News for the Hospitality Executive
Nobody Asked Me, But... No. 103
John Q. Hammons (1919-2013): Master Hotel Developer and Builder; On the Site of the Drake Hotel;
By Stanley Turkel, CMHS, ISHC
June 4, 2013
1. John Q. Hammons (1919-2013): Master Hotel Developer and Builder
Have you taken notice that the hotel legend called "John Q" passed away at age 94? He's been on a unique and singular track for 87 years and, if you didn't know who he was, you've missed one of the great hotelier/developers of our time. Of course, I'm referring to John Q. Hammons who developed 185 hotel properties in 40 states. But the statistics hide the essence of Mr. Hammons special development techniques. Hammons disdained the standard feasibility studies when assessing potential sites for hotel development. Instead, he relied on his own experience, knowledge and intuition.
Here are some reflections by John Q. Hammons on being an exceptional hotelier:
Then there is the Hammons School of Architecture at Drury University, the Hammons Fountains at the Ozarks Technical Community College and the John Q. Hammons Library at the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
Hammons began his development career by building housing for World War II veterans in Springfield. When the city planning commission refused to approve a high-end shopping center, Hammons traveled to California where he saw Del Webb's Highway Houses: a pioneering motor hotel concept that followed Route 66. When Hammons returned home, he contacted a Memphis, Tenn. builder named Kemmons Wilson who was undertaking a similar concept named Holiday Inns. Hammons formed a partnership with a plumbing contractor named Roy E. Winegardner and in 1958 became one of Holiday Inn's first franchisees. During their partnership, they developed 67 Holiday Inns, about 10% of the system. This development coincided with the creation of the Interstate Highway System when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956: a 13-year plan that would cost $25 billion, funded 90 percent by the federal government.
While Hammons and Winegardner were successful partners, they didn't always see eye to eye on strategies or locations. They agreed to maintain the partnership but to also go their separate ways. In 1970, they sold 23 hotels for $60 million to Holiday Inns in exchange for Holiday Inn stock that made them among the largest stockholders of the Holiday Inn Corporation.
Hammons described in his own words, two defining moments of his life:
Hammons did not believe in formal, third-party feasibility studies. When he started his development work, Hammons would go into towns to do his own type of feasibility study. That meant talking to bellman, taxi drivers, all the regular people. He relied on his own judgment and the opinions of his top executives. Of course, his balance sheet was so strong that he often did not need mortgage financing. For example, when Hammons built the five-star Chateau on the Lake in Branson, Missouri, "the banks thought I was over the edge and gone. Put a hotel like that in Branson territory? You're out of your mind. So when we finished we had $60 million in cash in it and I couldn't get a loan. So I went ahead and opened. Four months later, I got a loan for $35 million. Just like that." Hammons provided the following analogy: "Mackinac Island has The Grand. Colorado Springs has the Broadmoor. I knew that Branson lake country would become something."
Was Hammons right? Just consider the following:
Hammons inevitably built a better and bigger hotel than the community expected and than the franchise company required. He said, "I've always survived because I believe in quality. At that manager's conference where I told our people I intended to stay in the upscale, quality business, I told them I was going to put meeting space in our hotels. And that the meeting space will be big, like 10, 15 or even 40,000 square feet, because that's our insurance policy. I knew that the trends for big conventions like in Chicago, New York, Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles, Seattle, etc., were going to be a thing of the past because you can't afford to get there. I knew. I could see that coming. That's why I wanted to go into a region where I could be in the dominant position. ….Keep your properties up and go upscale. Put that convention center there and you can still be in business having your meetings and things like that," Hammons said.
In preparation for the writing of my book, "Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry", I visited Springfield, Mo. and Branson, Mo. from July 11-13, 2006 to interview John Q. Hammons; Scott Tarwater, Senior Vice President; Steve Minton, Senior Vice President; Cheryl McGee, Corporate Director of Marketing; John Fulton, Vice President/Design; Stephen Marshall, Vice President & General Manager, Chateau on the Lake Resort, Branson, Missouri
2. On the Site of the Drake Hotel
A story in the New York Times (May 19, 2013) "Sky High and Going Up Fast: Luxury Towers Take New York" describes the construction of a slender 84-story tower on Park Avenue at 56th Street in Manhattan as the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere. The developer/builder is Harry B. Macklowe who said that he and his partner, CIM Group already have contracts for nearly $1 billion worth of apartments in the building. Total sales are expected to surpass $3 billion for a building that will cost about $1.25 billion to complete.
