Westward HoJo : Howard Johnson Expands With a Fewer-Frills Format


Call it HoJo Lite.

The Howard Johnson hotel chain has launched a major expansion nationwide, and all of the six new hotels planned for Southern California will be a fewer-frills version of the familiar mid-priced hotel with the orange roof.

It's called Howard Johnson Express Inn and, after a successful test in Texas, the concept is being introduced throughout the country. Howard Johnson Express Inns, which are geared toward business and leisure travelers looking for lower-price accommodations, are typically low-rise buildings with swimming pools and small meeting rooms, but no full-service restaurants. Instead, a continental breakfast is served. And there's no orange roof.

"We want to double the size of Howard Johnson in the next three years, and Southern California is one of the most important areas for our future development," said Stephen Phillips, chief executive of Howard Johnson International Inc., which is based in Parsippany, N.J. Franchisees currently operate 10 Howard Johnson hotels in Southern California.

Howard Johnson, which traces its roots to an ice cream stand founded by Howard Dearing Johnson in Quincy, Mass., 72 years ago, went through some hard times in the last two decades, changing owners three times as some of its properties declined.

But under the ownership of New York-based HFS Inc. since 1990, the 550-hotel chain has retooled and is back in expansion mode. (HFS announced plans in May to merge with CUC International of Stamford, Conn., a huge direct-marketing company. Howard Johnson restaurants are franchised by a separate company, Franchise Associates Inc. in South Weymouth, Mass.)

"We want to convince people that the great American icon, Howard Johnson, is alive and well in Los Angeles," Phillips said.

Howard Johnson properties range from the limited-service Express Inns to high-rise, full-service hotels in major markets. Rooms at Express Inns are between $45 and $65 a night. Generally, Howard Johnson hotel rooms cost less than $100 a night.

Hasta la Vista, Santa

Santa's Village, that kitschy little theme park in the San Bernardino mountains dedicated to St. Nick, is packing its sleigh and heading back to the North Pole.

The attraction, which boasts shops, 14 rides, a petting zoo and Santa himself (or a decent facsimile), recently began advertising that this will be its final season. The park has operated for 42 years near Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead in the tiny town of Skyforest, off Highway 18.

The park has been hurt by growing competition for family entertainment dollars, President Bill Grant said.

"It's becoming that much more challenging to get people out here," Grant said, noting that Santa's Village is one of the oldest amusement parks in Southern California, opening the same year as Disneyland.

"Nearly every McDonald's has a play area, and there have been a lot more family fun centers opening," Grant said. "There's just a lot more things for kids to do closer to home."

But don't panic. There's still time to pet the reindeer, ride the Magic Train, buy a cookie at the Good Witch's Bakery and sit on the red guy's lap. This final season doesn't end until March 1, 1998.

Top-Flight Fare

Travelers at Los Angeles International Airport's Tom Bradley International Terminal now have something to look forward to besides that recommended two-hour wait for international flights.

Last week, LAX showed off the $14-million remodeling and expansion job that it's nearly completed on the 13-year-old terminal, which has remained open for business throughout the renovation. Chief among the new amenities are name-brand restaurants, including a full-service Daily Grill eatery, as well as McDonald's, Sushi Boy, El Paseo, Hamada of Japan, Haagen-Dazs and Euro Coffee.

The airport has been working to bring a diversity of foodstuffs to travelers since 1994.

The old Theme Room restaurant next to the airport's terminals reopened last year as the "Jetsons"-inspired Encounter. Scattered among the terminals are California Pizza Kitchen, Wolfgang Puck's pizzeria and a Rhino Chasers microbrewery.

In fact, the airport's cuisine last year received the No. 1 ranking for the second year in a row among 25 airports by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

The new contracts also have meant more money for LAX.

In the fiscal year ended June 30, the airport received $11 million from food and beverages, compared with $8 million in the fiscal year ended June 30, 1995, a spokeswoman said. The airport will receive an estimated $12.5 million in the current fiscal year, she said.

Nancy Rivera Brooks can be reached via e-mail at nancy.rivera.brooks@latimes.com or by fax at (213) 237-7837.

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