Stabilizing Influence : New Management Putting Horse Center on Right Track

Times Staff Writer

If there's one thing that Sako Baghdassarian's new hotel has, it's "horsepitality."

Just because the luxury accommodations have fresh hay and oats instead of showers and color television sets, that does not mean Baghdassarian is eccentric.

He just has a sense of what his guests want--horse sense.

Baghdassarian, 49, is the new director of the financially troubled Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Griffith Park. The 73-acre facility was taken over by Baghdassarian's management company, the Southern California Hotel Group, last month when the center's largest creditor, Gibraltar Savings of Beverly Hills, foreclosed on the center.

The management group was hired to run the center, which sits on land owned by the city of Los Angeles, for an undetermined period until Gibraltar can locate a permanent operator. The center is more than $2 million in debt, and Gibraltar officials are looking for ways to make it profitable.

'Horse Hotel'

True to his background in the hotel business, Baghdassarian has turned the center into a "horse hotel." To him and his staff, the stalls are "rooms," the horses are "guests," and the workers are "maids."

"This is like a hotel in many ways," Baghdassarian said in his new office. "We have a restaurant here. We put on shows, horse shows. It's important to make sure the customers, or the guests, are happy and that everything is running smoothly."

Baghdassarian has had difficulty getting yeas or neighs from his guests on the quality of the service. "They don't talk back to me," he said. But he said he was concentrating on making the facility clean and upgrading electrical and plumbing equipment.

"I want to get this place 100% working and operable," he said. "I look at this as a business," Baghdassarian said. He does, however, ride as a hobby.

Jousting Matches

None of the horses' owners seem to mind their mounts staying in a "horse hotel." But the dust rose when the center's previous operator, J. Albert Garcia, proposed converting the stalls into $30,000 "horse condos"--which the animals' owners would have to buy to retain a roof for their mounts--as a way to make the center financially viable. Garcia also wanted to build a medieval-theme restaurant where diners could watch jousting matches.

Garcia's plan was turned down by Los Angeles city officials, and he was ousted from the center following the foreclosure.

"Everything seems to be going very well," said Katherine Warwick, one of the riders at the center who objected to Garcia's plan. "Gibraltar bellied up to the bar and did what they needed to do to get the place in shape. There's fresh sand in the rings where there wasn't before and plenty of feed and shavings."

One of Baghdassarian's primary goals is to publicize the center as a place where a family can spend the day or a weekend.

"Too many people pass by it on the freeway and have no idea what it is. We hope to change that," he said.

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