Eli Broad: The King of L.A.
Article Last Updated: 04/8/2007 12:07:50 AM PDT
Eli Broad, momentarily staring out at the panorama of
Los Angeles from the Westside to the Pacific, busied himself in his 12th
floor office, taking in the distant balmy winter afternoon palette of
speeding cars on the San Diego Freeway and, above them and the swaying
palm trees, jetliners gliding low and slow as they approached Los Angeles
To his staff passing by his open door, Broad struck
the familiar image of the man they saw every day: Immaculately dressed in
a business suit, his thick silver hair perfectly in place, his sturdy
frame striking a pose men 20 years younger would envy -- the product of
working three times a week with a professional trainer.
At 73 years of age, a personal net worth estimated at
$6 billion, owner of a treasure trove of art and architect of part of the
landscape emerging in his adopted home town, if anyone could be christened
the king of Los Angeles, it would be Broad -- or as the Los Angeles Times
called him, “the closest thing the city has now to a modern Harry
Chandler, a ubiquitous power broker.”
But on this day in mid-January, his schedule of
appointments come and gone, Eli Broad was having to endure what most
people figure men of his stature rarely do. He could not yet go home to
his 10,000-square-foot hillside home designed by Frank Gehry on four acres
in Brentwood – where a 60-ton Richard Serra sculpture sits on his lawn and
the balcony offers a shimmering vista of Mandeville Canyon below. Alone in
his minimalist, beige-appointed office whose walls are adorned with
several prints and lithographs by Jasper Johns and two acrylics by Mark
Innerst, he could make no other plans. For the moment, he had been made
equal to the housewife at the supermarket checkout, to the teenagers in
line at movie theaters around town, to the tourists at Universal Studios,
to fans at the Clippers game against the Golden State Warriors that night
at Staples Center.
Eli Broad was having to wait.
His dinner plans had been changing throughout the
day. Reservations had been made and cancelled. Later Broad would later
politely insist that it “was not a big deal that the mayor changed the
location. It was simply because the mayor's schedule changed.” But on that
day, a Wednesday, just six days before Villaraigosa turned 54, Broad had
been left up in the air -- cause for exasperation that perhaps only wives,
loved ones and potential big business deals can be forgiven. But waiting
was not something that he was accustomed to, nor that brings out his best
attributes. For Eli Broad, the billionaire who dislikes being referred to
one in print, is an impoverished man when it comes to patience. In
college, he had given up pre-law because he said he was too impatient for
law school. That impatience, however, led to a meteoric rise in business
but a reputation for being brutally short with his time.
"Eli," his longtime friend and former mayor, Richard
Riordan, said after touring museums in Europe with him, "doesn’t take the
time to enjoy things.
"You walk through one of the most famous museums in
the world with him and he spends about 10 seconds on each piece of art.
Hiking ... you point out a great view, he looks, and 10 seconds later he’s
talking about education."
Which is what Broad had on his mind for dinner
conversation that night. Education. But it was a dinner for which Broad
was having to learn, for him, the acquired taste of waiting – waiting
until his office got word that it would be at Patina, the five-star
restaurant at the Walt Disney Concert Hall downtown, which had come into
prominence as a political power eatery during the 2000 Democratic National
Convention which Broad had hosted.
It would be the perfect location. Broad’s dinner guest that night was
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in what would finally be a formal
rapprochement after their public spat -- over Villaraigosa’s legislative
compromise watering down a full mayoral takeover of the city’s public
schools -- that had lingered in the public eye for weeks and months.
Coincidentally, their dinner was taking place the same night that
Villaraigosa unveiled his ambitious proposal to raise student test scores,
reduce the dropout rate and improve the quality of education in the Los
Angeles Unified School District. In a polished speech to
some 100 elected officials, parents, educators and students gathered for a
town hall-style meeting, the mayor evoked the image of an
old-fashioned schoolhouse in outlining his appropriately named plan, “The
Schoolhouse: A Framework to Give Every Child in LAUSD an Excellent
Education.” Afterward, Villaraigosa hopped into his GMC Yukon for the
three-fourths-mile, police-chauffeured drive from
the Japanese American National Museum in Little
Tokyo to Disney Hall to join Broad at Patina.
"We had a three-hour dinner" Broad would later say of their breaking
bread to bury the hatchet. "We talked about a lot of things. We may not
agree on everything. We agree on about 95 percent of things."
But Broad wanted to make one point perfectly clear to
"I said, 'Antonio, I’m not your lapdog that’s going
to agree with everything you say.'"