In 2006, Mr. Macklowe bought and demolished the former Drake Hotel, which was built in 1927 by Bing and Bing, noted builders, who owned and operated the hotel for more than 35 years. In the early 1960s, entrepreneur William Zeckendorf acquired the hotel, added a new wing of guestrooms and opened New York's first discotheque, Shepheard's. In 1965, the Tisch brothers acquired the Drake and hired me to be Loews first General Manager. My memories are, therefore, based on the two and a half exciting years that I served as GM.
The hotel's restaurant was the Drake Room which opened in December 21, 1945. It was the pet project of hotelman Walter Redell (Cornell graduate from Cleveland). The Drake Room was a success from the start with its unique ceramic tree, great food, and impeccable service under the direction of Nino Schiavone, Maitre d' Hotel. Stars of the entertainment world, bankers and politicians made the Drake Room one of the most cosmopolitan rooms in New York. Redell hired the best salon piano player in town for the opening. Cy Walter remained the featured performer for six years. When I became GM, I brought Cy Walter back to the Drake Room and got MGM Records to produce a fabulous LP: "Cy Walter at The Drake," (with a color cover photograph of Cy at a Steinway grand piano on 56th Street under the Drake Hotel marquis).
The most famous and successful discotheque in Manhattan was Shepheard's at the Drake which was open seven days a week for cocktails, dinner and supper with continuous dancing from 7:30 PM to 3AM. Luncheon was served Monday through Friday and special brunch on Sunday from noon to 4PM. At lunch there were fashion shows and at noon time, a talk radio program featuring the Metropolitan Opera's Mimi Benzell as hostess with famous guests.
We printed and distributed a card entitled, "How to Do the Newest Discotheque Dances at Shepheard's in New York's Drake Hotel" with step-by-step instructions to dance the Jerk, Watusi, Frug and the Monkey. Killer Joe Piro's party was a regular feature at Shepheard's. The discotheque was so successful that patrons lined up on 56th Street and around the corner of Park Avenue to wait (even on the winter's coldest nights) to be admitted where they paid a hefty cover charge to dance to disco music.
The Drake Hotel's guest list included such famous classical musicians as Alicia del la Rocha, Dame Myra Hess and Glenn Gould. Also celebrities like Milton Berle (loud and rude), Leon Bibb, Paul Anka, Muhammed Ali (soft-spoken and kind), Barry Goldwater and many more.
Hung on my office wall is the following framed note from the world-famous classical pianist on Drake Hotel letterhead with a signed photograph:
Dear Mr. Turkel,
I was very touched by your remembering my birthday and sending me this lovely bottle of Moét et Chandon, which we drank with great pleasure. At the same time, I wanted to tell you that we find ourselves very comfortable in the Drake and are delighted with the service and attention we get.
3. The Origin of Memorial Day
Following the end of the Civil War, many communities set aside a day to mark the end of the war and as a memorial to those who had died. Some of the places creating an early memorial day include Sharpsburg, Maryland, located near Antietam Battlefield; Charleston, South Carolina; Boalsburg, Pennsylvania; Petersburg, Virginia; Carbondale, Illinois; Columbus, Mississippi; many communities in Vermont; and some two dozen other cities and towns. These observances coalesced around Decoration Day, honoring the Union dead, and the several Confederate Memorial Days.
According to Professor David Blight of the Yale University History Department, the first memorial day was observed in 1865 by liberated slaves at the historic Washington Race Course (today the location of Hampton Park) in Charleston. The site was a former Confederate prison camp as well as a mass grave for Union soldiers who died in captivity.
The freed slaves disinterred the dead Union soldiers from the mass grave to be properly buried with individual graves, built a fence around the graveyard with an entry arch, declaring it a Union graveyard. It was a daring action for freed slaves to take in the South just shortly after the Union's victory. On May 30, 1868, the freed slaves returned to the graveyard with flowers they had picked from the country side and decorated the individual gravesites, thereby creating the first Decoration Day. Thousands of freed blacks and Union soldiers paraded to and from the area, followed by much patriotic singing and a picnic. On May 5, 1868, in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a veteran's organization, General John A. Logan issued a proclamation that "Decoration Day" be observed nationwide on May 30 of the same year.
The alternative name of "Memorial Day" was first used in 1882. It did not become common until after World War II, and was not declared the official name by Federal law until 1967. On June 28, 1968, the United States Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, which moved three holidays from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create convenient three-day weekends. The holidays included Washington's Birthday; now celebrated as President's Day; Veterans Day, and Memorial Day. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971.
