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THIS DAY IN VANCOUVER: March 14th

March 14, 2014 | by  |  This Day In Vancouver

1972:

The Bayshore Inn in Coal Harbour receives an extreme and last-minute request when the top four floors are unexpectedly rented by an eccentric out-of-town guest: Howard Hughes.

“Nobody knew he was coming,” bellman Stan Yip will explain in an interview conducted years later with the Winnipeg Free Press. “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.’”

Unusually, the reclusive 66-year-old aviator, filmmaker, and billionaire chooses to walk into the hotel’s side lobby himself, freshly barbered (Hughes rarely has his hair cut), wearing a bathrobe, pyjamas, and sandals, and remarking “Hey, this is pretty nice,” before disappearing up the elevator and commandeering the top two floors of the building for himself and his aides. Hughes’s arrival will go unnoticed by the city’s media for several days because of his requests for privacy and because he hasn’t been seen in public in close to 15 years. In fact, by the time a spokesman confirms his arrival, the Sun and Province will already be speculating that he has departed again. Photographers will be unable to confirm his identity, and rumours will abound that he is sneaking out to watch Canucks games, or tour Stanley Park at night.

In reality, Hughes—who suffers from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder and an addiction to prescription painkillers—will never leave the penthouse suite. Hughes, who takes up a new place of residence every six months to avoid paying taxes, will remain at the Bayshore until September, continuing a lengthy tradition of bizarre behaviour. (He reportedly has his hair and nails cut only once a year, refuses to bathe or wear clothes, and, because of his obsession with germs, will only accept items wrapped in Kleenex.) This tradition will go on unabated until his death in 1976.

“I remember how his staff had instructed our head chef to cut his food into small exact squares,” Yip will explain in a 2004 interview with the Vancouver Courier. “All of the security were Hughes men. They operated completely separate from the hotel. I don’t know of anybody in the hotel who ever saw him, but the publicity never died down the whole time he was here.”

Photographers will camp outside the hotel for weeks, hoping for a snapshot of the reclusive billionaire, with one even attempting to fly past his penthouse in a hang-glider. However, as the Province notes, guests displaced by Hughes’s sudden appearance are less taken with his arrival.

“You could say I am bugged,” says Dunlop Tire sales manager Wayne Smith (in town for the Western Tire Dealers Conference). “We made a deal here for accommodation and I don’t know why we should get turned out with 15 minutes’ notice, Howard Hughes
or not.”

IMAGE: The front page of the Vancouver Sun, March 15th, 1972.

Jesse Donaldson is a journalist and historian whose work has appeared in VICE, The Tyee, subTerrain, and SadMag. If you think THIS is neat, an expanded "This Day In Vancouver", is now available in book form, in bookstores everywhere, and online at Anvil Press.

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