The fact that Broad found it necessary to remind
Villaraigosa about his independence and of not wanting to be taken for
granted may have been an innate need to impress upon the mayor that he has
some control in their decade-old relationship. Broad himself described it
“a very cordial relationship” – but a relationship that effectively
amounts to an investment, a political investment, to be sure, but still an
investment not unlike the fortune he has put into his Warhols and other
"We drank a lot of good wine and talked about a lot
of things," says Broad. "We’re great friends."
Meanwhile, Villaraigosa’s own assessment of the
dinner was almost as brief as his response had been to Broad’s letter last
“While Mr. Broad and the mayor don't always agree on
every issue, they share both a deep mutual respect and an abiding
commitment to improving our public schools,” said mayoral spokesman Matt
"The mayor was pleased to have a long and positive
conversation with Mr.
Broad regarding the Schoolhouse framework on the evening of his education
As friendships go, the dinner between the two men
underscored the reality of their mutual dependence: Arguably the richest
man in Los Angeles with the ability to build fortunes and make kingdoms –
but with the need to win over those in charge of public policy -- and the
city’s most popular public figure with outsized ambitions that in a
political world are increasingly dependent on wealth.
If ever there was a symbiotic relationship of two
influential Angelinos with different outlooks on life and power, it is in
Broad and Villaraigosa. Broad, Bronx-born son of Jewish émigrés from
Lithuania who gave him a model home life in Detroit; Villaraigosa, the son
of Mexican immigrants whose stormy marital breakup left him emotionally
traumatized. Broad, who set education records in his home state of
Michigan; Villaraigosa, the high school dropout who by his own admission
“entered UCLA through the back door. Broad who at 21 married his hometown
sweetheart, Edythe; Villaraigosa at the same age had the first of two
children out of wedlock. Broad, who was a millionaire by age 30;
Villaraigosa, sported “born to raise hell” tattoos while a union organizer
at the same age. Broad, whose billions opened up a world of the arts and
philanthropy; Villaraigosa whose ticket to those same worlds has been
getting elected to public office. Broad, the idealist trying to use his
fortune to improve education and find cures; Villaraigosa, who espouses
idealism but know political power is built on compromise and backroom
That their views would eventually clash on a solution
to the education crisis in Los Angeles would seem inevitable, which is
what happened last summer. With the mayor’s school district-takeover bill,
AB 1381, in trouble in the legislature, Villaraigosa negotiated a deal
with the teachers union and legislative opponents that saved the measure
but radically limited the amount of mayoral control in the measure.
"I was disappointed that he frankly had to do this
strange compromise with the unions which to me didn’t make sense," Broad
recalled in a recent interview at his office in Murdock Plaza in Westwood,
which is also home rapidly expanding Broad Foundation, which operates with
$200 million donated by the family to improve governance, management and
finances at the 65 largest urban school districts across the country.
Disappointment, Broad fired off a letter admonishing
Villaraigosa for giving in and withdrawing his support of the legislation
that he said would not provide “true mayoral control.”
"I wrote the letter out of frustration and never
thinking it would go to the media," says Broad, "but I was naïve."
Both the letter and Villaraigosa’s surprisingly
short, dismissive reply made headlines. More importantly, Broad’s
unwillingness to support Villaraigosa’s bill has also meant that Broad and
his money are now sitting out the upcoming school board election. Broad
has contributed $15,000 to charter school operator
Johnathan Williams, a candidate for a
South Los Angeles school board spot, according to campaign finance reports
– but that sum is far shy of the hundreds of thousands of dollars Broad
poured into previous school board campaigns, when he and Riordan were
attempting to gain control of the board.
In one of those campaigns, Broad reportedly offered
to donate $10 million to Occidental College if its president, Ted
Mitchell, would run against David Tokofsky, a school board member Broad
and Riordan wanted out of office. Mitchell did not run, and Tokofsky won
"I’m not very involved in (this year’s) election," Broad said in an interview.
"There are too many other things on the plate. (I’m) not heavily involved
the way I was with Dick Riordan. Dick Riordan and I were really partners
the way we raised a lot of money and so on. I’m not that involved."
Villaraigosa, meanwhile, has staked his political
credibility in the school board race, hoping to elect a majority of board
members that effectively would help him influence school reform – possibly
his main means of doing so, with AB 1381 locked up in appeals after a
Superior Court judge ruled it to be unconstitutional in January, half a
year after the exchange of letters between Broad and the mayor.
