EDMONTON’S LOG CABIN RITZ
WHEN BOB KASHOWER, a dark, tense wiry man of forty-five, was piloting plane in various parts of the globe and living out of suitcases, he developed a hatred for hotels and hotelkeepers. First as a Ferry Command pilot taking planes from Montreal to Britain, the as a cargo pilot flying over the Himalayas for Chiang Kai-shek’s armies, and next as an Oshaw aircraft owner, he had to check in and out of hotel from Toronto to Chungking.
The trigger-tempered Kashower came to hat “those two-bit millionaires, lord gods of the desk, as he called them, who turned down his imprompt requests for a room when he dropped out of the ai for a night’s rest. The placid rejections brough from Kashower a jetlike stream of oaths, sung ou in shrill invective in many a hotel lobby, while hi deceptively mild brown eyes shot fire and hi wrinkled reddish face grew redder.
Mercurial Bob Kashower hated hotels so much that when he turned an old air-force hut into the Airlines Hotel he insisted the guest was to be king. The only snag has been that occasionally a guest takes him literally
When he did manage to book a room, Kashowe was angered by other things that hotelmen did c did not do. He would often get to his room, fin that he had no matches and have to tramp back t the lobby; he would go to the dining room, find h didn’t like the menu, and feel trapped; he woul order ice for his drinks, pay a high price for it an have to tip the bellhop who brought it; he woul turn on the radio at 10 p.m. and find it snapped o: by a master switch at 11 p.m.; he would go to be and find the room too stuffy or so cold he had t pile on blankets and dared not open the window he would get up wishing he could have a cup c coffee immediately and rush down to the dinin room to find he had to wait too long for it to arriv Booming postwar Edmonton, with far mor guests than hotel rooms, irritated Kashower pai ticularly. He saw a double opportunity: why no cash in by opening a hotel of his own beside Edmoti ton’s bustling airport and, at the same time, wor off all his peeves against conventional hotels b showing them how it should be done? He sold hi other interests and, starting in February 1949, plunged thirty thousand dollars into converting an RCAF barracks block into the Airlines Hotel.
Five years later, travelers arriving at the Edmonton airport find themselves beckoned by a red neon propeller to Kashower’s thirty-five-room hotel, now worth a quarter of a million dollars. Besides its handy location, a runway’s length from where their plane sets them down, they find it chocked full of surprises, sprung from Kashower’s old vexations.
The first surprise is the look of the place. The converted H-hut is now a one-story building, covered with log siding, with two jut-out wings two stories high. It has a large picture window facing off from the lobby, and small red-shuttered windows along the front. It’s a thirty-five-room chalet with an earth-and-sky panorama of wings, propellers, jet trails, probing searchlights, hangars and colored markers, DC3s and Gonvair liners coming in from the Yukon, Alaska and Vancouver, Bristol freighters from Yellowknife, North Stars from across the continent, whining jets of the RCAF, on northern missions, Beavers and Norsemen from the bush camps.
Crossing a grey-carpeted lobby the guest finds the desk clerk flanked by a huge wall map of the Canadian northwest and by lighted photographs of aircraft. The bellhop will take him down a narrow corridor finished with plywood on the lower half and basket-weave wallpaper above. The floor has several carpets, piled one on top of the other. The room is small with twin beds, a bureau, writing desk, radio and a tiny bathroom that is really an outhouse attached, limpet-style, to the outside wall.
The guest will probably stare in surprise at his own name in gold letters on five crimson match folders. The clerk has taken it from his reservation telegram and put it through a gold-stamping machine. If the guest came without a reservation, the matches will arrive in about half an hour.
Was Home Ever Like This?
In the afternoon two pieces of printed matter will come sliding under his door - -the Edmonton Journal and the hotel menu. The newspaper is free. The menu is sent in so that the guest can’t be trapped in the dining room, as Kashower used to be, by a menu he sees there for the first time; he can decide beforehand if he’d rather eat out.
Come evening, the guest may put in a call for ice cubes to refrigerate his drinks. They’ll arrive along with a heaping bowl of freshly roasted popcorn, both without charge. If he wants a little music he’ll find a radio installed like a reading lamp over the bed and he can play it all night if he wishes.
