Thursday, July 17, 2008

ULTIMATE COLLECTOR: Eli Broad wields his vast fortune like a blunt instrument—buying art, hiring architects, and shaping L.A. through a mix of civic vision and force of will.


By Jade Chang | Metropolis Magazine

Excerpted from a longer story in the July 2008 Metropolis Magazine- Original Story Can Be Found HERE.

Posted July 16, 2008 - Even one of [Eli] Broad’s most vocal critics, the writer Sam Hall Kaplan, admits, “There’s no doubt that L.A. has done well with Broad.” He may handle his influence like a cudgel rather than a paintbrush, but it means that buildings get built.

LAUSD HIGH SCHOOL #9 Coop Himmelb(l)au, 2009
Occupying ten acres on the northern end of Grand Avenue, the performing-arts school has a 120-foot spiral that soars over the campus theater. “It can be read as a sign for downtown Los Angeles,” architect Wolf Prix says.

courtesy Coop Himmelb(l)au

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has long been notorious for stalled construction and indecisive leadership. When its old headquarters on Grand Avenue became the proposed site for a new high school, Broad stepped in and spent much of 2002 holding backroom meetings to convince the district to scrap a complete (and admittedly unexciting) plan by AC Martin Partners and to build a Fame-style performing-arts academy by Wolf Prix of Coop Himmelb(l)au. “To me it was a no-brainer—to have a great arts school in L.A. was a great idea—but there was definitely a show-and-tell, and it was done very tiptoeing and secretively,” says David Tokofsky, a former school-board member who was the target of an unsuccessful ouster attempt by Broad in 2003.

The behind-the-scenes switch led to charges of undue influence that Broad dismisses, explaining, “I’ll use all the influence I can because I think it ought to be a good piece of architecture.” Other charges are less easily swept aside. In 2001, the school board voted to purchase a $74.5 million downtown high-rise beset by construction defects to use as its new headquarters, despite the fact that a real estate consultant advised against the purchase. Sun America (until recently headed by Broad) was an investor in the troubled building and, along with other investors, recouped $15 million in the sale. The deal sparked a 2004 federal grand-jury investigation. “We tend to focus on the visible landscape, but investments and cash flow are also part of the landscape he influences,” says Tokofsky, the board’s most vocal opponent of the sale.

If Broad had donated a significant portion of the money for the $233 million high school, it would have been less noteworthy that he convinced the district to scrap the original plan; but he managed to accomplish the switch simply by agreeing to pay the difference in architects’ fees. “Eli didn’t think AC Martin’s design was appropriate for something on top of the hill,” Hall Kaplan says. “Prix’s curse is that he’s never won a Pritzker, so everybody knew he’d do something to call attention to ­himself—and that, of course, pleased Eli, who paid the difference in the fees. But what he didn’t pay was the millions that the steelwork would cost.”

“The collaboration with LAUSD was difficult but successful, as the result shows,” Prix insists. “Of course, we discussed the Grand Avenue project with Mr. Broad, but in no way did he or the LAUSD influence our design process.” The architect says Broad was primarily interested in the siting of the public entrance of the school’s theater, which is located on Grand Avenue, kitty-corner from the Disney Concert Hall’s entrance.

Broad’s proprietary concern about the street-level relationship of these buildings—the concert hall, the multiuse tower on Grand Avenue, the high school, and the cathedral—indicates that he has assumed a de facto master-planning role of downtown. Absent strong governmental leadership, it is a necessary step, but this self-conferred mantle has led even progressive public officials to grant Broad a kind of ownership over the city. In a public forum this year, councilwoman Jan Perry slipped and referred to the campus as the “Eli and Edythe Broad High School,” though it has not yet been formally named, and the LAUSD claims that no moniker has been decided.

Even if the school isn’t named after Broad, Grand Avenue is the linchpin in his dream of creating a “vibrant center” for the city and making Los Angeles one of “the four cultural capitals of the world, along with New York, Paris, and London.” It is a single-minded Eurocentric goal that in many ways denies the impact he had on Los Angeles before this philanthropic crusade. Kaufman and Broad Home Corporation (now known as KB Home) is the company Broad started as a 24-year-old. It began with a $13,740 three-bedroom model in the Detroit suburbs and went on to build hundreds of thousands of homes in Southern California. “We were merchant builders,” Broad says. “We produced what people wanted to buy. It was no great architecture, you know, but I’m not ashamed of anything we did.”

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Original Story Can Be Found At:

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