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Hotel to Be Fit for a Regent : Beverly Wilshire Work to Assure Its Posh Future

August 09, 1987|RUTH RYON | Times Staff Writer

The front of the posh Beverly Wilshire Hotel looks like business as usual except for a window display artfully showing a white ladder, tools and hard hat against a black drape.

Even from that, nobody would guess that the nine-story wing facing Wilshire Boulevard, which appeared in "Beverly Hills Cop" and was the first part of the landmark to be built in 1928, has been practically gutted.

That's the way Joseph R. Shelton likes it. He even saw to it that after construction began in April, a dump truck was shrouded with tarpaulins just to hold down the dust.

Al Peterson, a construction worker with broom in hand, reflected Shelton's philosophy, saying, "We're death on dust."

Keeping the Image

Shelton means to keep the luxurious image of the hotel, owned by Hong Kong-based Regent International, intact even during the $40-million renovation over which he--as director of special projects--is in charge.

And when Shelton means to do something, he does it. His faint Texas accent and tan, from jogging, make him seem more like a gentleman rancher than a construction overseer, but he is a former Army colonel who even retired once from the hotel business.

He was called back to do a special project for Regent International in Melbourne, Australia, and another project in Singapore until, as Robert Burns, president of the hotel company, said by phone, "Joe hasn't had a chance to retire again."

Burns started Regent International in 1970, and now the firm operates nearly a dozen hotels--only two, besides the Beverly Wilshire, in the continental United States. They are the Mayfair Regent in Chicago and Mayfair Regent in New York.

"I don't see many more in the U. S.," he said, "but we look forward to more internationally--probably 23 to 28 altogether under my direction." He said the company is building hotels in Tokyo, Seoul, South Korea; Istanbul, Turkey; Taipei, Taiwan, and Jakarta, Indonesia.

Among the Regent-operated ones already are some of the finest hotels in the world, although the firm's focus is on Asia. "We just like Asia," Burns said. And he first became interested in starting a hotel company after teaching a 10-week hotel management seminar to Asian students in Honolulu.

Shelton describes Regent International as "a Hong Kong company owned by an American."

In Hawaii, he met the 56-year-old Burns, a native of New York who has now lived in Hong Kong for 17 years. As Burns recalled it, "Joe and I opened the Kahala Hilton in 1963."

Burns was teaching a course in travel industry management when Shelton retired from the Army and took the class. Burns became the Kahala Hilton's manager and hired Shelton.

'Worked a Double Shift'

"He worked a double shift," Burns remembered, "and soon rose to No. 2 under me. Later, Hilton made him a general manager of a hotel in Nepal. Then, he took over the Hilton in Bangkok (Thailand)."

Working for Burns again, as Regent International started expanding from a small Hawaiian beach hotel that has since been sold, seemed a natural for Shelton, who is quick to extol the virtues of his mentor. "He's an immaculate dresser, about 6-foot-2, and looks like a movie star," Shelton said of Burns. "He's a spellbinder."

Shelton also calls Burns "a stickler for detail." "We get into months of discussions about how to build a bathroom, and we went through 30 different bathrobes (that are provided for guests) before we settled on this one."

Baths are Burns' thing, so to speak. The so-called "Regent bath" typically has a stall shower and separate soaking tub. Burns said, "I just feel that nobody should sit in a tub where somebody stood."

The Regent bath also has special shower heads and steam injectors. "It's important for travelers, especially businesspeople who come to Hong Kong to have a luxurious bath," he said. "They design clothing or toys here, and they're here a long time."

Shelton said: "Our hotel (the Regent) in Hong Kong is one of the 10 best in the world, and this one (the Beverly Wilshire) will be right up there. It's going to be a honey when we finish it." He expects the Wilshire wing to be completed by next April and the rest of the work--remodeling the second, 12-story wing and reconstructing the driveway--finished by mid-1989.

Whether peering out at a floor from the construction elevator or leading a group through the open spaces that were once elegant rooms, Shelton has vision.

"You won't have to go to Hong Kong for afternoon tea. We'll have it right here," he said. "And every guest room will have a two-line desk phone, a phone by the bed and another phone in the bathroom.

"By each guest room door, there will be three buttons: one for a doorbell, one for service and one for privacy, instead of hanging a sign saying, 'Do not disturb.'

"We'll have stewards on each floor with pagers, so it will only be seconds before they can come to your room."

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