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The Classic American Hotels Strike Back

What's in a name?

If you don't know Svend, perhaps you know Hans. Hans Rosenberg has managed the door at the Regent Beverly Wilshire hotel for more than 30 years. Hans is no hottie; he looks as if he has opened doors for kings and queens, which he has. When you return to the hotel after two months or two years and he recognizes you, or at least acts as if he does, you feel good. And even if you are booked into the new wing of the hotel, it is Hans who welcomes you, which is to say, some of the luster of the old wing rubs off on you.

Hans has seen many changes at the hotel. The most critical moment came in the mid eighties, when its legendary owner, Hernando Courtright—a man of charm and social position, and the face of the Beverly Wilshire—decided to retire. How do you replace one man's word that you will enjoy your stay?You bring in an even bigger reputation, that of a brand. What used to be known as Hernando Courtright's Beverly Wilshire is now known as the Regent Beverly Wilshire/A Four Seasons Hotel. Regent is code for finely tuned Asian-style service. Four Seasons is a guarantee of that famous bed and all possible creature comforts. Everybody got the message, and the Beverly Wilshire today is thriving.

The Ritz-Carlton Boston is the archetype of the American grand hotel. Built in 1927 by César Ritz, it inspired a brand. Did you know that those cobalt-blue glasses on the dining tables in every Ritz-Carlton are meant as little reminders of the chandeliers at the original hotel in Boston?

Yet even the original has to keep changing, to bring itself up to the standards of the brand it launched. Currently it is closed, scheduled to reopen in October with a brighter palette, its old furniture refinished, its bathrooms modernized, and its marble lobby gently restored.

Last fall Ritz-Carlton opened a second hotel in Boston just two blocks away, a contemporary building that has sleek rooms and a restaurant with an open kitchen. "They're so different, people don't even try to compare them," says John Rolfs, general manager of both Boston hotels. The newcomer nevertheless put pressure on the old hotel to evolve. "You try to keep the classic elements and expand the offerings, make them a little more modern," Rolfs says. "You would never take away teatime, but you can add Chinese black tea and improve the sandwiches."

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