Harry Handlery’s American Dream
Handlery Hotels’ history exemplifies the notion of the American Dream: poor immigrant boy works hard, marries girl and with determination and an eye for opportunity, finds success in America. Beginning with founder Harry Handlery, the Handlery family has created great experiences for hotel guests for more than 80 years. Today, the Handlery Union Square Hotel in San Francisco and Handlery Hotel & Resort in San Diego continue to provide guests with the same high-quality, family-run, personal service Harry started in 1928.
The Handlery 80 Year History
In 1928, Harry Handlery was running a haberdashery store in Vallejo, California, when two friends and business partners approached him with a hotel investment opportunity. The three men purchased Casa de Vallejo and hired a general manager to oversee the operations. Unfortunately, the hotel didn’t do well during the first six months and therefore the partnership fired the general manager. Harry, without any hotel experience other than that of a guest, offered to temporarily oversee the facility. From the housekeeper to the chef, he spent the next few months learning the business from the bottom up by asking staff how they did their jobs. Harry elected to stay on and manage the property and eventually bought out the other two partners. Harry owned his first hotel.
Building on the knowledge passed on to him by the employees, coupled with his own experiences as a guest, he began to lay the foundation for what eventually would become known as Handlery Hospitality. When Harry’s teenage son, Paul, wanted to work at the hotel, Harry required that he learn the business from front-line employees. Later, Paul would use this same philosophy when his children wanted summer jobs at the hotels.
Harry began to acquire other Bay Area hotels: Hotel Alameda in Alameda, Lake Merritt Hotel in Oakland, Hotel Don in Richmond, and the Georgia Hotel in Vallejo, his second in that location. With the outbreak of World War II, Harry saw the opportunity to expand his chain by purchasing small hotels located near California military bases. During this time, Harry also purchased the Hotel Stewart in San Francisco and built the Stardust Hotel and Country Club in San Diego, which became the cornerstone properties of what is known today as Handlery Hotels. By the mid-1950s, Handlery Hotels had grown to 26 locations, which gave it the unique distinction of being the Largest Family Run Hotel Chain in the World.
After purchasing the El Cortez Hotel in San Diego, Harry installed the world's first exterior glass elevator, which allowed guests to travel from the lobby up 30 stories on the outside of the building. An engineering feat at the time, guests enjoyed a panoramic view of downtown San Diego as they rose to the Sky Room restaurant and lounge.
Eventually Harry, and his son Paul, sold the hotels near military bases and focused on enhancing their properties in San Francisco and San Diego. In 1964, Paul, like his father before him, built his first hotel: the new Handlery Motor Inn in San Francisco, which connected to the Hotel Stewart his father had purchased in 1948. At the Stardust Hotel and Country Club in San Diego, the father and son team created one of the first pool bars, with an underwater ballet show visible through a glass wall in the cocktail lounge. This bar became famous in the free-spirited late-1960s, when the midnight show featured topless synchronized swimmers.
In 1979, and again in1981, Paul's sons, Michael and Jon, became the third generation to join the management of Handlery Hotels. In 1987, Jon successfully combined the Handlery Motor Inn and Hotel Stewart into the Handlery Union Square Hotel in San Francisco. Years later, the Handlery family completed a major renovation at the Stardust Hotel and Country Club in San Diego and changed the name to what is known today as Handlery Hotel San Diego.
Jon's daughter, Catherine, now brings Handlery Hotels into its fourth generation of high-quality, family-run hotels. Catherine, now part of the management team, started in the business like the rest of the family: working in the housekeeping department and learning the business from the bottom up.
Please enjoy your stay and feel free to email Jon Handlery, firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have any questions.