Rick Caruso says he builds for the next 100 years. The Westside Los Angeles-based real estate developer and billionaire is the force behind the Grove, the Americana at Brand, the Commons at Calabasas, Palisades Village and the recently opened Rosewood Miramar Beach resort in Montecito. He is being honored by Variety with the Power of Los Angeles award.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, a USC grad and chairman of the university’s board of trustees, and a graduate of Pepperdine University’s law school, Caruso was drawn to real-estate endeavors from an early age.
“I always dreamed of owning real estate and was intrigued by different forms of architecture,” he says.
He began as a toy model builder; these days, his projects are on a much grander scale, as founder and CEO of privately held Caruso, with 12 major retail and commercial residential developments completed, and a 13th
His company takes an unconventional approach to development.
“We’re in the business of enriching lives and entertaining people like great movies and shows do. I learned so much from watching the movie industry about how sets are designed, how ideas are created and how they are implemented,” Caruso says.
He’s cites Walt Disney as an influence, an entrepreneur who effectively combined artistry and commerce when re-creating built environments. Caruso’s outdoor retail complexes are themed to match real cityscapes utilizing vernacular architecture: the Cape Cod beach house look of Palisades Village came directly from the East Coast’s summer enclaves. Theatrical elements, the dancing fountains at the Americana and the Grove, and scenic lighting further enhance the overall design.
Nostalgia is by intent. Caruso is inspired and intrigued by the classic old Hollywood studio lots and their facade-lined backlots.
“I’ve always been taken by the symbolism of their gates: you go through the Paramount gates for instance, and crossing that threshold allows you to go into a different world where dreams can come true and big ideas can become reality,” he says.
Early on, he worked with production and set designers to realize his vision for his outdoor retail centers; period and architectural details are signature embellishments of his projects.
Caruso went through more than 100 community meetings before undertaking Palisades Village, a collection of 40 boutiques and eateries in the center of pricey Pacific Palisades.
“The design of that project was very much influenced by residents: they view themselves as a coastal community,” he says.
The look of recalls a Cape Cold or Nantucket beach town, one with extras like underground parking, concierge services and a state-of-the art dine-and-drink-in multiplex theater.
He describes it as “an exceptional success. It’s beyond all our expectations on sales per square-foot.”
Next up is 333 La Cienega, a 145-unit upscale apartment building on the former Loehmann’s site with 14 moderate-income qualifying units. Similar to 8500 Burton Ave. — across the intersection of Burton Way and La Cienega Boulevard — on-site services for residents will match those of a high-end hotel.
In a first for the developer, Caruso opened the 124-room and 37-suite ocean view Rosewood Miramar Beach in mid-February. He explains the transition to full-on hospitality was a natural evolution, as hospitality is at the core of his business practices.
The venture took 12 years to complete from local approvals through construction. The location is enviable: directly on the sand in Montecito. Community members’ input influenced the layout, in part
as the property centers on the Manor House, a luxuriously appointed beach house with dining and social spaces.
Caruso does not regret the lengthy approval process. “I want to be in areas where the entitlements
are complicated: it limits the competition and provides a barrier to entry,” he says. “One of the ways you create value is through scarcity.”
Although Caruso is continually hands-on and involved in the nuts-and-bolts of his hundreds million-dollar developments, he carves out time for his Caruso Family Foundation philanthropic endeavors and volunteer work.
His strong family and personal ties to USC led to his position as chairman of the university’s board of trustees, now in the midst of a search for a new president and unraveling misconduct and administrative failures at the student health center.
“I like leaning in and helping out,” he says.
His family foundation’s charitable funds support childhood and secondary education (Para Los Ninos and Operation Progress L.A.) and healthcare access for underserved children, among its numerous outreach efforts.
He says sincerely, “We always look to do more: it’s very rewarding to us.”