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Famous for Two Elegant Beverly Hills Hostelries : Innkeeper Hernando Courtright Dies

February 25, 1986|TED THACKREY JR. | Times Staff Writer

"I had acquired, through years of travel and residence in hotels, some definite personal views on service, food and general conduct in the operation of inns, taverns and bars," he said, "and for nine years, as the bank's agent-in-residence, I applied them to the Beverly Hills Hotel."

The results were little short of spectacular. Weaned from the "lavender and old lace" image it had formerly worn, the old hostelry bloomed and grew. In 1943, Courtright put together a syndicate that bought the place--and he resigned from the bank.

"I had found my calling," he said.

For the next few years, Courtright devoted himself to making the Beverly Hills Hotel a world-famous inn. He succeeded handsomely; it became the "in" place to stay, its Polo Lounge a mecca for film deal-makers, its manager a sought-after adviser to hotel management firms the world over.

To New Assignment

And then the hotel was sold.

Courtright agreed to stay on as manager for a time, but personal problems involving his family and the new owner interfered and in 1959 he departed--first to become an executive of Zeckendorf Hotels (the company was building a new hotel in Century City) and then, at a time when retirement seemed to beckon, to take on a new and gigantic project.

The old Beverly Wilshire was on what everyone agreed were surely its last legs. Antiquated, run-down, unable to compete with newer and fancier neighbors, it seemed a sure candidate for the wrecker's hammer.

"It was a challenge no true innkeeper could possibly resist," Courtright smiled. "Or--at any rate--it was one that I couldn't resist. Heaven knows there was enough to be done."

One of the major problems, he recalled, was traffic along Wilshire Boulevard. There was no place to get guests' cars to the undersized front entrance.

Answer in the Night

"But I came down one night with my brother-in-law from Mexico," Courtright said, "and we looked out back at the swimming pool and tennis courts and conceived the notion of literally turning the hotel around--making a private driveway back there where we could run three lanes of cars or more from a quiet side street.

"Then, too, I knew from my experience at the Beverly Hills Hotel that I needed a ballroom to hold commercial activities, so I began at once to plan a ballroom and additional guest rooms on the other side of the drive--covering the two with a porte-cochere across the way.

"Finally, there was the training--the re-training--of the staff.

"And then . . . well . . . it was just a matter of doing one's best. After all--I live at the hotels I operate. This is my home, and the people who stay here are guests under my roof in the literal as well as the figurative sense."

Good Business Deal

Sale of the hotel to Regency International Hotels of Hong Kong for $125 million last year was a good business move, friends said, but while Courtright asserted that he was pleased with the arrangement (he was to stay on as titular proprietor and resident consultant), it was a blow of major proportion.

"He put his personal stamp on everything," hotel spokeswoman Chaplin said. "This was his own . . . his achievement."

"I never thought of it as a business," Courtright told an interviewer in 1982. "For me it was always more than that. It's stuffy and fatuous, of course, to call running a hotel a labor of love. No one would believe it, anyway.

"But it's true."

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