It’s been 50 years since Howard Hughes checked into a Vancouver hotel – and nobody saw him

It’s a story full of mystery and intrigue.

Global celebrity and billionaire fifty years ago Howard Hughes arrived in Vancouver.

Hughes, who was 66 at the time, was known for his work as a major film producer and revolutionized the aerospace industry.

But by the time he arrived in Vancouver, he was battling drug addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Hughes stayed at the Bayshore Inn, now known as the Westin Bayshore Hotel, for almost six months.

But he never left his room and no one ever saw him.

Howard Hughes checked into the Bayshore Inn, now the Westin Bayshore, in 1972.

Global News

Stan Yip worked at the Westin Bayshore for 46 years and was working as a night clerk on March 14, 1972 when Hughes and his entourage showed up.

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“The night Howard Hughes arrived, they sat in the back and said, ‘We’re coming through the back door,'” Yip recalls. “And I said, ‘You have to come through from the tower, there’s a driveway in the tower.’ But they had their own maids, their own cooks, they had all the people to look after him.”

Hughes’ staff told the hotel that if they couldn’t have the top two floors of the hotel, they would just buy the hotel.

He reportedly did just that in Las Vegas in 1966 when he bought the Desert Inn after failing to get a room there.

But Bayshore management relented and allowed Hughes to move in.

This is now known as the Howard Hughes Suite at the Westin Bayshore Hotel.

Jordan Armstrong / Global News

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“You really have to go back in time and imagine how Howard Hughes was known back then,” Aaron Chapman, a Vancouver-based historian, told Global News.

“Today we know him as a kind of recluse with long hair and beard and fingernails, but in the early ’70s he was known as an industrialist and one of the richest people in the world.”

Chapman said billionaires were not common in 1972; Hughes was unique.

“For someone like Hughes arriving in Vancouver and what Vancouver was like back then, (he) was a big figure and made international headlines.”

In 1972, Vancouver was a bustling port city just beginning to shape its identity and was more than a decade away from hosting Expo ’86.

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When Howard Hughes arrived, Vancouver wasn’t the metropolis it is today

When Howard Hughes arrived, Vancouver wasn’t the metropolis it is today

Chapman said while no one saw Hughes while he was here, there are reports that he spoke to a cleaner while waiting for an elevator, who may have been the first person he’s met outside of his interior in about 15 years circle had spoken.

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Yip said newspaper photographers at the time were dying to get a picture of Hughes. One publication even hired famous water skier George Athans Jr. to parachute behind a boat in hopes he could reach the top floor of the hotel. However, Athan’s efforts were in vain.

“No one could do that,” Yip added.

He said news cameras were stationed at the hotel the entire time, but no one ever caught a glimpse of the billionaire.

There were rumors that he was in town to attend a Vancouver Canucks game, but still no one saw him. Chapman said Hughes never left the top two floors.

Stan Yip holds a copy of the front page of the Vancouver Sun, dated the day after Howard Hughes arrived in Vancouver.

Global News

A story from the Daily News, March 15, 1972, the day after Howard Hughes checked in.

Global News

He left just as mysteriously as he arrived, leaving just under six months later before he was required to report his assets to the Canadian government.

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“If there’s one thing Howard Hughes hated more than germs, it was taxes,” Chapman said.

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But Hughes eccentricity and enormous wealth followed him wherever he went.

“They hired these bellboys to get him out after six months and they said they saw this Volkswagen van on a plane,” Yip said. “You couldn’t believe it.”

The Westin Bayshore still has the Howard Hughes suite, but Yip said when Hughes left, there were Kleenex boxes everywhere, very little furniture, sheets of plywood blocking off parts of the rooms, and the windows were blacked out.

Hughes had personal guards with him and anything he wanted was delivered and returned by his staff, never by hotel staff.

Yip said his bodyguard always tasted Hughes’ food in front of him, and each piece had to be specially cut into specific cubes.

“I never saw him, but he was there,” Yip said. “You know why? They did so much to make sure he was there.”

A look at the Howard Hughes Suite at the Westin Bayshore Hotel today.

Jordan Armstrong / Global News

Yip said that in all his years at the Bayshore, Hughes has been the most exciting guest, even more so than famous actor John Wayne.

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“It’s a memorable thing and you have to remember Howard Hughes was one of all the people who stayed there.

“Everyone tried everything to get a picture of him, but they couldn’t. I don’t think anyone has ever seen him.”

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From the archives: Woman says she is daughter of Howard Hughes

From the archives: Woman says she is daughter of Howard Hughes

Hughes died just over four years later en route to Houston, Texas, and Chapman said he spent the last few years of his life staying in many different hotels to avoid legal troubles in the United States. He actually came to Vancouver from Nicaragua and after Vancouver spent time in the Bahamas, London and Mexico to name a few.

“He was known as a mysterious man at the time,” Chapman added.

“It’s fascinating how this visit fits into not only the history of Hughes himself, but also the history of Vancouver at the time.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc. It’s been 50 years since Howard Hughes checked into a Vancouver hotel – and nobody saw him

Joel McCord

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