Settling down in his double-mattress bed, the wayfarer can leave the window open and turn on an electric blanket that will give him up to nine degrees of extra heat. These Kashower gadgets have been more baffling than accommodating to some guests. Harried desk clerks are called often by people who say they can’t get music from the radio, only to find they’ve been fidgeting with the control dial of the electric blanket. Since planes don’t fly over the hotel and the landings and takeoffs are far enough away to be indistinct, the guest can sleep peacefully.
The next surprise is a tour de force. Minutes after the morning phone rings and a voice says, “Good morning, sir, it is eight o’clock,” there is a knock on the door and the bellhop enters to quickly put before the half-roused guest one glass of tomato juice, one cup of hot coffee, one hot bun and one morning newspaper.
The treat is on the house. Even if the guest collects his senses in time to offer a tip for the unexpected service, he won’t be able to complete it, as Kashower has laid down a “no tipping” rule for the morning coffee. He believes a cash transaction at that moment would ruin the gesture’s beauty.
The final touch comes when the guest arrives in the dining room for breakfast. He has barely edged himself into the chair when a Cup of coffee is presented wordlessly by a comely waitress in a black sheen dress and white apron. “I used to get tired of waiting for that first cup of coffee to hit the table,” Kashower explains, recalling his days as an irritated guest.
The Airline’s dining room, specializing in spareribs barbecued on charcoal burners, is one of the best eating places in Edmonton. Guests and Edmontonians who drive out nearly ten miles from town to eat there don’t realize that it is built on the crossbar of the H-hut, where the barrack washroom and latrines once were. Kashower personally supervises his four cooks, and chooses all the meat himself.
Difficult orders he puts through his food broker. “I drive him crazy,” he says with a gnomish grin, “but I see that our fussy people get what they want.” He has ordered rainbow trout by air from Denmark and Japan and occasional orders go out for frog legs from Cuba, shrimps from Louisiana and lobsters from St. Andrews, N.B.
Every so often, Kashower flies somebody’s dinner out. One summer he received a wire from Irene Haskins, a Calgary petroleum engineer, who was on holidays in Casablanca. Morocco. She wanted some spareribs. Kashower rushed into the kitchen, yelled “One spareribs — to go!” and put them on the next plane out. They were packed in dry ice, re-iced in New York, and went from there to Lisbon via Air France, thence to C isablanca, a thirtyhour trip. Kashower charged the regular price, $2.10, and paid the air freight himself twenty-three dollars. He found out later they could have gone by a different route for only ten dollars.
Even though Kashower’s added touches come free, the guest pays a relatively high rate for his stay at the Airlines Hotel. A single room costs from five dollars to seven-fifty while a double rents from eight-fifty to ten dollars. ’This is not much below Edmonton’s big luxury hotel, the Macdonald, where single rooms range from seven to eleven dollars and doubles from ten to fifteen dollars. The downtown King Edward Hotel, one of Edmonton’s better hotels, charges five dollars and fifty cents for a single room.
The pleasant surprises that greet Kashower’s guests are offset sometimes by the unpredictable temperament of the host. For Kashower. who used to get hopping mad at hotelkeepers, now turns his wrath at times to his own guests. When he built the Airlines he determined stoutly that the guest was to be king; however, he feels that sometimes they take him too literally.
Not long ago a big Texan strode into the lobby of the hotel. Spotting the middle-sized Kashower, he called, “Here boy, take my bags.”
Every inch of Kashower’s five feet nine inches bristled. “Take your bags out of this hotel and don’t come back,” he barked.
Last August 13 several guests were awakened at 3 a.m. by a strident argument taking place in one of the front rooms. It was Kashower, giving the heave-ho to an oil-company executive to help make room for the Toronto Argonauts who were to play an exhibition game in Edmonton the next day. Other guests, asked to double up for the arrival of the Argos, were co-operating. Kashower found accommodation for the entire team plus Toronto’s Mayor Lamport, after a frantic day’s arrangements. But the oilman, who had occupied the room for several weeks, angrily checked out. “Mr. Kashower loves football,” a hotel clerk explained.
