When Eli and Edye Broad moved to Los Angeles in 1963, Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles was mostly empty, razed of many of its aging Victorian homes only four years earlier. Foot traffic was nonexistent—with barren parcels giving way only to parking lots. Grand Avenue had been less than grand since the 1930s, when it was home to a vibrant residential and commercial neighborhood.
Today, the same stretch of street—from Cesar E. Chavez Avenue to Fourth Street, at the peak of Bunker Hill—is a bustling center for the arts.
Eli Broad saw what many others could not: the need for a vibrant city center and the potential for Grand Avenue to blossom into the cultural heart of the city that would rival New York, London and Paris.
Today, that vision is closer to becoming a reality, and The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation has long supported the region’s cultural arts. The Broads joined the Grand Avenue transformation efforts in 1979, with the founding of the Museum of Contemporary Art. Then, in the mid-1990s, when Walt Disney Concert Hall was stalled, Eli joined with then-Mayor Richard Riordan to rally the city behind a fundraising drive to build a new symphony hall. The Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall opened to worldwide acclaim in 2003.
That project made clear the lack of a master plan for Grand Avenue, as parcels deteriorated because their owners—the city and the county—could never agree on a shared development strategy. Eli formed the Grand Avenue Committee to bring the branches of local government together to shape a vision for a cultural and civic district. Through negotiations with the developer, the Related Companies, Eli secured a $50 million nonrefundable deposit. And when the economy sunk in 2008, stalling the Grand Avenue Project, that $50 million enabled the construction of a 12-acre park stretching from City Hall to the Music Center without spending a dollar of public funds. Called Grand Park, it has become a gathering place for civic and holiday celebrations, drawing some 40,000 residents on New Year’s Eve.
The Broad museum, funded entirely by Eli and Edye Broad, further jump-started the project when construction began in 2011, signaling to banks and lenders that Grand Avenue was alive and well. It worked, and by early 2015, a 17-story residential tower opened next door to the museum. The last phase of the project is a retail-residential development across that street from Disney Hall that will be designed by Frank Gehry and will feature a luxury hotel, condominiums, shops and restaurants.
With the arrival of The Broad—along with its public plaza and adjacent restaurant, Otium—Grand Avenue stands to be the pedestrian arcade it once was, nearly a century ago.