Fred Hsieh, a real estate executive and developer who once advertised Monterey Park as “the Chinese Beverly Hills” and helped make it the only city in the United States with an Asian majority, has died. He was 54. Hsieh died Sunday in Las Vegas after suffering a stroke while vacationing.
Hsieh built his fortune and rebuilt a community on his uncanny mid-1970s vision of Monterey Park as the successor to Los Angeles’ crowded Chinatown. New homes would be essential, he foresaw, to absorb the growing numbers of Chinese leaving Taiwan and Hong Kong for economic opportunities in America.
Within a dozen years, Hsieh owned a music store, a movie theater, a restaurant, a Chinese-language weekly publication called Buy and Sell Classified, and several hundred apartment units. He also headed Mandarin Realty Co. and began spreading his interests back to Asia, where he built a resort hotel in his native Guilin, China. At his death, he had more than 270 employees.
“The Chinese people, they don’t know San Diego or Washington, D.C. But they know Los Angeles and they know New York and they know Monterey Park,” Hsieh said in a 1987 interview with The Times on immigration patterns.
By 1996, the San Gabriel Valley city, founded in 1916 as Ramona Acres, had changed from its Anglo and Latino population of the early 1970s into a community that was 65% Asian, primarily Chinese. Hsieh is considered largely responsible for the transformation.
Unlimited growth did not win easy acceptance among new Chinese residents who had left restricted island communities. Many of the new citizens protested Hsieh’s development projects. But he explained patiently, that “when a foot grows too large for its shoe, you don’t cut off the toes, you buy a larger shoe.”
Years after wooing affluent Chinese immigrants by advertising Monterey Park as “the Chinese Beverly Hills” in Hong Kong newspapers, Hsieh used the city’s telephone area code--818--as a marketing device. Some Chinese consider the number 8 fortuitous, bestowing prosperity and good luck.
Hsieh spent his youth in Shanghai, moved with his family to Hong Kong in 1956, and came to the United States in 1963, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering from Oregon State University.
In 1970, he went to work for the city of Los Angeles as a civil engineer, living in a $50-a-month apartment in Chinatown and walking to work. He saved his money, obtained a credit union loan and bought his first property--a four-unit apartment building in Echo Park. Then he set his sights on Monterey Park.
As his success increased, Hsieh also became a philanthropist and fund-raiser for Monterey Park organizations, particularly its Boys & Girls Club and Merci, an educational institute for the handicapped.
Hsieh in recent years attended the Harvard University Business Administration Executive Program.
Divorced, he is survived by a son, Eric Hsieh; a daughter, Sophie Hsieh; and one grandchild.
Funeral services will be Saturday at 3 p.m. in Skyrose Chapel of Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier.