When buildings stood vacant for years not including the transients and drug dealers real estate brokers Chris Bonbright and John Tronson stayed loyal to Hollywood. Now Hollywood is turning around, and their bet that it would someday be a desirable community is finally paying off.
Based in Hollywood since its founding in 1953, Ramsey-Shilling Commercial Real Estate Services Inc., which Bonbright took over in 1990, has a stronghold in the burgeoning market.
"Nobody in the city has more knowledge of Hollywood of the transactions that have happened and the development proposed than those two guys," said client and developer Tom Spear, president of Property Management Associates.
Ramsey-Shilling has handled many of the transactions that are responsible for Hollywood's recent facelift including the 100 percent lease-up of 6725 Sunset Blvd., a partnership of Spear's. It went from 75,000 square feet of Class-C office space to a facility with 15 entertainment tenants, plus the relocated Catalina Bar & Grill.
During the lean years, Bonbright said, it took a lot more wining and dining to get people to sign a lease or buy a building. Back then, land that now sells for $200 a square foot was going for $10 or $15 a foot, and lease rates for industrial and office space were 50 cents to 60 cents. Now they're around $2. "It was hard to get people to believe in the future of the community," he said.
A native of Marin County, Bonbright earned a bachelor's degree in economics from Stanford University in 1982. He worked in real estate for three years in Honolulu before returning to the mainland to work for Grubb & Ellis Co. and later acquiring Ramsey-Shilling.
Tronson was born in Los Angeles and had been working as a doorman at the Beverly Hills Hotel when he decided to go into real estate. He cold-called all around town and was referred to Bonbright, who thought his upbeat attitude made him a natural. He joined Ramsey-Shilling in 1993.
Hollywood, meanwhile, was in such disarray that pricing for the area was all over the map. Bonbright and Tronson found investors to start buying properties, which gave existing owners a way to sell. Their activity also provided the sales and lease-rate comparisons that were needed to make the Hollywood market become more liquid.
Tronson sold the 1915-era Hillview Apartments for $3.8 million to investor-developer Jeffrey Rouze and partners, who are restoring the 60-unit building. Located between Highland Avenue and Cahuenga Boulevard, the building once was a Hollywood Boulevard flophouse. It is slated to include an upscale lounge and Portuguese bakery.
In 2003, Ramsey-Shilling sold a historic building at 1313 Vine St. for $11 million to the Accord Group, which nine months later sold it to the American Musical & Dramatic Academy for $21 million. And it secured a Westside investor to purchase the historic Frederick's of Hollywood building on Hollywood Boulevard for $3.4 million.
Despite the progress, plenty of rundown buildings remain. But Bonbright said Hollywood's ties to the entertainment industry and its many architectural gems give the community a flavor that can't be duplicated. It was just a matter of property owners, residents and government working together to make it happen. "Hollywood was inevitable," he said. "Everything you could ever hope for in quality and value is here."
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