A Man's Hotel Is His Castle

By Betty Gagne

Seacoast Scene, Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Fifty years ago, Norman Grandmaison was a young man who'd just been released from a tour of duty in Korea. Norman was 24 years old, and looking forward to spending the summer of 1953 with his old buddies from the New Hampshire seacoast, maybe chasing some women, and definitely raising some good, old-fashioned heck. However, fate had other plans for this young gentleman who'd just finished serving his country.

When you look into Norman Grandmaison's dark brown eyes today, you can see the merriment that still resides in them. If you look deeply enough, you'll notice traces of youth and years of intelligence. Norman is smiling right now, and no wonder: he is gearing up to celebrate his 50-year tenure as owner of the Ashworth by the Sea Hotel on beautiful Hampton Beach.

Norman enjoys talking about his past - and his hotel. "I even put on a shirt and tie for the occasion," he laughed, brushing an imaginary piece of lint from the arm of his jacket. He is proud to show off this legendary hotel, which to the visitor, is the epitome of style, class, charm and comfort - traits that the Ashworth has had from its beginnings and continues to show today.

Style greets the guests as they enter the posh hotel lobby. Friendly, professional staff are there to cater to any need that arises. Class beckons the visitors from the Breakers Cafe Lounge, too. It's everywhere, from the shining, spotless mirrors to the gleaming brass accents. On the walls are portraits of ships, sea ketches, and ocean vessels on the water; the feeling that you are traveling within the confines of a luxury ship on a smooth ocean voyage surrounds you.

Norman proudly shows a framed portrait of his parents, which was taken at the turn of the century. His Mother, a lovely, graceful woman, wears a picture hat and a dress fashioned in the style of the Gibson Girl; her profile strongly resembles that of her son. I couldn't help noticing a tear in his eyes as he admitted that he lost his Mother when he was a baby, and has no recollection of her at all. He was raised by his aunt, and obviously was brought up in a polite, cultured atmosphere. He is polished - and his manners reflect this.

As he guides us through the hotel, his enthusiasm is clear and genuine. He smiles as he tells the story of how he became the owner of the hotel:

"I was the front desk clerk of the hotel when the Moulton family owned it," be said. Norman also did accounting for the Moultons at that time. After the hotel was purchased by a Miami real estate man named Mr. Pinkham (when Norman returned home from the service), Norman was contacted to resume his post at the hotel's front desk, as General Manager.

The next year, Norman contacted his brother, Paul, and together, they leased the hotel. In 1954, the Grandmaison brothers purchased the Ashworth By the Sea Hotel and ran it as a summer lodging and dining establishment for the next ten years. Each summer, they extended their season, and in 1969, it became a year round hotel.

The Ashworth gained the services of Paul's son, John, in 1975. The hotel was expanded in 1980, and it's size was doubled with the addition of a new building. In 1986, the original building received a complete makeover, which made it as it is today. The beauty of the construction facelift was that it enhanced the charm of the room while still keeping the antique flavor.

"We lost my brother, Paul, that year," Norman said. He reflected for a few seconds. "Paul was tough. He made an impression on a lot of people who worked here." Now, the hotel is owned and operated by Norman, his nephew John, and their wives, Joyce and Patricia. You can find Joyce working behind the front desk sometimes, and Patricia is involved with the decorating, among other things. The two women are an integral part of the business, and are strong proof that "behind every successful man, there is an important woman."

"This is my life," Norman says humbly, as he stands in the hotel lobby. "I've been here since I was 24 years old. I'm 74 now - when we first bought this place, it only had 12 private bathrooms." He shakes his head and laughs, recalling a distant memory of his youth that serves as a reminder of how quickly time passes. "Miss Marston was my first grade teacher - now, a school is named after her." After a few seconds, he tells us that, "It's the people and their loyalty that made us a success. The people have been behind us 100% since day one. "

You have to envy someone who's had a dream and made it come true. Someone who's been the proud owner of a luxury hotel that's situated on a piece of God's country, and is surrounded by nothing but breathtaking beauty everywhere you look. You've seen how the Ashworth by the Sea Hotel rose to the famous landmark it is today.