MEXICO

Acapulco

Staying in John Wayne’s Favourite Hideaway

1950s’ movie stars liked Los Flamingos so much they bought it

Willemstad waterfront, Curaçao

View of the Pacific Ocean from the restaurant terrace of Acapulco’s Los Flamingos hotel. In the 1950s and ’60s the hotel was owned by several Hollywood stars, including John Wayne, and run as their private club.

JOHN MASTERS/Meridian Writers’ Group

JOHN WAYNE used to stand on a narrow promontory overlooking the Pacific Ocean, watching the tropical sunset—oranges and pinks dissolving into the Pacific Ocean. Then he’d dissolve into another tequila. If you stand where he stood and look down 150 metres to the rocks and surf, you might still spy one of the Duke’s empty bottles or shot glasses, aflame with the day’s last light. Legend has it that, even now, beachcombing tourists turn up fragments of Wayne’s long-ago revelry.

This is the setting of Los Flamingos, a modest hotel built on an Acapulco headland in the early 1930s and discovered in the 1950s by Wayne and other Hollywood stars, including Ray Milland, Red Skelton and Johnny (Tarzan) Weissmuller. They liked the place so much that they bought it in 1954 and turned it into a private club. Wayne used to stay in a suite called the Casa Redonda, the Round House, which had a two-and-a-half-metre-long bed for him. A path led to the narrow promontory with the sunset view, around which a low wall had been built. Wayne and his buddies came here to drink, curse, sing songs and hurl glassware into the abyss.

The hotel’s front porch is still lined with photos from those halcyon days. Pictures of Fred MacMurray, Errol Flynn, Roy Rogers, Cary Grant and a fellow with slicked-back hair and a pencil-thin moustache named Bo Roos. Roos was not a Hollywood actor, but buying Los Flamingos was his idea. He was the business manager for Wayne and several more big stars in the 1950s. Wayne liked him because they had similar interests: cards, liquor, storytelling. Some of Roos’ other clients also shared their business manager’s desire to satisfy large, libidinous appetites, and in Los Flamingos they created the perfect retreat, far from prying eyes.

The porch photos don’t reflect any of this, of course, and in any event the party didn’t last forever: in 1960 Wayne learned that Roos had mismanaged about $6 million of the star’s money and fired him. The hotel reopened to the public and in 1965 its former busboy, Adolfo Santiago, hired by Wayne, bought it.

Tarzan was the last old-time Hollywood star to stay here. Weissmuller lived in the Casa Redonda for several years until his death in 1984. By then, Los Flamingos’ glamour had long since faded, but the tiny clifftop hotel, with its tile floors and stucco walls, modest pool and just 46 rooms, has maintained itself reasonably well. You can sit on the restaurant terrace and drink a Coco Loco, the potent cocktail said to have been invented here in 1935, served in a freshly husked coconut, and look out over the ocean. Except when boat-cruise tourists are shuttled in for quick afternoon look-sees, it is an oasis of serenity. The rooms are spacious but plain—three-star accommodation. In the Casa Redonda, Duke’s big bed is gone but his perch on the promontory remains. B.Y.O.B.

 

ACCESS

For more information on Los Flamingos visit its website at www.hotelflamingosacapulco.com.

For information on travel in Mexico visit the government’s tourism website, www.visitmexico.com.