Another guest got a similar treatment one day when he parked his car in front of the hotel entrance and left it there. Kashower ordered a tow truck to pull it away and park it behind a hangar. The excited guest wandered around looking for it, then called in the
police. They unperturbably found it.
Kashower’s relations with staff members also run hot and cold. Once he fired the entire waitress staff when he returned early from a business trip and found several of them having a party in one of the rooms with guests. Two days later they were all back at work.
He can be extremely generous with the employees, too. Not long ago he threw a birthday party for one of the waitresses and showered all staff members who attended with expensive gifts. Another time, when a waitress asked for time off because her father was sick, he not only gave her the time but sent a doctor at his own expense to treat him. The doctor returned to report that the girl’s father was in complete health and had been so for years. Kashower laughed it off-.
Kashower’s mercurial treatment of staff members has brought on more than one dogfight around the hotel desk and sometimes waitresses come and go like the guests. Bui others, such as deskman Pop Keith who once quit and came back, vigorously defend Kashower as a likable, if at times erratic, boss. Keith tells how Kashower came by once when he was working on the overnight shift, asked him if he was hungry, and then went into the kitchen to personally cook up some spareribs for him.
He’s A Civic Issue
To Edmonton citizens Kashower and his hotel have almost reached the stage of folklore because of the anecdotes told about him. Many speak of him with warm affection; others snarl when they hear his name. A Yellow Cab driver told the writer that none of his firm’s drivers would pick up the eccentric hotel owner. “Kashower used to get in the car,” he said, “and when you’d ask him ‘where to,’ he’d say, ‘Just keep driving and I’ll keep telling you when to turn.’ ” Losing patience with this back-seat supervision, one cabby put Kashower out of the car.
Kashower would be a civic issue whether he wanted it that way or not. His hotel is located at the airport, which is civic property, and he must apply to the city council for renewals of his lease. He now has a ten-year lease with an option for two renewals.
Besides running hot and cold with human beings, Bob Kashower has been contradictory in his treatment of cats. At one time he was crazy about cats. He allowed litters of kittens to climb in and out of his Cadillac at will and used to drive home at noontime to feed them. But they multiplied so rapidly his hotel lobby and kitchen became overrun and he ordered them cleared off the premises. Now he hates the sight of cats.
His most likable characteristic is his eager love of children. About the time he started the hotel, he and his wife adopted a six-day-old girl, Roberta! whom Kashower calls Gaffer Joe. He lavishes attention on her and has planned twenty years ahead for her welfare. Children of guests frequently romp up and down the halls and Kashower often romps with them. One couple from Grande Prairie, Alta., got rather worried recently wondering if they would ever get their youngster back from him. He had plied her with lollipops and bananas all day and was still going strong at 9 p.m.
Last summer he set up a playground with slides, seesaws and swings in the hotel grounds for children of guests. “Where can people leave their kids in other hotels?” he asks. “They’ve got to run up and down the halls and out in front there’s nothing but traffic.’’ His kids play on the field of the world’s largest freight airport, but at a safe distance from the aerial traffic.
Kashower’s somewhat baffling actions and the Topsylike growth of the Airlines Hotel can probably be explained by his restless career. Born in Los Angeles, he talked his way into the U. ¡3. Marine Corps at sixteen by saying he was nineteen and was sent to China. He was assigned to work with the Chinese government mapping the country and after a spell of this, he went back to the U. S. and worked for a private aircraft company. When it went broke during the depression he took refuge in a law school. He says he might have been a practicing lawyer today “but just as I graduated a little Porterfield plane caught mv eye and I started selling aircraft.”
Early in World War 11 Kashower hankered for some kind of action and started ferrying warplanes to Britain and sometimes Australia for a thousand dollars a month. After Pearl Harbor, the U. S. State Department sent him to China to fly supplies “over the hump” from India. Now he was working for Chiang Kai-shek and getting two thousand dollars a month.
