Goodbye to Ashworth

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Tuesday, May 2, 2006

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

After 52 years of ownership, the Grandmaison family is selling the Hampton Beach landmark, the Ashworth by the Sea.
[Photo by Jamie Cohen]

HAMPTON -- After running one of the landmark hotels at Hampton Beach for the last 52 years, the Grandmaison family is saying goodbye to the Ashworth by the Sea.

The family is in the process of selling the hotel to The Dunbar Hotel LLC of New Hampshire, an affiliate of Scleicher and Stebbins Hotels.

Sitting at the bar of the Ashworth by the Sea on Thursday, Norman Grandmaison and his nephew, John, called the decision to sell bittersweet.

Both own the hotel along with their wives, Joyce and Patricia.

"I just passed retirement age," joked John. "We had an opportunity that was good for us and good for the buyer."

Norman said they have been approached several times over the years with offers, but his wife, Joyce, said they never felt comfortable with going through with a sale.

"I think you have to walk away feeling that whoever is coming in is going to do you proud," Joyce said. "You want to be able to feel good when you come back to the Ashworth. And we all felt this company would make us proud down the road."

On Saturday, the Grandmaisons held a party to thank their vendors and the people who have worked with them over the years.

"I woke up one day and thought to myself 'what am I doing,'" said John. "On the other hand, it's a lot of work, and I think the timing was right."

The hotel doors first opened on Memorial Day weekend 1912. One of the first hotels to open at the beach, it was built by Col. George Ashworth, one of Hampton's most prominent citizens.

Norman recalled he started his career at the Ashworth working at the front desk in 1944, the same year the Moulton family purchased the hotel.

At the time, he did not know that he would one day be an owner of the hotel.

The Moulton family eventually sold the hotel to Carl Pinkham, a Miami real estate speculator.

At Pinkham's request, Norman returned to the hotel after a service tour in Korea.

"I was discharged in August and came back to Hampton," Norman recalled. "I spoke with Mr. Pinkham. He needed someone to come in on a management level. He was having a hard time running it."

Then the opportunity of a lifetime occurred.

In 1953, Grandmaison leased the hotel with his brother, Paul, who owned the White Street Grill in Haverhill, Mass., from Pinkham.

The duo purchased the hotel outright in 1954.

They operated the place as a seasonal business until 1969, when it opened year-round.

John Grandmaison, Paul's son, joined the management team in 1975.

"I first worked here when I was 13, in 1955," John recalled. "I worked here during high school and college, then went off to be an engineer. I came back in '75 and became operations manager."

Under the Grandmaisons' ownership, expansions and renovations followed.

The property doubled in size in 1980, with a new 64-unit addition, a second-floor pool and underground parking garage.

A complete renovation of the original Ashworth building occurred in 1986, the year Paul Grandmaison died.

The Grandmaisons said they will always have their memories about the more interesting things that have occurred at the hotel over the years.

"We have stories, but we are not sharing," joked Joyce. "It will be in our book."

Over the years, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Johnny Cash and June Carter have all stayed in the hotel.

"A lot of the acts from the Hampton Beach Casino stay here," said Joyce.

"You see people at their best and worst," said John. "It's amazing what can happen and what does happen."

"And the later it gets at night, the more interesting the stories become," Joyce said. "But if you have a hundred people walk through that front door, 99.9 percent are great."

Norman said he believes the hotel is in good hands. The new general manager, Peter Coutis, worked at the hotel when he was a student at the University of New Hampshire.

"That made me feel good," Norman said. "Somebody that knows the hotel, the background and the people."

Joyce will also stay at the hotel for a couple of months to introduce their customers who come year after year to the new owners.

The Grandmaisons said they still will be a part of Hampton Beach. While they will no longer own the Ashworth, they will still be part owners of the Hampton Beach Casino.

"I'd like to think that my father, Norman, myself and all of us have been a positive force for the development of the beach," said John. "We tried to run a good resort. We started out with very limited resources and made it successful and something special for people."