Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

Chapter 2 (Part 1): The Grand Avenue Project, Arrested (Re)Development

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Eli can be a real pain in the ass.”[i] – Frank Gehry, architect, Walt Disney Concert Hall

Grand Avenue framed by Disney Concert Hall.

Grand Avenue framed by Disney Concert Hall.

Eli Broad’s dealings with MOCA coincided and aligned to renewed, old interests in downtown Los Angeles. Broad served as chairman of the Grand Avenue Committee, an advisory body formed in 2000, responsible for planning and overseeing a massive $3 billion redevelopment plan for an area along Grand Avenue and Bunker Hill originally estimated to be completed in 2009.

In the previous decade, Broad had been instrumental in the realization of Walt Disney Concert Hall.  The widely recognized structure was designed by Frank Gehry in his now iconic style of undulating silver forms. Lillian Disney (wife of Walt) initiated the concert hall project in 1987, with an initial gift of $50 million.[ii]  It would take 16 years and another $224 million to complete the project.  The County of Los Angeles provided the land and $116 million in funding toward a six-level subterranean parking garage beneath Gehry’s building.   By the mid 1990’s, after years of sagging economy, the garage was the only complete portion of the project—capped with a  vacant slab of concrete.[iii] Enter Eli Broad and his fundraising partner-in-crime, Mayor Richard Riordan.  Both men personally contributed $5 million to revive the building campaign, and Broad helmed the fundraising effort and raised an additional $120 million dollars from private and corporate contributors in three years.[iv] Walt Disney Concert Hall finally opened in 2003.

Another Broad beneficiary located on Grand Avenue is Central Los Angeles Area High School #9, now called the Ramon C. Corteines School of Visual and Performing Arts. In 2001, Broad had encouraged school officials to build an architectural statement and create a school focused on visual and performing arts education, rather than the originally planned, modestly-priced, $87 million campus.[v]  Broad initially agreed to contribute to the project, but later threatened to withhold funding if the school did not operate as a charter high school as he saw fit.[vi]  The campus welcomed its first class in 2009 with a price tag of roughly $230 million.  Broad’s mission with the High School was accomplished: another architectural monument and another piece of Grand Avenue complete.

Broad also donated $200,000 towards the construction of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, designed by Spanish architect Rafael Moneo.  The cathedral also sits on Grand Avenue just across the 101 Freeway from the arts high school. Broad is not a catholic, and donated to the project because of the Cathedral’s architectural significance.[vii]

Grand Avenue monuments & the 101 Freeway.

Grand Avenue monuments & the 101 Freeway.

These new institutions along with the Colburn School of Music (opened in 1998); the Music Center consisting of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (1964), the Ahmanson Theater (1967), and the Mark Taper Forum (1967); along with MOCA’s Grand Avenue location (1986) make up a distinct and saturated cluster of cultural institutions. This cluster, developed over the course of 50 years is/was meant to attract investors to the $3 billion Grand Avenue Project.

The Grand Avenue Project seeks to redevelop a huge amount of prime downtown real estate (nine acres), executed in three phases by the Related Companies (the company also responsible for the massive Hudson Yards redevelopment in Manhattan). Phase 1 of the Grand Avenue Project originally included a multi-tower, mixed-use development called The Grand.  The Grand was to be designed by Frank Gehry, on a parcel of land directly across Grand Avenue from Walt Disney Concert Hall.  Phase 1 also included the development of a large civic park, now called Grand Park, running between existing municipal buildings, from the Music Center on Grand down the hill to City Hall on Spring Street.  During Phase 2, a parcel of land across from MOCA on Grand Avenue between 2nd and 3rd was to be developed into retail and residential.  Phase 3 would have developed the block southeast of the Grand into office, cultural and retail space.  The Grand Avenue Project is part of a larger, informal revitalization of the Civic Center area, which also includes the new Los Angeles Police Department Headquarters (2009) and Caltran District 7 Headquarters (2004), where there is a Broad Plaza.

Just a plan?

Just a plan?

In February 2007, both the Los Angeles City Council and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved the Grand Avenue Project, which Broad had helped to develop.  And then the worldwide economic recession happened, Related was beginning to seek funding for the Grand Avenue Project when it hit.  In response to the recession, Related re-organized the long-term plan, postponed the Gehry-designed mixed-use component, but went forward with the 16-acre Grand Park.  The park was financed by a non-refundable down payment Related had paid the City for the Grand Avenue Project.[viii]

Related reorganized the rest of the Grand Avenue Project with the City and the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) again in August 2010, giving them until October 2012 to break ground on other portions of Phase 1.[ix]  In August 2012, Related announced it has secured funding for a component of the Project[x] and in January of 2013, ground was broken on a 19-story residential tower designed by the firm Arquitectonica,[xi] which will share an open plaza with the museum.  The building is south of the Broad, and like the museum is on a parcel of land originally planned for development in Phase 2 of the Grand Avenue Plan.  Around the same time Related applied for a third extension on the Grand Avenue Project and also announced new strategy for the plan: it would forgo the gigantic Gehry-design mixed-use component, start instead with the Arquitectonica-design residential building, and then continue to develop the parcels over time as the market demand dictated.[xii]

(Is this LA? A rendering of Arquitectonica’s building.

(Is this LA? A rendering of Arquitectonica’s building.

Meanwhile, huge patches of downtown real estate remain vacant, or serve as surface parking lots—not an ideal situation for a city attempting to revitalize its downtown.  The Grand Avenue Project was Eli Broad’s most ambitious project for Los Angeles. With the recovery from recession ongoing, and Broad unable to finance the mammoth multi-billion dollar redevelopment as planned alone, the Grand Avenue Project needs to change and is changing.


[i] 60 Minutes, “How Eli Broad gives his billions away,” CBS News, April 24, 2011.
[ii] LA Phil, “About Walt Disney Concert Hall,” http://www.laphil.com/philpedia/wdch-overview.cfm.
[iii] Susannah Rosenblatt, “County to take title to Disney Hall,” Los Angeles Times, January 7, 2007.
[iv] Rosenblatt, 2007.
[v] Christopher Hawthorne, “Pass/fail for L.A.’s new arts school,” Los Angeles Times, May 31, 2009.
[vi] Tim Rutten, “An arts school for all of L.A.,” Los Angeles Times, April 8, 2009.
[vii] CBS, 60 Minutes.
[viii] Neal Broverman, “Downtown Civic Park: Trees and Lucrative Starbucks Arriving, Barriers Leaving,” CurbedLA, November 8, 2011, la.curbed.com/archives/2011/11/downtown_civic_park_trees_and_lucrative_starbucks_arriving_barriers_leaving.php.
[ix] Kate Linthicum, “Grand Avenue project faces 2-year delay over funding,” Los Angeles Times, August 27, 2010.
[x] Ryan Vaillancourt, “Financing Secured for Grand Avenue Apartment Tower,” Los Angeles Downtown News, August 30, 2012.
[xi] Roger Vincent, “Broad museum to get new neighbor: $120-million apartment tower,” Los Angeles Times, January 10, 2013.
[xii] Ryan Vaillancourt, “Developer Unveils New Plan for Grand Avenue,” Los Angeles Downtown News, January 18, 2013.

2 Responses

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  1. […] This is the underlying logic with the placement of the Broad, to lure investors to the stalled Grand Avenue Project.  The massive implications for urban planning are on a wholly new scale.  The ramifications […]

  2. […] has been dissolved, Eli Broad may pressure the City to use 1% for art tax revenues from the future redevelopment of Grand Avenue to fund the Broad museum. The Grand Avenue Project was once estimated to cost $3 billion. One […]


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