In 1945 he returned to the States to work for the Fairchild Aerial Survey, ín Los Angeles. It was this company’s need of a Lockheed to do geology work in Ecuador that led to his marrying a Regina girl, Margaret McLarin. He picked up the Lockheed in Edmonton and was returning via Montreal when a sweet-voiced weather observer at Regina told him to come down out of an approaching storm. Kashower talked back. He had bucked Atlantic gales and Pacific fogs and flown over the world’s highest mountains and this bit of bad weather in Saskatchewan was not going to bring him down.
lie Landed With A Thud
Miss McLarin told him to come down.
“She kept me down for two days,” Kashower says. “So I married her.”
His friends say it was the first time in his life the high-flying Kashower had been brought down to earth and possibly the last time he was to talk back to that good-looking weather observer.
That same year Kashower bought an interest in Associated Airways, an Edmonton firm doing contract flying, and also started a business of his own, the Kashower Air Services in Oshawa. During the next three years his firm converted eight hundred air transports to passenger planes.
Plane-commuting between Toronto and Edmonton, he lived in a dozen different hotels until an obsession to become “the man behind the desk” took hold of him. So in 1949 he sold out his aircraft interests, put flying behind him once and for all, and started a hotel. His only concession to thirty years of flight was that he called it the Airlines.
Kashower built his hotel in the same hop, skip and jump method he had moved around the world. “I stepped it off myself,” he says, “wrote the plan on the back of an envelope and had it built in sixty days.”
As the H-hut that was to be his basic building had no basement, furnaces had to be installed in the hallways, partly sunk in the ground. A Toronto business friend of Kashower’s tells how he dropped in to the Airlines Hotel at this stage to find Kashower up to his neck in a hole he was digging alongside the desk. It was for a furnace, Kashower told him, and he was digging it himself because “the cost of labor was too damn high.” Unfortunately the hole filled with water and turned into a well, threatening to flood the hotel. Kashower called in an oil derrick crew to
drill a hole on an angle from the yard outside to the hole, which provided a permanent drain.
By April 11, 1949, he had rented the first rooms to TCA pilots Ted Stall and Bill English. There were then just a few rooms and eight baths, but the exbarrack block soon attracted a steady airborne clientele and many who came the ten miles from Edmonton’s downtown railway stations. Kashower began to expand.
He built his dining room on the crossbar of the H-hut and then added more rooms by building across the ends of the H. That turned the old hut into a rambling oblong structure with new ceilings and new walls inside and halflogs on the outside, but it left him with nowhere else to go. So he went out and up. He built two jut-out wings at a cost of a hundred and fifty thousand dollars, both two-story jobs.
'The north wing, built in ten days, has two suites on the first floor and a sun deck on the second. He later turned the sun deck into a diningrecreation room for Edmonton clubs by building a roof over it.
The other wing became a frame-andsiding home for the Petroleum Club of Edmonton, replete with main dining room, bar, mezzanine floor for dining and drinking and a basement games room. Its six hundred members all connected with the oil industry —use it as a social club for dining, drinking and recreation.
For a while Kashower kept the interior courtyards beautifully cultivated. Then his mood changed and they have become, in the words of one employee, “a weedy, quack-grass, dandelion, sowthistle wilderness.”
Kashower’s method of equipping and furnishing his growing hotel was also erratic and original. His bedspreads came from Georgia, and his rugs, ordered from Edmonton, were frequently changed because he didn’t like the patterns. For the ranchlike Petroleum Club quarters he got Roman brick from Medicine Hat, wagon-wheel light fixtures and habitant furniture from Ste. Therese, Que., knotty pine from| Oregon and a parquet floor from Louisville, Ky. A huge blown-up photograph of a mountain-peak, which some guests point out in praise as a majestic peak of the nearby Canadian Rockies, is Mt. liassen, California. Kashower got it in Chicago.
Now, for all its hodge-podge career, the H-hut that Bob Kashower built or; a solid foundation of irritations is making money fast enough for him to talk; of tacking on, somewhere, another twenty rooms and of building a similar haven for travelers in Alberta’s latest oil-boom centre, the Pembina Valley.
Meanwhile he’s dreaming up newt gimmicks to surprise his guests and some say the volatile ex-pilot has melj lowed so much recently he may ever surprise himself by not tossing any oí them out this year.