What do you do if you are already one of the most successful businessmen in the country, and your ambitions and your billions have established you as the most influential person in your own city? These days, success on that level is unimaginable for such a person without becoming a big-time donor to various worthy causes.
Eli Broad, who just turned 70, has been a force behind a number of projects, contributing generously to various schools, medical facilities and cultural institutions. It wouldn't be an overstatement to say that, without him, the much-delayed and under-funded Disney Hall would never have come this far, and on such a grand scale. Getting behind Gehry's most ambitious project in the United States was not only very generous of Mr. Broad; it was also very wise of him.
Years ago, Frank Gehry was hired to build a new home for Mr. Broad, but halfway through the project they parted ways, and the project was completed by another architect. But that was long before Mr. Gehry attained worldwide fame. Over the last few years, Mr. Broad simply had to find a way to collaborate with the most famous architect of our time, regardless of their former disagreement, in order to build a lasting legacy for himself as a major patron of art.
And now come Mr. Broad's two most recent gifts to L.A., establishing him not only as the most generous, but also probably as the most far-sighted patron of the city, where he has lived since the early 60's. First came the news that one of L.A.'s downtown high schools, with additional funds provided by Mr. Broad, will become the Performing and Visual Arts Academy. The possibility of this new school being built by the famous Coop Himmelblau turns this project into yet another world class architectural jewel in L.A.'s crown.
But the biggest gift Mr. Broad gave us for his birthday was the announcement that he will build a new museum to house his large collection of contemporary art. The big surprise is that it's going to be built on the empty lot belonging to LACMA. After last year's failed attempt by LACMA to raise funds for a new museum building designed by Rem Koolhaas, everyone was wondering how Eli Broad, a major force behind the project, would take such a disappointment. Now we know. He is committing $60 million dollars to a new building that is going to sit between the former May Co. building and the rest of the museum. The architect, no doubt famous, will be selected by Mr. Broad himself, subject to approval by LACMA's Board of Trustees. Somehow, I'm sure, they will approve. Wouldn't you want to keep Mr. Broad happy with the chance for his collection not only to be displayed on the museum campus but also, one day, probably to be generously donated to the museum?
In the past, LACMA hasn't always played its cards right with their major trustees and collectors. For example, Norton Simon and Armand Hammer both withdrew their collections and opted to build their own museums. Let's hope that LACMA's courtship with Mr. Broad will blossom into a solid marriage with long-lasting benefits for all of us.