Eli Broad is nothing if not shrewd about money, and the fact that he’s selling his house on “Billionaire’s Beach” in Malibu bears examining. Does he know something we don’t know? All I can say is probably. Priced at $75 million and listed with Branden Williams and Rayni Williams of The Williams Estates at Hilton & Hyland, Broad’s 5,374 foot, two-story house was designed by Richard Meier in 2002, when the architect’s cultural capital was at its zenith. With interiors by Meier’s companion, Rose Tarlow, it has five bedrooms, seven full baths, a four-car garage, a detached guesthouse, and ocean views from every room. The owner of the house also has control of 105 feet of beach; that means they have the right to yell “get off my property!” at hapless tourists who stroll too far above the high tide line.
Malibu has twenty-one miles of shoreline; Billionaires Beach (it’s called Carbon Beach on maps) occupies just one of them. Larry Ellison owns at least ten properties along that mile, as do Dodgers owner Mark Walter, who bought his East Coast-style compound a few years ago from David Geffen for $85 million, and oil and gas tycoon Michael S. Smith, who picked up his Meier-designed beach house in 2018 from hotelier Peter Morton for a mind-numbing $110 million. What is it about this stretch of beach that’s so irresistible? First and foremost: several other billionaires live there. Second is the fact that unlike many houses in Malibu Colony, the homes along Carbon Beach are built directly on the sand and have no seawall intruding on ocean views. Apparently, it’s the little things that count when you have billions.
Meier is best known for his design of the Getty Center in L.A., and the dominant influence in all of his output is the early work by Le Corbusier. Meier’s buildings are invariably blazingly white, aggressively postmodern, and feature lots of glass. This can occasionally veer into antiseptic territory—the Getty is vaguely evocative of a medical plaza—but it’s neat and tidy, and Meier’s stark sensibility is well suited to a house on the beach. Alas, it’s hard to brag about owning a Meier building at this point. In October of 2018, he was forced to step down from his company, Richard Meier & Partners, following accusations of sexual harassment. Perhaps Broad is selling the house in a show of solidarity with the womenfolk. Then again, maybe he just can’t take the traffic on Pacific Coast Highway anymore.
Broad has a long history with fancy architects and has butted heads with some of the best. In the early 90s, he hired Frank Gehry to design a house on a sloping plot in Brentwood; Gehry found Broad too controlling and left the project, which was completed by the firm of Langdon Wilson. It was Renzo Piano’s turn in 2003 when he signed on to design the Broad Contemporary, a building conceived to house the Broad collection of post-war and contemporary art on the LACMA campus. Broad and Piano butted heads over the execution of the building’s roof, and when the BCAM opened in 2008 Broad reneged on his promise to give his art to LACMA and decided to build his own, eponymous museum. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Broad’s The Broad opened in September of 2015.
But even his detractors have got to give Broad credit for how far he’s come in life. Born in New York, in 1933, the only child of Jewish Lithuanian immigrants, Broad grew up in Detroit, where he worked as a drill press operator at the Packard plant, and was a member of the UAW during Jimmy Hoffa’s glory days. Married at 21, he went into business with the husband of his wife’s cousin, Donald Kaufman, who had a small homebuilding business. In 1956, they began building modestly priced homes, and within two years they’d sold 600 of them. The suburbs had just been invented and Broad helped.
Broad has an instinct for untapped potential in distressed companies and after moving to L.A. in 1963, he acquired the insurance company SunAmerica in 1971. Two years later he began collecting art under the mentorship of Taft Schreiber. (Now there’s a fascinating character. Google him for sure!) In 1998 Broad sold SunAmerica for $17.8 billion, and the following year he became a full-time philanthropist. Imperious though he may be, he’s given significant financial support in the fields of sports, medicine, education, politics, and the arts, and has no competition on the philanthropy front in Los Angeles, which is notorious for its lack of civic-minded millionaires.
In 2010, Broad was one of the first people to sign the Giving Pledge, an initiative launched by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet encouraging the extremely wealthy to donate the bulk of their fortunes to philanthropic causes. Broad, who has a net worth of $6.8 billion, has already given away nearly $2 billion, and eight months ago he wrote an Op-ed for the New York Times advocating a wealth tax. It’s all about legacy for Broad, who turns 87 in June, and has two sons who’ve never shown any interest in his quest for total domination of Los Angeles—they live elsewhere and have their own pursuits. This suggests that the proceeds from the sale of Broad’s beach house may end up helping to underwrite a struggling dance company somewhere down the line.