Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Howard Hughes gave Vancouver's Bayshore its claim to fame

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VANCOUVER -- It's been more than 30 years since the world's most famous fugitive billionaire moved into the penthouse of one of this city's landmark hotels.

Yet, on its Web site, the Westin Bayshore Resort and Marina notes that it attracts "the most discerning guests, including the late Howard Hughes."

Hughes, presumably, was not yet "late" when he arrived at the Bayshore on March 14, 1972. He was on the run from U.S. tax authorities, and had not been seen in public for many years.

"Nobody knew he was coming," says Stan Yip, then a night bellman at the hotel and now the chief concierge at the seaside property near Stanley Park.

"We were told he had called from his plane and wanted the top four floors. The manager told him we were full. Hughes said: 'If I don't get the rooms, I'm buying the hotel."'

Such threats had precedent. When the Desert Inn tried to evict him, Hughes bought the Las Vegas landmark.

When he and his entourage arrived in Vancouver, their rooms were ready.

"Nobody saw him come in," says Yip, the only Bayshore employee from that time still on staff. "He came up the housekeeping elevator. His people closed off all the elevators to the top four floors and put up security cameras to make sure no one could get near him."

Howard Robard Hughes Jr. was then 66 years old. He had built his legend as a young man -- first as a flyer in the golden age of aviation, then as a Hollywood producer and squire of starlets -- and a vast fortune over his lifetime.

By his mid-50s, Hughes totally retreated from the limelight, which only fed the public's curiosity. Without a man to see, the mystique took over, a caricature later enshrined in popular culture, in such weird characters as Willard Whyte in the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever and a twisted depiction of Montgomery Burns in an episode of The Simpsons.

So, when Hughes fled the United States -- to London, the Bahamas, Panama, Vancouver -- every move he made was big news.

"There were photographers camped on the roof across the street for months," says Yip. "One photographer even tried to sail past his window with a hang-glider."

None got a glimpse of Hughes. He apparently lived alone in the three-room penthouse: rooms 2089-2091.

"The only people who could go in there were his personal maid, his chef and his security," says Yip. "All his people lived on the three floors below him."

Hughes stayed six months before checking out much as he checked in. "Nobody knew when he was leaving, either," says Yip.

Hughes went on to Mexico, and took over the penthouse of the Acapulco Princess, his last residence. He died en route from Acapulco to his native Houston on April 5, 1976.

But his magnetic aura still draws people to such places as the Bayshore. The Hughes Suite -- the three rooms he lived in, though obviously updated in 21st-century elegance -- is much in demand, even priced at up to $2,500 a night.

"It's the best suite we have," says Yip.

-- Canadian Press

See www.westinbayshore.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 21, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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