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Edward R. Broida, 72; L.A. Real Estate Mogul Collected Contemporary Art

April 20, 2006|Suzanne Muchnic | Times Staff Writer

Edward R. Broida, who made a fortune as a Los Angeles real estate developer and used much of it to establish himself as a distinctive collector of contemporary art, has died after a long battle with cancer. He was 72.

Broida died at his home in Malibu on March 14 after being hospitalized at the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, said his wife, Gisele Galante Broida.

A native of Cleveland who became interested in art in his youth, Broida loved to visit the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and studied architecture at Case Western Reserve University in his hometown. But he also had a sharp sense of business.

He began his career in his father's architecture office in Cleveland, then headed for Southern California and became a major player in the building boom that catered to young working people in search of an affordable but attractive lifestyle.

In 1962, Broida and two partners came up with $2,000 and formed R & B Development Co. in Los Angeles. One partner, Howard F. Ruby, a graduate of the Wharton School of business at University of Pennsylvania, handled administration. The other, Robert J. Franks, a UCLA graduate, took charge of financing and land acquisition. Broida initially concentrated on design and construction, but within a few years became president of the firm.

Facing stiff competition, R & B distinguished itself by concentrating on specific segments of the housing market. After developing small buildings operated by resident managers and designing apartments for families with young children, the firm introduced the concept of singles-only apartment complexes. The first, the South Bay Club in Torrance, opened in 1965 and inspired a chain of similar complexes throughout Southern California.

In 1969, when R & B became the nation's third largest builder of multi-housing projects, the firm entered into a joint venture with Connecticut General Insurance Co. to create Oakwood Garden Apartments in San Diego. Designed to provide country club living for young adults -- single or married -- who wanted their residential environments enhanced by recreational and social facilities, the San Diego complex was replicated in many locations.

Broida retired in 1974, the year he turned 40, and renewed his early interest in art. Encouraged by his uncle, Miami-based collector Sidney Feldman, he began frequenting New York galleries, visiting artists' studios in Los Angeles and New York, and honing his ideas about the kinds of works he wanted to collect. Rather than following established tastes of prominent collectors, he focused on a small group of contemporary artists who had been overlooked.

"Broida was a man of independent tastes and firm commitments," Times art critic Christopher Knight said. "When he believed in an artist's work, he collected in depth. Three in particular -- the late New York School painter Philip Guston and L.A. artists Vija Celmins and Kenneth Price -- were favorites, and he assembled important bodies of their work long before others caught on."

His collection began in 1978 with the $75,000 purchase of two paintings by Guston, who had shifted from high-minded abstraction to a cartoon-like Expressionism that railed against social injustice and reflected the stresses and strains of everyday life. Broida's fascination with Guston continued over the next three decades as he acquired about 700 works by an unpredictably varied group of artists, including painters Elizabeth Murray and Susan Rothenberg and sculptors Martin Puryear and Christopher Wilmarth.

In 1982 Broida announced a plan to establish a museum devoted to his collection in New York's SoHo gallery district, but he abandoned the project in 1986 because of zoning and construction problems. His longtime affiliation with the Museum of Modern Art became official from 1990 to 1996, when he served on the Drawings Committee, a private support group.

Five times married and known for speaking his mind, Broida approached several museums over the years -- including MoMA and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art -- about a possible donation of art, but none was willing to take the entire collection and display it as he wished.

Last summer, when his struggle with cancer made the matter more urgent, he called MoMA Director Glenn Lowry and offered the museum its choice of pieces, except for a few special items to be sold or given to his children.

Early in October, the museum announced Broida's gift of 174 contemporary works by 38 artists. The donation of 108 paintings and sculptures, 54 drawings and 12 prints from the 1960s to 2005 includes 36 works by Guston, 18 by Celmins and 11 by Wilmarth. Works by Price, Jake Berthot, Mark di Suvero, Joel Shapiro and John Walker are also included.

"Against the Grain: Contemporary Art from the Edward R. Broida Collection," made up of more than 100 of the pieces, will be exhibited at the museum from May 3 to July 10.

MoMA did not disclose the value of Broida's gift, but it was estimated at $50 million by the New York Times. In November, Christie's auction house in New York sold a small group of works consigned by Broida, including a painting by Mark Rothko and a sculpture by David Smith, for about $40 million.

Broida is survived by his wife, four children and four grandchildren.

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