Would the mayor wind up regretting the estrangement,
knowing the extent of Broad’s willingness to financially back political
campaigns in which he believed? His money had paid for a large chunk of
the television advertising that helped defeat the 2002 San Fernando Valley
secession attempt. He spent millions more on an unsuccessful county museum
Instead, Broad had sunk his energies into the
campaign to secure approval for the Grand Avenue project – his pet $2.05
billion development requiring tax breaks and land giveaways – that only
last week got the final okay from city and county officials.
One of their rare appearances together over the past
half year was in December when both Broad and Villaraigosa attended a
History Channel competition of futuristic architectural designs for the
city at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
For the better part of an hour that afternoon, Broad
and Villaraigosa viewed exhibits of the architectural renditions, with an
army of photographers, TV cameras and onlookers in tow. At each exhibit,
an animated Villaraigosa pointed out aspects of the design to Broad, as if
giving him a guided tour in which he appeared, in typical Villaraigosa
fashion, as if he were trying too hard to please and entertain arguably
LACMA's most influential trustee – who has given LACMA $60 million
for the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, a new facility scheduled to open
next February that is central to the institution's massive expansion plan
"I want to live another hundred years!" Villaraigosa
exclaimed at one exhibit of what Los Angeles would look like in the 22nd
A smiling Broad patted the mayor on his back, leaned
over and whispered to him.
"I can only look 20 years ahead," he had joked
minutes earlier. "But I'm thrilled at what I see for the future."
How could he not be. If Broad’s personal imprint
didn’t already loom over Los Angeles – the Museum of Contemporary Art
downtown, the completion of Disney Hall, the expansion and redesign of
LACMA, a new art center at UCLA, the underwriting of the L.A. Opera -- the
Grand Avenue project will forever change the city skyline and set a course
for future development in downtown. Is it any wonder that Broad loves to
call Los Angeles "one of the four great cultural capitals of the world
along with New York, London and Paris"? Broad, after, all loves hyperbole,
going so far in championing Grand Avenue as to say it would be the
“Champs-Elysees of Los Angeles” – a comparison he now begs off.
"Oh, I said that once and I’ve got to live that
down," he says. "I think Grand Avenue has to be a Grand Avenue. It’s got
the four venues of the music center including Disney Hall. People thought
(calling it the Champs-Elysees) was overdone, over the top. (But) it does
speak for itself."
Ultimately, what Grand Avenue does, Broad says, is to
give Los Angeles a long-due identity, forcing a laugh as he recalls the
Woody Allen joke that “the only cultural advantage in Los Angeles is being
able to make a right turn on a red light.”
"Think about it," says Broad, "we’ve got a great
opera with Placido Domingo, a great symphony and a great symphony hall,
more theatrical productions… than New York, London or Paris, great
universities and the biggest book market in America.
"But yet we’re viewed as a cultural wasteland and not
a cultural oasis, which we are. So putting this all together and having a
vibrant center, I think, helps everyone."
The Grand Avenue project, which Broad spearheaded,
calls for 2,600 condos and apartments, a nine-acre recreational and
cultural promenade, 400,000 square feet of retail space, a 275-room hotel
and a 50-story translucent glass tower designed by Frank Gehry, the world
reknown architect whose up and down history with Broad is not altogether
that different that of Broad with Villaraigosa.
Those relationships perhaps say as much about the
unknown Eli Broad, the man behind the curtain, and his frustration at
times of finding that it can be far more difficult collecting people than
Gehry was also the architect of the Walt Disney
Concert Hall, a project that began in 1987 with a $50 million gift from
Walt Disney's widow, Lillian, but which in 1996 remained unbuilt and in
Broad’s words “was dead and ready to be buried.”
"Dick Riordan and I are friends and we said we can’t
let it happen, so we raised (nearly $175 million) that we needed and it
happened," said Broad.
But not before Broad attempted to fire Gehry, who
years earlier had taken so long to complete Broad’s ultramodern Brentwood
home that he hired another architect to finish the house. Gehry ultimately
disowned the house, even excluding it from an architectural book of his
complete works. Broad had made his first fortune building homes, a partner
in Kaufman & Broad where he often had homes constructed in six weeks and
didn’t have the patience to see Gehry through on his own personal house.
Broad wanted to do the same thing in completing Disney Hall and sought to
demote Gehry to handle only the design.
"He didn't believe I could get the building done," Gehry recalled in one interview.
"He wanted the right to run the project with another architect. I couldn't
Only when Gehry threatened to resign altogether and
Walt Disney’s daughter Diane Disney Miller intervened on his behalf was
Gehry allowed to complete what he had started.
Today, Broad can’t say enough about Gehry. When he
talks about how proud he is about the Grand Avenue project, his praise
invariably includes the lines: "We’ve got a great architect, Frank Gehry"
and "We’re great friends now."
