Developer Eli Broad dies; vision for LA extended past real estate

KB Home co-founder used multibillion-dollar fortune to build and shape culture institutions

Los Angeles /
May.May 03, 2021 03:00 PM
Eli Broad (Getty)

Eli Broad, during the construction of The Broad museum. (Getty)

Eli Broad, who founded a multibillion-dollar homebuilding firm and went on to become one of Los Angeles’ most influential and prolific philanthropists, died Friday at 87.

He amassed a nearly $7 billion fortune and gave away an estimated $2 billion to support the arts, medical research, education and other endeavors, according to the Los Angeles Times and Associated Press.

“Eli Broad, simply put, was L.A.’s most influential private citizen of his generation,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said following news of Broad’s death.

In the late 1950s, Broad partnered with contractor Donald Kaufman on a homebuilding venture in Detroit’s suburbs, calling their company The Kaufman & Broad Building Company. That company is now industry behemoth KB Home.

The firm expanded into Arizona and California and in 1963 Broad moved to L.A. with his family, bringing his company with him. It is still headquartered in L.A. He lived in Brentwood, but would own other high-priced homes around the region. His Richard Meier-designed beach house in Malibu has been on the market since last February.

In the early 1970s, Broad bought a small insurance company that would become SunAmerica, and built it into another industry titan. American International Group acquired SunAmerica in 1998 for $16.5 billion.

Broad built up his influence over decades through his wealth, philanthropy, and involvement in both local and national politics. Shortly after the completion of Downtown L.A.’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003 — he led a fundraising campaign and donated $5 million for the project — L.A. magazine put him on its cover and declared he “has more pull than the mayor.”

He was born in the Bronx in 1933, moved with his family to Detroit and graduated from Michigan State University with an accounting degree. A short time later he married Edythe Lawson, who survives him along with their two sons, according to the AP.

Broad eventually turned his focus to philanthropy and art investing, the latter of which he and his wife were already doing for decades. They started the Broad Foundation in 1999 with a goal of school reform and improvement and have spent $600 million toward that end, according to the Times.

He and his wife also founded The Broad contemporary art museum, a 120,000-square-foot building designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler.

Broad’s involvement in L.A.’s art world was not always celebrated. He was most frequently criticized for being too hands-on with organizations he supported financially and for pulling support if he felt he did not get what he wanted.

Architect Frank Gehry, who designed Disney Hall and who Broad fired for taking too long to design a home for him, called Broad “a control freak.” Broad was also criticized for insisting that a new modern art wing at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art be named after him, then refusing to donate pieces from his own collection.

But as part of The Broad museum’s three-page tribute published on Friday, founding director Joanne Heyler called him “a fiercely committed civic leader,” whose “tenacity and advocacy for the arts indelibly changed Los Angeles.”

[AP, LAT] — Dennis Lynch


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