October 13, 2005
Henry Y. Hwang Dies at 77; Founded Asian-American Bank
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Henry Y. Hwang, who founded the first Asian-American-owned federally chartered bank in the continental United States, died Saturday at his home in San Marino, Calif. He was 77.
The cause was colon cancer, his son, the playwright David Henry Hwang, said.
Mr. Hwang (pronounced wong) arrived in the United States at 21, speaking virtually no English. He later owned a laundry, became a certified public accountant and began one of the first accounting firms in Southern California owned by a Chinese immigrant.
In 1974, he opened the Far East National Bank with $1.5 million in capital and a single office in the Chinatown section of Los Angeles.
The bank was later publicly traded, and its assets exceeded $500 million in 1996, the year before it was bought by Bank Sino-Pac of Taiwan for about $90 million.
Mr. Hwang became an active investor in China. He was also a leading Republican Party supporter, and in 1984, President Reagan appointed him to the White House Advisory Committee on Trade Negotiations.
Henry Yuan Hwang was born in Shanghai on Nov. 28, 1927. At 21, he left Shanghai just as the Communists were preparing to take over the city and went to Oregon.
He had already earned a bachelor's degree in political science in China and earned another at Linfield College in Oregon.
He then studied accounting at the University of Southern California and operated a laundry business. In 1960, he opened his accounting firm. California Business magazine said that Mr. Hwang became adept at building and manipulating personal connections to gain ground in the Asian immigrant community. He gradually extended this activity to China itself.
"I don't like Communism," he told the magazine, "but I see a lot of business opportunities in China."
In 1999, some of these transactions with Chinese banks drew the attention of American regulators as possible sources of illegal campaign contributions or funds for Chinese espionage, among other possibilities. No charges were brought, and no regulatory actions were taken.
In 1989, Mr. Hwang was at the center of a major scandal in Los Angeles when it was disclosed that he had hired Tom Bradley, then the mayor, as a consultant. Mr. Bradley had also received a loan from the bank and appeared to have helped it secure $2 million in deposits of city funds.
Mr. Bradley resigned from the consultancy, returned his $18,000 in payments and was never charged with wrongdoing.
In 1976, Mr. Hwang told the police he had been abducted, made to drink a liquid that disoriented him and robbed of $300,000. The bizarre case was never solved.
In addition to his son, Mr. Hwang is survived by his wife of 50 years, the former Dorothy Huang; his daughters, Margery Anne Hwang of Rochester, and Grace Elizabeth Hwang of West Hollywood, Calif.; two brothers; two sisters; and four grandchildren.