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Eli Broad, a top L.A. philanthropist and power broker, is retiring from his foundation

Billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad has been a driving force in the intellectual and cultural life of Los Angeles, pouring money into its universities, championing charter schools, and helping to reshape its downtown.

Now he is stepping back from day-to-day operations at the foundation that bears his name.

Broad announced Thursday that he is retiring immediately. In a statement, Broad said that although he was in great health, “at age 84, I have decided the time has come for me to step back.”

“I think he just wants to spend less time in the office,” said Swati Pandey, spokeswoman for the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. “He works more than a lot of people half his age.”

Broad, whose retirement was first reported by the New York Times, will remain a foundation trustee and is still on the board of the downtown art museum that bears his name. But the move marks a step back from a charitable organization that has, in many ways, become a brand name in L.A.

He and his wife, Edythe, have put more than $4.1 billion into an array of philanthropic activities, focusing on scientific research, education programs, the arts and other initiatives.

Eli Broad, who grew up in Detroit, moved to Los Angeles more than half a century ago and founded KB Home and SunAmerica. His success as a businessman became a springboard to philanthropy and politics.

His foundation has provided crucial funding for stem cell research centers at UCLA, UC San Francisco and the University of Southern California. Broad also sought to influence decisions at the Los Angeles Unified School District and has been a formidable spender in school board elections, often at odds with the local teachers union.

And his charity has been a crucial player in remaking downtown Los Angeles: In the mid-1990s, Broad worked with former Mayor Richard Riordan to raise funds for the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall, providing $15 million from the foundation. The foundation generated an additional $2 million for the Thom Mayne-designed Caltrans District 7 headquarters, located in the Civic Center.

Two years ago, Eli and Edythe Broad opened the Broad museum, which is filled with contemporary artwork from their collection, on Grand Avenue.

Broad also has played a pivotal role in the effort to bring a $1-billion Frank Gehry-designed residential and hotel complex to a site across the street from Walt Disney Concert Hall, which stands next to the Broad museum. Construction is expected to start next year.

“His imagination, tenacity and generosity have helped shape our city, from the arts to education to architecture,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement. “Eli is only retiring, which means we'll have him in our midst for many years to come. I'll be calling on him often."

When the Broad museum opened, members of the teachers union picketed outside, criticizing Broad over his support for charter schools, which are publicly financed and exempt from rules that govern traditional campuses.

Broad bankrolled an industry that “only serves some kids and that financially undermines our neighborhood schools,” United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl said Thursday.

In reaction to the union protests in front of the museum, a Broad spokeswoman said at the time, “Our only interest is in supporting the growth of high-quality public schools.”

Caltech biology professor David Baltimore, a foundation board member, said that education had proven more frustrating than other areas the foundation has been involved in, such as biomedical research. Nonetheless, “the impact he’s had has been enormous.... I think we're going to be reaping the harvest of his devotion to the city for years to come.”

Broad was not available for an interview Thursday.

Pandey said that before announcing his retirement, Broad had been slowly reducing his hours at the foundation office. Last year, longtime foundation employee Gerun Riley was named as its president; Riley will now take over day-to-day operations from Broad.

Even with Broad stepping back, Baltimore predicted that for many years the foundation “will have Eli’s stamp on everything it does.”


UPDATES:

8:35 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with additional quotes and background information.

This article was originally published at 4:25 p.m.

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