For Eli Broad, a tale of two sites
As my colleague Mike Boehm reported Monday, Eli Broad is considering at least two sites -- and potentially a third -- for a planned museum to hold the collection of his Broad Art Foundation, which is mostly dedicated to post-war and contemporary art and was once assumed to be headed for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Tonight, the Santa Monica City Council will consider a plan for one of those sites, in the heart of the city’s civic center. Meanwhile, talks continue between the Broad Foundation and officials in Beverly Hills about a location at the intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards.
How do those sites compare in urban and architectural terms as potential locations for the museum building Broad is planning, for which he is likely to enlist a prominent architect? I visited both spots Monday to produce this brief comparative sketch.
The Beverly Hills site is one that Broad has had his eye on for some time. It is a narrow, arrow-shaped parcel of land squeezed between Santa Monica and Little Santa Monica boulevards, and stretching from Wilshire southwest to Charleville Boulevard. It is across the street from the old CAA headquarters, designed by I.M. Pei, and directly between the Peninsula Hotel to the east and the Beverly Hilton to the west. The site is now occupied by a collection of two-story retail buildings opening onto Little Santa Monica, including a Starbucks at the northeastern end.
A massing study commissioned by Broad imagines a long, low three-story museum building on the location, with a rooftop sculpture garden near one end and an open plaza where the Starbucks is now, where the site bumps up against Wilshire.
The location, surrounded by mostly low-rise buildings, has the advantage of being far closer to the geographical center of L.A. than the Santa Monica location, where Broad might run the risk of creating an institution instantly seen as the Westside's version of MoCA. But its unorthodox shape could pose problems. Great architects can make nearly any parcel of land work, but the easiest solution here is a building with the size and shape of an ocean liner.
Any prominent development on the site is also sure to raise concerns about parking and traffic -- especially considering the controversy surrounding now-delayed plans to turn the former Robinson’s May department store site at 9900 Wilshire Blvd. into a sizable mixed-use complex designed by Richard Meier and Partners.
In Santa Monica, meanwhile, the museum would fill a spot two blocks in from the beach, between the Civic Courthouse and the Civic Auditorium. The space is now occupied by a partially covered surface parking lot. It is directly across Main Street from the Rand Corp. headquarters, which opened in 2004 and is by the same architects, Paul Danna and Jose Palacios, who designed the new Los Angeles Police Department headquarters downtown. The site is just west of a colorful and much-published parking garage by the Santa Monica firm Moore Ruble Yudell.
A museum in that spot would face fewer constraints than one in Beverly Hills. It could slip rather comfortably into a neighborhood that is already walkable and relatively lively at street level. Its architect, theoretically, would have more freedom in shaping the building’s volume than would be the case in Beverly Hills. But the museum, given its location in the city’s administrative core, might over time begin to be seen as a Santa Monica civic building as much as an Eli Broad building.
How about that third, dark-horse site? Broad has declined so far to identify it publicly, and today a spokesman for his foundation denied that it was a rumored location at Wilshire Boulevard and Veteran Avenue. UCLA, meanwhile, also confirmed today it is not negotiating with Broad. Some speculate that the third spot is elsewhere in Westwood -- or in Culver City, which has worked to promote itself as a center for contemporary art and architecture in recent years. But the city's co-manager of the Cultural Affairs Division, Christine Byers, and Sol Blumenfeld, its director of Community Development, told The Times today it was not currently in talks with Broad.
And what, finally, about Broad’s possible choice of architect? So far, the chatter has mostly focused on Thom Mayne and the Santa Monica firm Morphosis, which is designing a science museum in Dallas and was picked to design a new home for the Orange County Museum of Art. I’ll have more thoughts on that subject in the days ahead; stay tuned.
-- Christopher Hawthorne
Photo of Eli Broad by Jamie Rector/Bloomberg