Stewart and Lynda Resnick own a bushel of businesses including Fiji bottled water, POM Wonderful pomegranate juice and Teleflora flower delivery. Now they have a building named after them at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
The Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion opens to the public Oct. 2. The white travertine and red steel structure by Italian architect Renzo Piano is billed as the largest naturally lit, open-plan museum space in the world. It cost $53 million to build, 85 percent of that donated by its namesake entrepreneurs.
“I’m so excited,” said Lynda Resnick, who with her husband is the largest owner of fruit orchards in California. “An acre of art!”
That the 45,000-square-foot (4,200-square-meter) pavilion could get built in this economic climate is a testament to the business acumen of the Resnicks and the fundraising skills of the museum’s director, Michael Govan, 47. Like many nonprofits, the County Museum has suffered in recent years, with its investment portfolio dropping 35 percent in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2009, and its donations falling to $29 million from $129 million in the same period.
It was a different economy when Govan, previously director of New York’s Dia Art Foundation, moved to Los Angeles in 2006. He doubled the size of the museum’s expansion campaign to $450 million and increased the board by one-third to 49 members, bringing in representatives of Los Angeles’s entertainment community including producer Brian Grazer and former Warner Bros. co-chief Terry Semel.
The Resnicks, board members since 1992, doubled their pledge, shifting it from a new museum entrance to a building.
“I position it as an opportunity,” Govan said of his fundraising technique. “I’ve never met a donor who wasn’t happier after giving more.”
There were anxious moments for the director after the world’s financial markets collapsed in late 2008. Govan said he called Lynda Resnick then and asked if she and Stewart were still committed to the project.
“Now more than ever,” Govan recalled her saying.
Stewart Resnick began to build the family fortune by founding a company that provided janitorial services to office buildings and then selling it to ITT Corp., according to “Rubies in the Orchard,” a business book that Lynda Resnick wrote. The pair, who married in 1972, bought Teleflora in 1979 and began investing in citrus and nut farms soon afterward, according to Rob Six, a spokesman for their Los Angeles-based holding company, Roll International Corp.
The Resnicks founded the POM Wonderful brand to promote pomegranates grown in their orchards. The Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against Resnicks on Sept. 27, saying they made unsubstantiated health claims about their products.
“POM Wonderful fundamentally disagrees with the FTC and believes that the commission’s allegations against POM are completely unwarranted,” the company said in a statement. POM Wonderful said it filed a lawsuit to contest the FTC claims.
At a preview of the museum building last week, Lynda Resnick drew laughs from the crowd.
“The ethereal light is almost heavenly,” she said of the pavilion’s interior. “I look like my own granddaughter.”
The building gets most of its illumination from Southern California sunshine diffused by its louvered ceiling.
“Museums need to get refreshed,” Govan said. “We were operating with a model that’s 100 years old.”
The Resnick Pavilion has no fixed interior walls, so it can accommodate exhibitions of varying sizes. It opens with three shows, of Olmec Mexican stone carvings, European dress from 1700 to 1915 and the Resnicks’ own collection of Old Master paintings including works by Rubens, Boucher and Ingres.
Lynda Resnick said in an interview that she and Stewart made their donation because they believed in Govan’s vision, which calls for a renovation of a 300,000-square-foot former May Co. department store that’s now part of its Wilshire Boulevard campus and the installation of a Jeff Koons sculpture featuring a locomotive hanging 161 feet in the air that will toot its horn and blow smoke at regular intervals.
“We are literally hanging the industrial era” is how Govan has described it.
Resnick said she resisted her urge to get involved in every detail of the pavilion’s construction.
“I didn’t micro-manage, which is unusual for me,” she said. Instead, she left the job to Govan. “He’s a person you want to invest in, because you know he will get it done.”