Earl Gagosian, the former common laborer who became the flamboyant founder of two hotel chains in the Southwest, has died of a heart attack. He was believed to be in his mid-60s.
Gagosian, who started Royal Inns of America and Continental Inns Inc., died Feb. 9 after suffering the attack at his La Jolla home, family friends said. He had undergone a heart bypass operation several years ago.
He was newly discharged from the Navy in 1945 when he joined a construction gang building a motel in Santa Monica. A year later he was superintendent of all construction in the United States and Canada for the TraveLodge chain, advancing to vice president before he left the firm in 1965 because he said "they decided to slow down expansion. . . . We were just repainting old motels."
With $50,000 of borrowed money, Gagosian then founded the Royal Inns of America, serving as president and chairman of the board for seven years. During that time, the company built 69 hotels.
But Royal Inns experienced financial difficulties in 1973 during the Arab oil embargo, and Gagosian was forced out of his leading role with the corporation. It later declared bankruptcy.
Following his 1980 heart bypass operation, Gagosian founded Continental Inns Inc. with his son, Wayne Earl Gagosian. That company has built a chain of mid-size hotels in the Southwest, which in 1987 became part of Howard Johnson Franchise Systems.
Gagosian was the third of eight children of a family from Price, Utah.
He first came to San Diego in the 1940s to recuperate at the Naval Hospital from an injury he suffered when struck by a gun turret while saving a shipmate's life.
Besides his son, Gagosian is survived by a daughter, three brothers, three sisters and four grandchildren.