For more than 50 years, philanthropist Eli Broad helped transform Los Angeles, donating millions to help carry out a vision of making his adopted hometown a world-class city.
He died April 30 at the age of 87.
His name is splashed throughout the city as a testament to his generosity. His passion for art led to the creation of premier contemporary art museums and performance spaces in Los Angeles, Santa Monica and around the country.
The founder of two Fortune 500 companies — KB Home and SunAmerica — he reportedly was worth $6 billion. SunAmerica is a subsidiary of the insurance company AIG.
In addition to art, he underwrote education, medical research and the Democratic Party.
“Few people had more of an impact on the city of Los Angeles than Eli Broad,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in a statement. “His philanthropic work influenced fields as diverse as education, science, health care and the arts — especially through The Broad, his world-famous museum.”
He and his wife, Edye (Lawson) Broad, founded The Broad Foundation in 2010, when they signed “The Giving Pledge” — where wealthy individuals committed to giving at least half of their wealth to charity.
They went above that, committing to giving 75% of their wealth away. Through their foundations, he and his wife donated $4 billion as of 2017, nearly $1 billion of that going to Los Angeles.
From humble beginnings
Eli was born in the Bronx on June 6, 1933. His parents, Rebecca (Jacobson) and Leo Broad, were Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. They moved to Detroit when he was 6 and worked as laborers. He met his future wife in Detroit and attended Michigan State University, from which he graduated cum laude in three years with a degree in accounting. At university, he held such jobs as selling women’s shoes and garbage disposals, and working as a drill press operator at Packard Motor.
He is among MSU’s best-known alumni.
“Eli was a selfless, kindhearted man who dedicated much of his life to making the lives of others better,” MSU President Samuel Stanley Jr. said in a statement. “Eli embodied what it means to be a Spartan.”
Over time, Eli and Edye gave more than $100 million to the university. The graduate and undergraduate programs are named after him. They also donated $33 million to build the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum on campus.
“He had a tremendous vision of not only making access to art free but making the highest-caliber art in the contemporary art world available,” said Eli and Edythe Broad Museum Director Monica Ramirez-Montagut. “He was keen on saying he wanted to give back, and he wanted to be remembered for having done something better. We’re fortunate in the art world that art was his passion.”
Morgan Butts, the museum’s communications direction, said Eli knew what was needed in Michigan, and by placing the museum on campus, he gave it access to renowned researchers and scholars.
“There aren’t a lot of contemporary art museums in the state of Michigan,” Butts said. “We feel a responsibility to provide access to as many people as possible, which was Broad’s priority.”
Building a legacy of art
in Los Angeles
Eli arrived in Los Angeles in 1963, where his wife turned him on to collecting art. He and other arts patrons helped create the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in 1979. He served as the founding chairman and negotiated the purchase of 80 abstract expressionist and pop works from Italian businessman and collector Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo, who was known for being the first European collector of postwar American art.
These works formed the core of MOCA’s permanent collection and gave it instant credibility.
He spearheaded efforts to complete the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Over his lifetime, he gave more than $50 million to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to pay for the Broad Contemporary Art Museum; over $30 million to MOCA; over $20 million to underwrite the Richard Meier-designed Eli and Edythe Broad Art Center at UCLA; and millions more to endow arts programming at Santa Monica College, where the Broad Stage is located.
He underwrote the staging of the Los Angeles Opera’s first production of Richard Wagner’s “Ring” cycle.
In 2015, he and his wife commissioned the building of The Broad, across from Disney Hall. It displays much of what used to be their private collection.
“Eli saw the arts as a way to strive to build a better world for all,” said Joanne Heyler, The Broad’s founding director. “He was a fiercely committed civic leader, and his tenacity and advocacy for the arts indelibly changed Los Angeles. He will long be remembered for his unmatched generosity in sharing the arts passionately and widely.”
A champion of
Outside of Los Angeles and Michigan State University, he also gave money to Harvard, the California Institute of Technology, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California’s Pitzer College.
Eli was committed to making sure everyone had access to art, education, science and technology.
“Eli pushed all of us to do better, to dig deeper, to invest more and to invest smarter to make Los Angeles a global epicenter for innovation and culture,” Los Angeles Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas said in a statement. “He championed catalytic transformation in the arts and education fields, including creating countless opportunities for young people to advance in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“I will forever be grateful for his commitment to addressing homelessness, as a major backer of Measure H, which was approved by voters in 2017 and generates over $350 million each year to prevent and respond to the moral crisis of our time.”
In 2012, Eli released a book, “The Art of Being Unreasonable: Lessons in Unconventional Thinking,” which became an immediate bestseller.
He is survived by his wife Edye and two sons Jeffrey Broad and Gary Broad.