But that is typical Broad, say people who know him: A
micro-manager, even though he denies being one; obsessed and obsessive –
Gehry has called him “a control freak”; your biggest cheerleader at times,
your biggest critic as others.
"It’s in Eli Broad’s nature," former MOCA associate
director Sheri Geldin to Los Angeles magazine in 2003, "to second-guess
everything and everyone, regardless of your position in the world."
So there is hope for such future praise from Broad
for Villaraigosa, whom Broad sees, in a sense, as his architect for
education reform in Los Angeles, for education seems to be an issue that
Broad holds as dear as his beloved Grand Avenue development or his art
treasures that curators and dealers estimate at $500 million.
Broad’s various foundations have committed an no less
than $2.25 billion to education, the arts and medical research, and The
Wall Street Journal last summer called him and wife Edythe part of the
“new wave” of philanthropists that include Bill and Melinda Gates and
"The biggest part of our foundation is education
reform in urban areas," said Broad. "And we do believe in mayoral control.
We believe what’s happened in New York with Mayor Bloomberg and in Chicago
with Richard Daley and Boston with Tom Menino.
"They’ve made great
stride in reforming and improving education and boosting certain
performance. I’m convinced the future of this city is fully dependent on
how you educate kids. And you cannot separate public education from other
municipal (areas). It doesn’t make sense. It’s got to be all tied
"You cannot have a system where 39 percent of Latino
children graduate. What happened to the other 61 percent? They go to
gangs. They go to prison. They go to welfare. We’ve got to change
education. We’ve got to create 21st Century education."
As Broad talks about education, his passion and
commitment are obvious, which undoubtedly accounts, at least in part, for
the frustration that built up last summer when he feels Villaraigosa
compromised any kind of LAUSD mayoral takeover on the same scale as what
mayors have achieved in New York, Chicago and Boston.
Broad will not say so publicly, but he hints at being
exasperated with Villaraigosa, even after their dinner at Patina,
especially when you learn that Broad believes he had set mayoral control
in motion in August 2005, a little more than a month after Villaraigosa
had taken office as a historic and symbolic figure: The city’s first
Latino mayor in more than a century and the self-described “poster child
for the American Dream.”
Broad had been among those at City Hall at the
mayor’s swearing-in ceremony inspired by Villariaogosa’s "Dream With Me"
inaugural speech in which he had said, "Reforming our public schools is
the central challenge facing Los Angeles, and it will be a central
priority of my administration." So Broad tried to help out. He met with
State Senator Gloria Romero, the State Senate Majority Leader from East
Los Angeles, and shortly afterward she introduced Senate Bill 767 that
would have allowed Villaraigosa to appoint the
school board if schools failed key performance measures. To Broad’s
surprise, Villaraigosa did not support the bill – his aides raising
“concerns” about the measure – and that bill.
"The mayor," says Broad, "'wasn’t ready' at that
Villaraigosa has argued that Romero’s original bill
was "premature" and that his subsequent bill, which Romero also sponsored,
was better – arguable, Broad believes, given that mayoral authority was
greatly watered down in the compromise measure which now looks doomed by
In an interesting twist, even though Broad had
disavowed any support for the compromised school takeover legislation, he
tried unsuccessfully to sway the district from undertaking a legal
challenge, writing in a letter to school board members:
"Despite our differences over the degree of control
the mayor should have over our city's schools, I am hopeful that Villaraigosa
will succeed in achieving a goal upon which many of us in Los Angeles can
agree: an improved public school system that successfully educates every
child for college, work and productive citizenship. Our city and our
students deserve no less."
Somewhat ruefully, Broad today now says:
"I think (the mayor’s) answer is to go to the people
and get a constitutional amendment."
It is as if Broad now recognizes Villaraigosa for
what he is – not the artistic philosopher-prince that idealists often look
for in their leaders but as first and foremost an artful politician,
perhaps the consummate charismatic politician capable of succeeding at the
polls with a better school district takeover plan that the one that has
been diluted through legislative compromise and seemingly foiled by the
"I’ve known Antonio for 11 years," says Broad. "I
liked him in the Legislature. I liked him as Speaker (of the State
Assembly). I supported him in his first time for mayor. When he lost that,
he got involved with me and USC in trying to create a biomedical center."
Sandwiched in between were dozens of private meetings
and conversations between the two men of which almost nothing has been
reported – and what little has been talked about has been by sources
unwilling to go on the record and risk offending either or both.
In its 2005 campaign profile of the future mayor,
L.A. Weekly reported that while Assembly Speaker, Villaraigosa “to appease
Broad, sources say, he removed a
requirement from the ($9.1 billion school-construction) bond that
developers provide land or build new schools.”
