership. But many believe that the civic leaders of Los Angeles’ future must be different in order to meet the vast challenges facing the city – one focused not only on building, but also on mending and healing.
“Los Angeles will never have a single kingmaker or leader who takes on all the challenges we face,” said Miguel Santana, a longtime senior official in the city and county government who heads now the Weingart Foundation. “This person will have to be inclusive and representative to solve our problems.”
Broad represented a long line of wealthy business leaders who used their power to exercise their personal vision. But in a city as diverse and complex as LA, some say it’s hard to see another person like him fill exactly that role.
“Eli belonged to a generation where an individual could have a singular and inordinate effect on the city, but in many ways he and others were so successful in expanding what was happening in the city, that the city requires a type. of different implication. now, ”said architect Michael Maltzan.
Maltzan, who worked with architect Frank Gehry on Disney Hall, sees Los Angeles as a city that “has grown in its presence, size, stature and complexity” to such an extent that civic-minded individuals ” must come from many different fields and sectors. “
As much Gloria Molina, a former city council member and county supervisor, admired her leadership and frankness, but she recognized its limitations. Looking back on her campaign to revitalize Grand Avenue, she recalls the compromises that took place as her vision for this public space collided with what she believed to be the needs of the city.
Initially, Broad wanted the county to pay for the completion of Disney Hall, and when that didn’t happen, he raised the money himself. Initially, he wanted the county to give him ownership of his art museum, and when the county hesitated – arguing that the land had been reserved for affordable housing – he bought the land himself and the museum went been built.
Initially, Broad wanted Grand Park to be developed after the completion of the Grand Avenue project. If he had succeeded, Molina said, we would not have enjoyed the past nine years of this downtown Los Angeles green space.
“We are fortunate to have a visionary like him,” she said, “and I hope a new generation of philanthropists will be more inclusive of a global vision. It is not enough to say, “We are art philanthropists and we support ballet or opera” without looking at what is happening to the rest of the community. “
What makes Broad unique, Santana said, is the understanding that philanthropy cannot work in isolation. Despite the tensions over the development of Grand Avenue, Broad understood that he had to work with government agencies to be successful.
This collaboration, Santana said, has grown even greater as the city becomes more complex and diverse.
“Los Angeles will never have a single kingmaker or leader who takes on all the challenges we face,” he said. “This person will have to be inclusive and representative to solve our problems.”
Zev Yaroslavsky, who was a member of the Board of Supervisors when Broad was negotiating the development of Grand Avenue, said he believed Broad’s leadership style was “in the rearview mirror.”
“Gone are the days when a person could summon agents of wealth, commerce and business to mobilize for a great civic project,” said Yaroslavsky, now at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs. “It has changed in Los Angeles. [got] different businesses and demographics. The city is more diverse and less concentrated. It is not that civic projects will not be carried out. It is that they will be made in a different way.
When Broad arrived in Los Angeles in 1963, Los Angeles was the self-taught city of the self-made man, as its promoters might have claimed. After World War II, the region was booming economically but lacked concentration. A civic identity was slowly being shaped by a coterie of businessmen, university presidents and movie moguls.
They met at Perino’s on Wilshire Boulevard for lunch and called themselves the Committee of 25. When they wanted to modernize the police department, they backed William Parker as the new police chief. When they wanted a baseball team, they spoke to Walter O’Malley. Dorothy Buffum Chandler was also a member of this club, soon raising money for the Music Center.
By the time Broad began his “corporate philanthropy” decades later, he was largely alone in the field, bringing not only his money, but also an impatience with the status quo.
“Eli single-handedly moved mountains with the strength of his personality, and we frankly haven’t seen that from anyone else,” said Kevin de León, Los Angeles city councilor. “The next generation of philanthropists will inherit a much more diverse city with even greater needs, especially after the pandemic.”
But De León also recognizes that the need for philanthropy reflects the absence of government policies that “make the right investments that include all Angelenos.”
Broad’s death comes at a time when the leadership of the city’s businesses and citizens is faltering amid its biggest crisis: homelessness and the lack of affordable housing.
“What Los Angeles will miss as much as its generosity is its leadership,” said investor and philanthropist Nicolas Berggruen. “What was so precious were his ideas, his focus and his ability to get things done, and he got others to do that with him. He was good at getting people to be practical and constructive.
The question going forward, Berggruen said, is whether those who are successful in Los Angeles will be as civic as Broad. “We have more talent today than ever before,” he said, “but will these people share their success?”
Broad belonged to a generation of Angelenos whose fortunes increased with the development of Southern California, and with the exception of Donald Bren in Orange County, he was the last of his great benefactors.
“Eli was very rooted in Los Angeles,” said Joel Kotkin, author and presidential researcher on the urban future at Chapman University. “The problem today is that basically the Los Angeles ruling class, which are its big employers, has all but disappeared. We have successful people who do not identify with the city per se. “
Broad’s involvement in Los Angeles also made him unique. He understood that his success was due to the growth of LA, where his homebuilding business, Kaufman & Broad, was headquartered and quickly became the largest independent home builder in the country.
Speaking to Los Angeles magazine in 2003, he called the city a “meritocracy”. “It’s one of the few cities,” said Broad, “you can move without the right family background, the right religious background, the right political background, and if you work hard and have great ideas you are accepted. . “
Years later, as the limits of this so-called meritocracy become more apparent, Los Angeles tries to come to terms with a past that excluded many from the opportunities Broad believed available to all. With his death, Los Angeles must turn to a new generation of philanthropists and tackle the myths that claimed the city’s exceptionalism.
Architect Maltzan traces the arc of Broad’s career – from building the suburbs to supporting the arts – and sees this development as fitting, if not poetic.
“It’s the amazing thing,” said Maltzan. “The kind of city Eli was striving to create – and the kind of future he was helping to create – led to a city where the model of influence and philanthropy had to change and evolve.
“If we were at a point where the city continued to depend on one or two individuals for its future, then I would say Eli failed because it is not sustainable. But the city has become more complex, bigger than anyone. It is for me a mark of success. “