Los Angeles' Merchant of Sprawl

Los Angeles is mourning the death of billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad. For all of Broad's many civic contributions, he made his fortune in a decidedly anti-urban way.

May 4, 2021, 9:00 AM PDT

By Josh Stephens @jrstephens310


Eli Broad

Sundry Photography / Shutterstock

"Broad built tract homes. He built them on the urban fringe. Once he was done bulldozing one fringe, he went on to the next, pushing the rings of sprawl outward from whichever urban center they orbited. He focused primarily on the Los Angeles and Phoenix regions, with projects in the San Antonio, Tucson, and Las Vegas areas, among others. Various incarnations of KB Home have built, in total, over 600,000 homes since Broad and partner Donald Kaufman founded the company in 1957."

"It’s not hard to imagine that, arriving in Los Angeles at that moment, Broad got inspired to put up an institution or two with his own name on it. As he grew wealthy, and especially as he got into modern art, he donated ever more generous sums to many of the city’s cultural institutions, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Disney Hall, the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, and many others. Few major civic institutions in L.A. lack a plaque, room, or building with Broad’s name on it."

"But even Broad’s urban vision is more of a complement to sprawl. It treats downtown as a seat of power and a freeway-accessible central location, drawing in the occasional museumgoer from Hemet or Fontana or some other suburb that he built. But there’s little indication that Broad believed in a true urban fabric."

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