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Gift from Brody Estate Expected to Yield More than $100 Million for the Huntington
Brody and her husband amassed a world-class art collection that included important works by Picasso, Matisse, Giacometti, Renoir, Calder, Braque, Vuillard, and others.
SAN MARINO, CA.- A gift from the estate of Frances Lasker Brody to The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is expected to yield in excess of $100 million, the largest single cash gift to the institution and one that will go a great distance toward providing much-needed financial stability, says Huntington President Steven S. Koblik. The equivalent of a 40 percent increase of the institution’s endowment, Brody’s gift also will require intense fiscal discipline to ensure it has the long-term impact the donor intended, he says.

Brody, who died in November 2009 at the age of 93, served as a member of The Huntington’s Board of Overseers for 20 years. The Huntington received $15 million from her estate in October and another $80 million last week. Brody’s house, a landmark mid-century modern structure by A. Quincy Jones, is on the market for more than $24 million; income from that sale will also be distributed to The Huntington.

“We are overwhelmed by Francie’s generosity and her vision,” says Koblik. “She was an extraordinary woman with a fierce intellect who thought strategically and was completely tuned in to The Huntington’s challenges, its culture, and its capacity. Her gift thoroughly reflects those deep insights. This is a remarkable moment for the institution, and a great challenge.”

The funds will focus on The Huntington’s botanical gardens, following Brody’s wishes. That will free up operating funds for other institutional programs and infrastructure—providing “budget relief,” said Koblik. “Our primary responsibility is to make certain the funds will have maximum impact, focusing on the donor’s intent and institutional need over time. By leveraging these funds and investing them as though they were an endowment we will make the gift work for the whole of the institution, supporting our strategic priorities.”

First and foremost is attending to staff compensation, Koblik said. Shortly after Koblik assumed his position in 2001, Huntington leadership began a concerted campaign to bring compensation up to more competitive levels. Progress was being made until the recession hit; the Brody gift, Koblik said, will help get that effort back on track.

When Koblik came to The Huntington, the institution’s endowment totaled approximately $150 million; by 2010, with the help of a major fundraising campaign and investment gains, the endowment was valued at about $240 million. The Brody gift, if thought of as an endowment, represents another 40 percent increase. “And so we’ll invest it, and make it stretch into perpetuity, providing a measure of stability The Huntington has never had,” Koblik said.

By pointing her gift in a particular direction, Brody was actually being quite strategic, says James Folsom, the Telleen/Jorgensen Director of the Botanical Gardens. “Mrs. Brody appreciated the challenges of managing gardens. She understood how much of that work goes on behind the scenes and was pragmatic in knowing that funds for the basic care of the gardens are paramount.” Some of the funding will support improvements in The Huntington’s water infrastructure. Pipes and sprinkler systems at The Huntington date back to Henry Huntington’s day, between 1903 and 1925. Given the region’s increasing need to manage water resources, The Huntington has been working feverishly to overhaul its water system and better manage water use.

“At present, many parts of the property are still irrigated by hand, with hoses and manually positioned sprinklers,” said Folsom. “This is a botanical garden with diverse and rare collections, but we also want to model the best practices and are committed to the most efficient use of water possible.”

Brody was keenly interested in vegetable gardening and had an impressive potager at her home, says Folsom, and consequently was also interested in improving and expanding aspects of the gardens related to food production. Some of the funds will be used to develop a Huntington potager—a kitchen garden—that will more fully connect The Huntington’s herb garden to the newly launched “Ranch” project, with a focus on urban agriculture and sustainability. “Mr. Huntington himself was interested in food production—this was a working ranch first,” says Folsom. “It all ties together quite nicely.”

Separately, The Huntington continues to raise funds for new botanical projects—the Chinese Garden’s second phase, the Japanese Garden’s renovation, and an update to the Desert Garden. “And that gives people energized by these particular projects an opportunity to play an important role,” says Folsom. “The Brody gift essentially stabilizes our foundation. These new projects add value—providing for even greater accessibility, outreach, and relevance.”

“We will continue to be extremely prudent as we go forward,” said Koblik. “The Brody gift will be invested and used judiciously, so that we maximize every dollar. Francie would want us to think creatively and boldly yet remain conscious of our responsibility to keep The Huntington moving forward.”

In the late 1990s Brody championed the Gardens Initiative, a fundraising campaign that led to the creation of The Huntington’s Botanical Center. The Brody Teaching Laboratory there honors her contribution. But, before her death, perhaps her most strategic contribution to The Huntington was the crucial role she played in the early development of the Chinese Garden.

“The Garden of Flowing Fragrance would not exist without her,” said Koblik. Brody introduced her friend, Los Angeles philanthropist Peter Paanakker, to The Huntington and encouraged his interest in funding a Chinese garden. The result was Paanakker’s $10 million bequest in 1999, the lead gift that helped make the garden a reality.

Brody’s influence as a cultural leader was felt throughout Los Angeles. With her late husband, Sidney, she played a pivotal role in the founding of LACMA in 1965, and, as a president of the UCLA Art Council, she was instrumental in the creation of the UCLA sculpture garden as well as organizing important exhibitions of the work of Picasso and Matisse.

Brody and her husband amassed a world-class art collection that included important works by Picasso, Matisse, Giacometti, Renoir, Calder, Braque, Vuillard, and others. As she intended, the collection was auctioned in May, with Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves, and a Bust selling for a record $106.5 million.

The Huntington Library | Steven S. Koblik | Frances Lasker Brody |


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