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Lost and Found at the Biltmore header graphic

Everyday, in hotels across America, guests make off with stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. In fact, according to the American Hotel and Motel Association, more than 100 million dollars worth of hair dryers, telephones, television remote controls, even light bulbs are stolen from hotel and motel rooms every year. But one celebrated hotel in Los Angeles is offering amnesty to all those who've "accidentally" borrowed hotel property over the past 75 years. In fact, they'll even invite you to a special reception if you'll give it back. All you have to do is 'fess up. Kitty Felde reports.

Lost and Found at the Biltmore
By Kitty Felde

Listen with RealAudio: Lost and Found at the Biltmore

It's hard to believe, as you step inside the Regal Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles that there are thieves amongst us. Here, in a lobby where the ceilings have been hand-painted by an Italian artist who usually works at the Vatican, evil lurks. Ever since the hotel opened its doors in 1923, little bits of the Biltmore have been quietly disappearing into the handbags and suitcases of its guests. But the Biltmore has a message for its light-fingered patrons: come back. All is forgiven.

"No questions asked, we just wanted the memorabilia back."

Sheena Stephens is the public relations manager for the Regal Biltmore. Earlier this year, the message went out that the Biltmore was putting together a collection of these stolen bits of its past. So far, more than a hundred items from all over the country have come in -- everything from a sterling silver sugar bowl to a brass table lamp to a porcelain spittoon.

Memorabilia Stephens: "And then we also had some towels and linens come in."

Felde: "The thing you think about when people take things or borrow things or forget to return things from hotel rooms, towels would seem to be at the top of the list. How many towels did you get?"

Stephens: "Surprisingly, we didn't get a lot of towels -- maybe 5, linen napkins, shower mat held onto for 50 years."

Stephens Says guests often pilfer items for sentimental reasons -- the Biltmore might have been the place where they honeymooned. Or danced the night away at their prom. But some of those memories carry a hefty pricetag. For instance, Stephens says nearly an entire dinner party's worth of sterling silverware has been returned.

Stephens: "Of course a teaspoon is very easy to walk away with, lots of silver from 1923, gorgeous little demitasse spoons."

Stephens says several other heirs came clean with the items filched by ancestors in years gone by. Curiously enough, most of the thieves had a surname that began with the letter "B" -- the same letter used by the Biltmore as its trademark.

Today, Stephens says, few items carry the distinctive Biltmore "B," sporting instead the new angel logo, for this, the city of angels. That alone may have decimated the petty thievery ring. But I wanted to be sure. So I approached some of the current Biltmore guests.

Felde: "Have you ever been tempted to accidentally put something in your suitcase?"

Guest 1: "Absolutely not."

Guest 2: "No, no. I'm a Christian and I don't believe in that sort of that thing, and I certainly wouldn't start at this late stage in my life."

Guest 3: "Just the little shampoos and lotions. That's about it."

Guest 4: "I travel extensively, in about 5 hotels a week, I try to travel light, why would I take something from a hotel?"

Well, somebody took all this stuff. But for those whose guilty consciences are still bothering them, Sheena Stephens says the amnesty program is still in effect: bring back your Biltmore treasures -- no questions asked -- and your items will be included in the Biltmore's permanent museum, scheduled to open early next year. You'll even be invited to a special preview reception to meet your fellow light-fingered friends.


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