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Los Angeles Times Interview

Eli Broad

Bringing Business and Art Together for Disney Hall By Nicolai Ouroussoff

May 18, 1997|Nicolai Ouroussoff | Nicolai Ouroussoff is the architecture critic for The Times

As head of a multibillion-dollar corporation, SunAmerica Inc., a major collector of contemporary art and mayor's close friend, Eli Broad seems to have his thumb in many pies. Now he is intent on becoming a key player in shaping the future of Los Angeles.

Last year, Broad took on the task of saving Disney Hall, the downtown concert-hall project mired in financial problems. Its supporters had to raise $52.3 million by June 30, per an arrangement with the county, to keep the proposal on track. An additional $115 million has to be raised by December 1998. Meanwhile, Broad is involved in making over the working drawings needed before construction of the building can begin. These were prepared by Dworsky and Associates and, according to some, are still unusable.

Broad has announced he has already raised the $52.3 million needed for the county deadline. He is now talking about a grander vision for the redevelopment of downtown, and says he is ready to raise an extra $100 million for that second phase of his master plan. That plan, which is still sketchy, would create a "cultural zone" extending along Grand Street, loosely tied to the planned sports-entertainment complex some miles south.

During a conversation in his art-filled living room last Wednesday, Broad, 63, ruminated on art and architecture. He is not new to the cultural scene. Broad was a board member at the Museum of Contemporary Art during the '80s; he and his wife, Edythe, remain avid collectors. He originally hired the Disney Concert Hall's architect, Frank O. Gehry, to design his Brentwood house, though the two allegedly had a falling out and Broad finished the house by working with an independent contractor.

But Broad's ambitions cover more than just a single building. He portrays himself as an inheritor of Dorothy Chandler's mission to create a vital cultural center by bringing together the elites of both the downtown business establishment and the Westside Hollywood powers. To Broad, the image of a powerful new establishment and a great cultural nexus are inextricably bound together.

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Question: How did your role change in all this?

Answer: It wasn't about Disney Hall. It was really about the city. It was about downtown. It got into another issue, which, frankly, turned me on, and that is this city has been accused--maybe rightfully so--of not having a civic leadership . . . . No one seems to care about the center, the hub of the city, the downtown. And we said no city can be great today or in world history without a vibrant hub or center. I don't think you can deny that.

Already, as you know, at the south end they were talking about the sports entertainment and convention district. What I've seen of the [proposed] sports arena, it puts Madison Square Garden to shame. And to the north, the idea was you've got to create the cultural district, which will include not only MOCA and the Colburn School of Performing Arts, under construction next door, but a new music center, a new performing arts center for the 21st century.

Q: Who have you been approaching to make this happen?

A: There were no civic leaders five or six years ago. The mayor wasn't there, Zev [Yaroslavsky] was not chair of the Board of Supervisors. I did things off and on: I was on the board at MOCA, but I didn't see myself as a civic leader. We got [Times Mirror Chairman and CEO] Mark Willes, who five years ago was in Minneapolis, as you know. He's now a big advocate of the project. He makes fund-raising calls for the committee. The head of ARCO, Mike Bowlin, who was actually in Texas five years ago. And then you have [head of Ralph's Grocery Co. and Food-4-Less Inc.] Ron Burkle.

So all of a sudden, this has become a rallying point for a new generation of civic leaders. That became more and more exciting, as opposed to just raising money to build a building . . . .

Both the Music Center and the Los Angeles County Museum are 30-some-odd years old. When you have an institu- tion 30-some-odd years old, the original family leadership is very old and retired away. So you end up with a board that's ancient. There are widows and widowers on the board. So one of the challenges was to say: Look, the Music Center is a great institution, but it's an institution that was created out of a vision that is 35 years old. You had a whole different community back then. You had a whole different city.

Q: How, specifically, has that vision changed since then?

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