After Villaraigosa’s 2001 mayoral election defeat,
several news outlets reported that Broad recruited him to help wage a
campaign to build a 100-acre biomedical
research and industrial park near County-USC Medical Center, which had
stalled because of County Supervisor Gloria Molina’s opposition to the
project because it would require the cost of relocating the Juvenile
Justice facility that sat on the site.
close to that project said at the time, was brought in to lobby Molina –
his onetime mentor and supporter, though their relationship had cooled
over her objection to his well-publicized1994 extramarital affair -- and
to use his Sacramento connection to obtain funds to relocate the Juvenile
The paradox of Villaraigosa’s bitter 2001 defeat may
have been that over the next four years it brought both men closer,
especially given the estrangement that came shortly after Villaraigosa’s
For the image that stands out most of Broad during
that campaign was not of him with Villaraiosa but of him on primary
election night, when Villaraigosa finished first in the voting, buoying
hopes for the runoff among the thousands of supporters celebrating at
Union Station in a scene that seemed more fitting of a Hollywood political
Standing above the crowd, almost like a film director
on risers to accommodate television cameras, was none other than Broad
himself, a rare smile of controlled satisfaction on his face as he watched
the celebration. Eli Broad, the impatient man, was taking the time to
smell the roses. He would later tell friends that it was unlike any kind
of satisfaction he had ever experienced – different even that the
satisfaction that came with the 1998 sale of his SunAmerica to the AIG
insurance group that netted him $3 billion, and, of course, much more
satisfying than when he co-chaired Democrats for Nixon in 1972, something
which he now hates to admit. The only thing he could compare it to, Broad
said, was maybe creation, the birth of his two children.
Broad was seeing the birth of a new Los Angeles, a
Los Angeles he says he recognizes to be different but of which he felt
compelled to be a part of. To build a better Los Angeles and save the
parts that needed rescuing, like his attempt with fellow
billionaire Ron Burkle, to buy the Tribune Company and save the Los
"I believe that local ownership is important for
newspapers," Broad said in the recent interview. "It’s a civic trust. I
think the Times is a great paper, but I think it has do more in the
community. We’ve got to reinvent the American newspaper with the Internet
and so on. It’s not a good business, we know. But we cannot lose the
American newspapers. What would replace them? It’s part of our democracy.
It’s part of civilization here."
Civilization. It is not a word you hear too
often in 21st century America. It is the reason Broad invests
so heavily in art and in the arts, and the reason he gives back so much –
his money, his art, his time.
"My wife and I have a longstanding interest in giving
back,”"Broad says. "We realized that our children were taken care of and
we were very comfortable, so we focused on how we could make the greatest
impact on society."
It’s all also part of a legacy Broad would like to
leave: What is a man who does not leave the world better than how he found
"I’m not getting any younger!" he joked during the
interview. "Maybe I ought to take a couple of days a week off!"
Broad will turn 74 on June 6, a day he celebrated
when he turned 70 with a huge bash at his Brentwood house where Supremes
legend Mary Wilson, a fellow native of Detroit, entertained and serenaded
him with “Happy Birthday.” It was a birthday that was especially
significant for Broad and which commemorates in his office with 34 framed
pictures on a credenza with individual shots of his Broad Foundation team
with the notation in calligraphy: "Happy Birthday from the Broad Class of
In the interview, Broad also spoke about his friend
and former mayor Riordan in glowing terms, especially when juxtaposed
against his comments about Villaraigosa.
"I don’t think Dick Riordan did get enough credit
for what he did in many areas," said Broad. "Disney Hall would not have
happened without him. His legacy will be that he got people from all
communities working together, whether it’s the Valley or the Westside,
other parts of this city.
"I think he was a great leader. I think he knew how a
city should work. He had a vision of what a great city should be and
didn’t have enough time to make it all happen."
Then, almost as if offering advice to Villariagosa:
"(Riordan) was able to do things in education by
using the bully pulpit, his personality, getting people like me and others
"I think Antonio has great energy. I think Antonio
is a bridge between many communities. Antonio has a very different job now
as mayor than in the legislature. Now he’s chief executive of this city.
That’s different than being the head of a legislative body where you do
all sorts of compromises.
"And I think he’s doing fine. I think he will focus
more on specific things like education and other things in a different way
going forward than he did in the first 18 months. I think he’s doing very
good work in public safety with Bill Bratton. He’s a great police chief.
"(But) I think he’s got to build better bridges in
the Valley and in Southeast Los Angeles. He’s got a lot of work to do."
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