One of Eli Broad's goals in building his namesake contemporary art museum in downtown Los Angeles was to help make a stretch of Grand Avenue a premier destination. Judging by the opening day crowds, his strategy seems to have worked.
People left Rosemead, Los Feliz, Marina del Rey and other points north, south, east and west to line up in 90-plus degree heat to see Broad's blue-chip collection of Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, Barbara Kruger, Jasper Johns, Cindy Sherman, Ed Ruscha and other modern and contemporary artists.
They had signed up weeks in advance for their timed tickets for Sunday's opening day. Others joined impromptu.
Nathan Cole, a 19-year-old Rio Hondo College political science student, walked over from the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels with his mother in hopes of getting same-day admission. As luck would have it, they got in.
"We've been coming to church here for 11 years, and we've seen downtown L.A. revitalize and build more culture," he said. "We couldn't wait."
The first two people in line Sunday morning were Bob Weitz, 62, and Dylan Tran, 48, both from Marina del Rey. The $140-million museum designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro has been more than seven years in the making; and Weitz and Tran, an architect and artist, respectively, had kept a close eye on its evolution.
"We've been following the museum for such a long time, watching the construction and the design, and we couldn't wait to see this amazing collection in person," Tran said.
At precisely 10 a.m., the first eight people in line were brought into the Broad's lobby, where museum founding director Joanne Heyler presented Weitz and Tran with an exhibition catalog, T-shirts and VIP tickets for future use. They said they had been waiting a little more than an hour.
"You've waited a long time in the heat in line, so we don't want you to have to wait next time," Heyler said.
Eli and Edythe Broad had planned to greet visitors as the doors opened. But spokeswoman Karen Denne said the Broads "had a pretty full week" with a series of dedications and galas over four days, so guests were welcomed instead by Heyler and museum deputy director Rich Cherry.
"Today was time for Joanne and her team to run the show and for the public to enjoy the museum," Denne said.
Not everyone was there to see the museum. Red-shirted members of United Teachers Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Unified School District's teachers union, arrived early to shout slogans and pass out leaflets opposing Eli Broad's support for charter schools.
"We just want to rain a little on his parade," said Mike Scharf, a UTLA member.
While Broad staffers handed out cold water and sunscreen to museum-goers waiting in line, the cavernous Broad lobby began to fill. They were largely silent at first, struck by the setting and magnitude of the moment. But then the crowd began to disperse, choosing either the "Star-Trek"-like elevator or the long dark escalator to the skylighted galleries on the third floor.
Roughly 3,000 visitors were expected Sunday. The free tickets are timed for every half-hour, and no more than about 400 people are admitted at one time. Despite the free admission, reservations are encouraged. As of Sunday, the number of advance reservations for the next few months had surpassed 125,000.
"The private parties have been great, but this is the real deal," Heyler said. "The Broads have been collecting for over 50 years, and this is an incredible high point. I almost don't have words."
The galleries felt comfortably populated Sunday, and the 250 works of contemporary art by about 60 artists were easy to view.
One crowd favorite was Takashi Murakami's 82-foot-long mural "In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow" in the first floor galleries.
"It attacks all your senses," said Todra Payne, 48, of Los Feliz. "We walked in and went 'whoa!' "
"So far it's my favorite. It's so colorful and lively, and it makes me happy," said Eric Saenz, who'd waited 45 minutes in the stand-by line.
Why did he brave opening day crowds? "I just wanted to be part of the excitement," Saenz said. "Opening day — how can you go wrong?"
Another attention-getter was Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson's nine-screen video installation "The Visitors."
"We were the only ones in there when we watched it," said Ralph Loynachan, a 59-year-old artist from Silver Lake who has work in Barnsdall Art Park's gallery. "That experience — it was just transforming. The whole museum — it's absolutely stupefying, it's glorious."
His wife, Jeri Loynachan, 55, was taken with the view into the Broad's storage vault.
"It's wonderful to be able to look into the bowels of storage," she said, peering through the window located on the stairwell landing.
Not everyone in attendance was a contemporary art fan.
"I prefer classic art," said Bryant Stone, who works in finance. "But my colleague had tickets, and I live downtown. It's a great addition to downtown L.A."
The Broad was designed with transparency in mind, including a view into the museum's administration offices. The latter drew a crowd at one point nearly on par with Koons' famous "Balloon Dog."
"It's a really interesting insight into Eli and Edythe Broad's thought process," said Richard Tom, 54, an attorney. "It gives a real intimate feel."
A few hours after their arrival, the first two visitors inside the Broad — Weitz and Tran — headed home.
"The light is fabulous," said Weitz, after taking one last look around the galleries. "It's quiet but strong. The collection is amazing. The juxtaposition to the [Walt Disney] concert hall is great. The city needed this."
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