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Profile of an Art Patron on the Go : Builder Eli Broad Seeks New Challenges, More Successes

January 14, 1985|TIA GINDICK | Times Staff Writer

Eli Broad has the manner of a man who has lucked out, who has worked hard but made it a lot bigger than he ever expected and now, well, it was really fun to be able to write a check for $1 million to kick off the fund-raising campaign that eventually produced the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Just getting involved in the museum; he liked that. Realizing "there was all this talk, but no real action" about developing a contemporary art museum in Los Angeles, and as an entrepreneur, businessman and a man who enjoyed a good challenge--he could make a difference. After all, he was the same fellow who with the late Don Kaufman transformed in just a few years a small Detroit construction company into a New York Stock Exchange-listed firm specializing in housing, financial services and life insurance and with assets of $1 billion.

Making something from nothing--that's what Eli Broad (rhymes with road) likes: building a new residence every decade or so, founding Kaufman & Broad Inc. and expanding its clientele to worldwide, co-founding MOCA and becoming its first chairman of the board, aiming for a world-class reputation there also.

Broad liked it when New York Times art critic John Russell called to confirm that this upstart museum in Los Angeles would have then-director of Paris' Pompidou National Center of Art Pontus Hulton, a Swede, as its director, and Japanese superstar Arata Isozaki as its architect, and that Broad had negotiated the sale of 75 works from the famed contemporary art collection of Count Giuseppe Panza de Piumo.

"Then Russell asked me who I was, what's my involvement in the arts?" Broad said, grinning almost like a mischievous kid who's pulled a fast one on the adults.

New Challenges He likes being recognized, being mentioned in the press. He liked being so young when he made it big, 23 when he co-founded Kaufman & Broad on $25,000 borrowed from his in-laws, 28 when the company went public and the money started rolling in. And now that he's 51, he likes being able to indulge himself in new challenges, new visions.

Art, for example. It was the interest of his wife, Edye Broad. In 1968, he immersed himself in it, too, and now here they are with a curator of their own, going to New York once a month ostensibly to visit the Kaufman & Broad offices there, but also to check out the galleries, to contemplate purchases for one of their three collections--the private collection in the Broad home, the collection of young, unshown artists at the office, or the newest, the Broad Family Foundation collection that will be available for loan to museums.

Anniversary Surprise Broad also liked his 30th anniversary surprise for his wife, arranging for their hotel room at Caneel Bay on St. John in the Virgin Islands to be so filled with flowers that a delighted Edye Broad said afterward: "There was no room for our luggage. I mean, there were eight bougainvillea plants."

Eli and Edye Broad are having a good time. Their two sons are grown: Jeff, 28, worked for the Pacific Coast Stock Exchange until recently and now is traveling around the country in a VW van, and 26-year-old Gary lives in West Los Angeles where, his father said, he coaches young kids and does some investing. The couple's large wood and glass contemporary home in Brentwood Park is so easy to live in that Broad admitted he's feeling challenged and restless to build if he could find a site. Aside from an occasional dinner with a few close friends or family, they never entertain at home. Nor do they run the party circuit. "We become social when I or we have to," Broad said.

Theirs is a comfortable life with, as Broad said, "as much money as we could ever spend--except for art. There's never enough money for that."

At ease with themselves and with each other, they're settled in. There's Eli Broad going strong, allowing that he's a workaholic, "but an eclectic workaholic," who reads five newspapers a day, brings work home with him, eats dinner while watching the network news and, "no, we don't have a videocassette recorder. That would bug me, just one more stack of things I feel I have to see." He's fit, feeling better than he did 10 years ago, skiing better and playing a better game of tennis.

Edye Broad watches, enjoying her husband enjoying himself. Her style is quiet. Not that she's shy, just private. Her world is her family, and now that her sons are out of the house, she's decided she prefers lunching with friends, then bringing her husband dinner on a tray as he watches the news. She's never been much for volunteer work, although she is a member of the Amazing Blue Ribbon of the Music Center and a trustee of the Archives for American Art. She likes traveling with her husband, both on the business trips and those for pleasure, particularly to primitive places like the Galapagos Islands, New Guinea, East Africa. She reads, often several books a week, most always nonfiction.

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