Gaw Capital: L.A. Stories of New Beginnings

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Gaw Capital: L.A. Stories of New Beginnings

February 29, 2024

The plot reads like a storybook Hollywood script: an ambitious entrepreneur enters the scene of a rundown neighborhood, unearths an unpolished gem hidden in plain sight, and devises a grand plan to restore it to its former glory.

The challenge: he’s young, unproven, and he needs financing to turn his vision into reality. In the end he finds that financial partner, his gamble pays off, the neighborhood thrives, and he then launches a sequel, and then another.

Meet Goodwin Gaw, Chairman, Managing Principal, and co-founder of Gaw Capital Partners, and welcome to Hollywood—the new Hollywood.

Gaw’s Hollywood premiere began in 1995 when the then-aspiring real estate developer decided to take a risk on restoring the rundown Roosevelt Hotel in the heart of Hollywood. Built in 1927 and home to the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929 (and where Marilyn Monroe lived for two years), the Roosevelt was destined to fade into obscurity—a relic of a bygone era.

Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

Gaw saw the hotel’s potential to spur much needed revitalization of Hollywood Boulevard and secured financing from East West Bank.

Today, the 330-room Roosevelt is a go-to Hollywood hot-spot and entertainment industry creative nerve center, where A-list celebrities, storytellers, tourists and Angelenos flock to see and be seen at the bars and collaborate beside the pool painted by David Hockney.

Standing on the balcony at the newly restored Bradbury Building in downtown L.A.—another 19th-century architectural landmark Gaw helped restore—Gaw reflected on his beginnings.

“My story is an L.A. story—a story of collaboration and acceptance,” Gaw says. “Los Angeles—and East West Bank embraced me when I decided to launch my real estate career here and undertake what everybody told me was a foolish idea—renovate the Roosevelt Hotel and revitalize the community around it.”

What makes Gaw’s revitalization vision unique is that he intentionally eschews the typical developer-style bulldozer approach in favor of an inclusive, community-focused one rooted in preservation and that specifically carves spaces that enable current residents and businesses to grow and thrive alongside—restoring and reviving their original core rather than replacing it—a conviction cemented by his assertion that these historical buildings “have souls.”

“As a developer you want to become part of the fabric of the neighborhood—the backbone of the community—that was there before and work together to make the community there now better, stronger, and more vibrant,” Gaw says. “Buildings like the Roosevelt have so many stories to tell; it’s like the building has a soul itself. Our mission is to continue to invest in building these communities to help them revive and recycle themselves to have a better tomorrow and feed something bigger that will come full circle."

Gaw’s feet are now firmly planted on both sides of the Pacific. He is chairman and managing principal of Gaw Capital which currently manages $33.6 billion in global property investments and is one of the biggest real estate private equity firms in Asia.


Hollywood & Highland Sequel

Gaw’s sequel to his Roosevelt Hotel Hollywood premiere was the restoration of the similarly neglected Hollywood & Highland corridor—a 463,000 square-foot shopping destination right next door to the Roosevelt—another area other investors dismissed as too dicey.

Gaw was able to parlay his success with the Roosevelt restoration to finance the purchase of the Hollywood & Highland shopping center—a property packed with dozens of shops that had either stagnated or laid empty over the past decade—for $325 million, the country’s largest single-address retail transaction outside of New York in years.

2009 Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland

2009 Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland
(Photo by Ethan Miller via Getty Images)

“Renovating the Roosevelt got me very interested in historical buildings—their history, the patina of time they represent, the soul they possess, which is all the more important the more digital and virtual our lives become today,” Gaw said. “I’m always looking for more authenticity, and what’s more authentic than trying to revive some of these old souls that are crying out and saying, ‘Hey, give me a new lease on life.’”

The Hollywood & Highland restoration, which Gaw purchased in 2019 through his real estate private equity firm, Gaw Capital, includes upgrading the retail hub and communal areas to create a mix of commercial use and community gathering spaces.

“Ultimately, a community needs a nucleus. We all feel like we need to belong. We all feel we own a piece of this larger community, and we all want to help each other,” Gaw said. “It’s the people who are there in that community who make those neighborhoods a community. When you’re contributing to the community, you’re contributing to the success of society.

Striking that delicate balance between preserving the soul of the past with creating a foundation that will serve as a bridge to the future for the next generation of creators and entrepreneurs is not lost on Gaw.

That act of rebirth and revitalization is exemplified by the fact that today the Academy Awards ceremony is now held at the Dolby Center at the heart of Hollywood & Highland, next door to the Roosevelt Hotel where the first ceremony was held 95 years ago.

“Just like we did with the restoration of the Roosevelt Hotel we’re doing here with the revival of Hollywood & Highland,” Gaw said. “We’re showing people that these fallen icons can actually come out of the ashes and be reborn.”


The Trilogy

Gaw’s continuing transformation of the Los Angeles landscape also led his gaze east to downtown L.A., where the soul of the abandoned Bradbury Building called. A historic landmark that a century ago throbbed at the heart of the one-time “Wall Street of the West,” the Bradbury was a five-story 1893 office building whose skylight-topped, metal-staircase-lined atrium has been a magnet for film and TV location scouts for years.

The Bradbury Building’s iconic atrium

The Bradbury Building’s iconic atrium

Once again, the pull of history was a key factor in his purchasing decision.

"I try not to get emotional in real estate, but with this building, you get emotional about it," Gaw said.

From the Bradbury Building, Gaw kept his lens focused on downtown L.A. As fate would have it, Gaw’s formative relationship with East West Bank came full circle, when the bank was trying to dispose of a less-than-desirable property in the shadow of Dodger Stadium.

This time, though, it wasn’t exactly love at first sight. The property was little more than a stretch of empty, graffiti-covered buildings in an abandoned neighborhood along the concrete L.A. River.

Gaw bought it because he saw the neighborhood as a blank canvas he could fill to create an entirely new go-to destination.

“L.A. is like an onion; you have to peel the layers off to see the insider’s version,” Gaw said. “I thought what cooler destination could there be than if you pull off the I-110 freeway, drive through some blacked-out warehouses, and 30 seconds later you’re surrounded by neon lights in a cool entertainment district.”

When Gaw related his transformational vision to famed Momofuku founder David Chang, he received an enthusiastic response. 

“I told David, ‘This is L.A. This is the right match.’ And David said, ‘I get it. I’m in.’ That was that,” Gaw said. 

The result was Majordomo, Chang’s long-awaited West Coast debut, which critics have hailed as one of the best new restaurants in America, and now serves as an anchor of a bustling nightlife environment.

Gaw exemplifies the kind of customers who are drawn to East West Bank—entrepreneurs, innovators, creators, and outside-the-box thinkers who want customized solutions, local market expertise, quick decision-making, and specialty services to help them reach further.

Supporting Gaw’s vision for the Hollywood Roosevelt project created a new beginning for his business and helped build and strengthen the neighborhoods where our customers live and work.