Koreatown's 'Howard Hughes'

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A Van Nuys internist from South Korea, Dr. David Lee, began buying up office buildings on Wilshire Boulevard at distress prices after the 1992 riots left mid-Wilshire a white-collar ghost town. He now owns more than 30 Wilshire properties, including the tall Equitable Tower on the site of the original Brown Derby, and with 70 buildings in all has assembled what the L.A. Business Journal calls "one of the single-largest portfolios of real estate in Los Angeles County," worth more than $1 billion. Lee lives in Encino and golfs at the Lakeside Country Club, so he's not exactly reclusive. But he does shun attention enough that an editor at the Korea Times calls him "kind of a Howard Hughes of the Korean community." After putting off the LABJ for two years, Lee agreed to an interview for this week's issue and explains his strategy of keeping rents low to encourage tenants. "In real estate you’re better off if you just use common sense,” he says. His approach works: the Wilshire Center area is becoming hot again.


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