Malibu Seen: Los Angeles Loses a Civic Giant

Art connoisseur Eli Broad poses with his 20th century treasures, including one of his famous “Balloon Dogs” by Jeff Koons.

The city lost lost one of its best friends and boosters with the death last week of philanthropist Eli Broad.

Eli made billions building homes and used the money to establish one of the world’s most impressive modern and contemporary art collections.

The extensive collection includes works by famed American artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Mike Kelly, John Baldessari, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol and more.

One summer night a few years ago, I had the privilege of attending a private viewing that the Broads were putting on. It started out with an enormous Warhol painting of Marilyn Monroe sprinkled with diamond dust. Around the corner you felt like “Alice in Wonderland” with a table and chairs 12 feet high. Then there was the Jeff Koons’ steel balloon bunny that Eli loved to pose with. 

I can’t say I was a big fan of modern and contemporary art but, after this viewing, I am now. It’s easy once you understand the language. Not only did he transform my take on art but Eli transformed the landscape of the city.

He reshaped downtown, getting Walt Disney Concert Hall off the ground, put the Museum of Contemporary Art in gear and set his sights on a museum of his own.

With a fortune estimated at nearly $7 billion, the New Yorker headed west to seek his fortune. Los Angeles has been his home for 50 years.

In the meantime, he built his vast empire through home construction and insurance industries.

Civic leaders chimed in with praise. Said one: “We join the city of LA in mourning the loss of Eli Broad. The city and the nation have lost an icon.” 

Ann Philbin of the Hammer Museum added, “Eli is LA’s most prominent cultural philanthropist and if you run a museum in this city you will have a relationship with him one way or another.” 

Eli also spent millions to endow medical and scientific institutions including stem cell research centers at UCLA, USC, UC-San Francisco and Harvard University. 

But his most visible legacy was his his world class art collection that few can rival.

Mr. Broad died at Cedars Sinai Hospital last week. He was 87.

So, next time you look up at the Los Angeles skyline, remember Eli Broad and that the City of Angles had a great friend.