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August 27, 2010

Downtown L.A., Broad's Way

I've been trying my best to resist, but the subject of Eli Broad is just too tempting. Earlier this week, the L.A. art collector and billionaire won final government approval to build a headquarters for his foundation and contemporary art collection across the street from Disney Hall and down the block from the Museum of Contemporary Art. He promptly announced that he had chosen the New York firm of Diller Scofidio + Renfro as architect of the planned 120,000-square-foot building.

There were no surprises in the announcement. It had basically been a done deal for weeks. So here are a few final thoughts on it:

1. The Broad Foundation collection is already based in a very nice building in Santa Monica. Although it is not open to the public, anyone with an interest in art who wants to view the collection can make an appointment to go see the work of blue-chip artists like Koons and Warhol in very nice and big galleries.

2. Open year-round to the public is the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the mid-Wilshire area of the city, which opened in February 2008. There you can also see lots of work from Broad's collection, including sculptures by Richard Serra and more paintings by the likes of Koons and Warhol.

3. Although Broad said he had been considering Santa Monica and Beverly Hills as possible sites for the new location of the foundation, he was obviously using them as bargaining chips with the city of L.A. and just wasting the time of the officials from those other cities. For years, Broad has been championing the redevelopment of downtown L.A. Putting his building downtown would help that process along and get him premium attention, too. Officials from those other cities should have realized that Broad made much of his fortune in insurance, and that's all they ever were.

4. Broad originally wanted to lease the land from the city for $1 for 99 years. But at a time of high unemployment and a possible double-dip recession, even Broad must have realized that billionaires can't have everything, and he agreed to pay $7.7 million in rent over 99 years, which apparently is the going rate downtown for that much square footage. That may be fine today, but has anyone ever heard of a landlord that doesn't raise the rent over 99 years?

5. At one point during the negotiations, Broad played his philanthropy card by promising to provide free admission to schoolchildren. Given public school budget shortfalls, I wonder if he'll also kick in for the buses, because without such an offer, I doubt school kids will be visiting.

6. Broad's new building, to be called the Broad Collection, is set to open in 2012. On the occasion of the opening, I predict, there will be a private, black-tie event at which every politician and dignitary who has ever gotten a contribution from Broad or hopes to get money from him in the future will declare him a visionary. It will be suggested that a prominent downtown street be renamed after him. To save money, I recommend that they give him Broadway. We'll just have to pronounce it differently, as Broad pronounces his name--like toad.

7. The building will open to the public and people will flock to see the Koonses, Warhols, and Serras. They will come that one time and most will probably never return. The building itself probably won't interest many of the tourists who visit downtown to photograph Frank Gehry's curvy Disney Hall. Christopher Hawthorne, the architecture critic of the Los Angeles Times, wrote that the half-dozen competing designs for the project were "six versions of a steel-framed box."

Every day that I drive to work, I pass the city of Bell, along the Long Beach Freeway. This is the city that's been in the news lately because it was discovered that the recently fired city manager was making more than $800,000 a year. A few years ago, Bell purchased a plot of land along the freeway. It once belonged to the federal government. It's a pretty ugly piece of industrial property, but it features a few huge warehouses that look like airplane hangars. I had been thinking that if Eli Broad took a drive by, maybe he'd be inspired like the Dia Art Foundation was in 2003 when it opened Dia:Beacon in a former Nabisco box-printing factory in Beacon, New York. Broad could get that piece of land for a song; not as low as $1, but a lot less than $7.7 million. Broad knows a good deal when he sees it. His Serras would look great in those massive buildings. And with the giant electronic billboards greeting motorists along the freeway, he could put his name in lights, which could be more visible than the Hollywood sign. That's vision.

Mike Rogers, an artist and writer based in Los Angeles, is the author of an illustrated novel about the art world, "The Third Eye," published by Edicions 30/kms of Barcelona. He has been a reporter for Fortune magazine and the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, among other publications.

August 27, 2010 12:00 AM | | Comments (0)

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