On May 25, 2013, the following opinion column appeared in the New York Times:
In the complex and not entirely complete process of reconciliation after the Civil War, honoring the dead with markers, tributes and ceremonies has played a crucial role. Some of these gestures, like Memorial Day, have been very successful. The practice of decorating the graves arose in many towns, north and south, some even before the war had ended. This humble idea quickly spread throughout the country, and the recognition of common loss helped reconcile North and South.
But other gestures had a more a political edge. Equivalence of experience was stretched to impute an equivalence of legitimacy. The idea that "now, we are all Americans" served to whitewash the actions of the rebels. The most egregious example of this was the naming of United States Army bases after Confederate generals.
Today there are at least 10 of them. Yes - the United States Army maintains bases named after generals who led soldiers who fought and killed United States Army soldiers; indeed, who may have killed such soldiers themselves.
Only a couple of officers are famous. Fort Lee, in Virginia, is of course named for Robert E. Lee, a man widely respected for his integrity and his military skills. Yet, as the documentarian Ken Burns has noted, he was responsible for the deaths of more Army soldiers than Hitler and Tojo. John Bell Hood, for whom Fort Hood, Texas, is named, led a hard-fighting brigade known for ferocious straight-on assaults. During these attacks, Hood lost the use of an arm at Gettysburg and a leg at Chickamauga, but he delivered victories, at least for a while. Later, when the gallant but tactically inflexible Hood launched such assaults at Nashville and Franklin, Tenn., his armies were smashed.
Fort Benning in Georgia is named for Henry Benning, a State Supreme Court associate justice who became one of Lee's more effective subordinates. Before the war, this ardent secessionist inflamed fears of abolition, which he predicted would inevitably lead to black governors, juries, legislatures and more. "Is it to be supposed that the white race will stand for that?" Benning wrote. "We will be overpowered and our men will be compelled to wander like vagabonds all over the earth, and as for our women, the horrors of their state we cannot contemplate in imagination."
Another installation in Georgia, Fort Gordon, is named for John B. Gordon, one of Lee's most dependable commanders in the latter part of the war. Before Fort Sumter, Gordon, a lawyer, defended slavery as "the hand-maid of civil liberty." After the war, he became a United States senator, fought Reconstruction, and is generally thought to have headed the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia. He "may not have condoned the violence employed by Klan members," says his biographer, Ralph Lowell Eckert, "but he did not question or oppose it when he felt it was justified."
Not all the honorees were even good generals; many were mediocrities or worse. Braxton Bragg, for whom Fort Bragg in North Carolina is named, was irascible, ineffective, argumentative with subordinates and superiors alike, and probably would have been replaced before inflicting half the damage that he caused had he and President Jefferson Davis not been close friends. Fort Polk in Louisiana is named after Rev. Leonidas Polk, who abandoned his military career after West Point for the clergy. He became an Episcopal bishop, owned a large plantation and several hundred slaves, and joined the Confederate Army when the war began. His frequently disastrous service ended when he was split open by a cannonball. Fort Pickett in Virginia is named after the flamboyant George Pickett, whose division was famously decimated at Gettysburg. Pickett was accused of war crimes for ordering the execution of 22 Union prisoners; his defense was that they had all deserted from the Confederate Army, and he was not tried.
Other Confederate namesakes include Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia, Fort Rucker in Alabama and Camp Beauregard in Louisiana. All these installations date from the buildups during the world wars, and naming them in honor of a local military figure was a simple choice. But that was a time when the Army was segregated and our views about race more ignorant. Now African-Americans make up about a fifth of the military. The idea that today we ask any of these soldiers to serve at a place named for a defender of a racist slavocracy is deplorable; the thought that today we ask any American soldier to serve at a base named for someone who killed United States Army troops is beyond absurd. Would we have a Fort Rommel? A Camp Cornwallis?
Changing the names of these bases would not mean that we can't still respect the service of those Confederate leaders; nor would it mean that we are imposing our notions of morality on people of a long-distant era. What it would mean is that we're upholding our own convictions. It's time to rename these bases. Surely we can find, in the 150 years since the Civil War, 10 soldiers whose exemplary service not only upheld our most important values, but was actually performed in the defense of the United States.
Jamie Malanowski, lead writer of the New York Times highly-acclaimed "Disunion: The Civil War" series and the author of "And The War Came," an account of how the Civil War began.
4. Quote of the Month
"The rebellion was madness. It was the insanity of States, the delirium of millions, brought only by the pernicious influence of human slavery. From the tomb of the rebellion a nation has been born again. The rebellion, the offspring of slavery, murdered its unnatural parent, and the perfect reign of liberty is at hand."
Oliver P. Morton (1823-1877)
Governor of Indiana
Stanley Turkel, CMHS, ISHC
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