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Eli Broad. Photo: arcticpenguin/Flickr.

Eli Broad (1933–2021)

Philanthropist and businessman Eli Broad, a devoted and powerful supporter of art and culture in Los Angeles, died in that city on April 30 at the age of eighty-seven. Though he gave generously to numerous causes including education, science, and medicine, Broad, who amassed his $6.9 billion fortune through tract housing and insurance, was best known for his liberal contributions to the Los Angeles Museum County of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Disney Concert Hall, and for establishing the Broad, an institution housing the 2,000-piece collection of postwar contemporary art he assembled with his wife, Edythe.

Born in the Bronx in 1933 to Lithuanian Jewish immigrant parents of modest means, Broad with his family moved to Detroit at the age of six, where he attended public school. While attending Michigan State University in East Lansing, where he majored in accounting, he held various jobs, including those of door-to-door garbage disposal salesman and, at Packard Motor, drill press operator. On graduating cum laude in 1954, he married Edythe Lawson, a teenager with a strong interest in art, and became the youngest person in Michigan to be awarded the credentials of a CPA, or certified public accountant.

With a loan from his new bride’s father, Broad and a cousin, Donald Kaufman, began building homes in the Detroit suburbs, where they popularized an affordable design they called the “Award Winner,” which lacked a basement but included a carport, at the time a sought-after feature. In 1963, the Broads moved to Los Angeles, where, following Kaufman’s retirement, Broad expanded the business, which in 1969 became the first homebuilder to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. After departing as CEO of the company, KB Home,  in 1974, Broad focused on the insurance business, which he had entered a few years earlier with the purchase of Sun Life Insurance. Rebranding it as SunAmerica, he built it into a retirement savings behemoth, ultimately selling it to AIG for $18 billion in 1999. The following year, Broad retired to pursue philanthropy full-time.

Among the many contributions Broad made to the Los Angeles arts scene—which he began touting early and aggressively, at a time when the city was most widely associated with the film and television industry—were those to LA MoCA, which he helped establish in 1979 and then provided with a $30 million bailout in 2008 when the museum lost its financial footing. He gave $50 million to LACMA, revived and successfully led to completion fundraising for the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and built the Broad, to which admission is free to the public. The arrival of the Diller, Scofidio + Renfro–designed structure, completed in 2015, along with the concert hall and LA MoCA , transformed the fabric of previously seedy downtown LA into a bustling arts hub.

“Los Angeles has become one of the great cultural capitals of the world,” Broad told Audrey Rose Smith earlier this year. “There is no more exciting place to experience contemporary art. I expect Los Angeles to continue to thrive far past the next decade.

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