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Hotelier Harry Mullikin, (1927 - 2011)
"The Man Behind the Megahotels" Passes Away

By Erik Lacitis, The Seattle TimesMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 05, 2011--He started out in the hotel business at age 14 in 1942 as an elevator boy at the Cascadian Hotel in Wenatchee, earning $2 a day also doing such jobs as bellman, busboy, night janitor and room clerk.

In 1973, at age 46, Harry Mullikin was named president of Western International Hotels (now Westin Hotels & Resorts), leading the then-Seattle-based chain to the opening of such megahotels as the 1,500-room Los Angeles Bonaventure and the 1042-room Peachtree Plaza in Atlanta.

Mr. Mullikin, 84, died April 30 in Tucson of heart and pulmonary diseases.

In a May 8, 1977, profile in The New York Times headlined, "The man behind the megahotels," Mr. Mullikin's offices in the Olympic Hotel's penthouse were described as "the opulence of a bygone era: terra-cotta fireplaces, a secret room behind a walnut library panel that hid 'spirits' during Prohibition, vases of fresh flowers reflected in baroque mirrors."

At that time, the chain had 50 hotels. The story quoted him about leading the "traditionally conservative company" through its expansion: "There are two schools of thoughts -- you're going to make it big or you're going to fall flat on your face."

He and his wife of 40 years, Judi Mullikin, also had an apartment in Seattle and a home in La Conner. In his retirement years, they spent summers in the Northwest.

Mr. Mullikin followed in the footsteps of the legendary Eddie Carlson, an earlier head of Western International, whom he viewed as his mentor, said his wife.

Although younger than Carlson by a decade and a half, Mr. Mullikin was part of that generation of Seattle businessmen who became civic leaders and made happen projects such as the 1962 Seattle World's Fair.

Mr. Mullikin, for example, was a minority owner of the Seahawks when the expansion franchise came to Seattle in 1974, with the Nordstrom family as majority owners.

Such days are gone, said Tod Hamachek, 65, of Sun Valley, Idaho, former chairman and chief executive officer of Penwest Pharmaceuticals of Bellevue, and a longtime friend of Mr. Mullikin's.

"It was all done by a small group," he said about such civic projects. "You can argue it's better or worse today, but today, Seattle makes its major civic decisions much more in public, and with much more deliberation."

Mr. Mullikin drove himself hard, and was known for his attention to detail.

Hamachek said that one time he confessed to Mr. Mullikin that he liked the almond-scented soaps at the Westin so much that if he hadn't used a soap, he'd always take it with him.

"He laughed. He said, 'Let me tell you, we tried all kinds of soaps, and this soap was so good and so distinctive,' " remembered Hamachek. "He was passionate about the soap. He knew that one small difference in a hotel experience adds up to a huge difference to the person staying at the hotel."

Mr. Mullikin also was known as dressing "flawlessly in expensive suits that never seem to wrinkle," said The New York Times story. "And he expects other Western executives to look the part of well-dressed businessmen, on duty or off."

Mr. Mullikin was always ready to do business.

The New York Times story told how, in 1975, Western heard that the famous New York Plaza Hotel was for sale for the best offer of more than $25 million.

But the company selling wanted a $2.5 million deposit that Monday, Veterans Day, and the New York banks were closed. So Mr. Mullikin flew to Boston, where the banks were operating, and got the draft. The story said that after he made the deal and was leaving the Plaza, "He walked past competitors who had also come to buy -- reportedly for $2 million more."

At age 62, in 1989, Mr. Mullikin resigned as chairman and chief executive officer of Westin Hotels after 48 years with the company. Mr. Mullikin was born on April 27, 1927, in Hot Springs, Ark. After high school in Wenatchee, he was in the Air Corps during World War II, and then attended Washington State University and studied hotel management.

Besides his wife, he is survived by four children: Michael Mullikin of Los Angeles; Trisha Diers of Mill Creek; Scott Mullikin of Mill Creek; and Kelly Silva of La Conner; and a brother, Walter Mullikin of Grass Valley, Calif.

At Mr. Mullikin's request, there will be no services.

Memorial donations may be sent to the Museum of Northwest Art, P.O. Box 969, La Conner, WA 98257.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237


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Copyright (c) 2011, The Seattle Times

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