King of the mountain

By Jimm Budd

Images courtesy of Las Brisas

The 1960s were the Golden Age of Acapulco when the choice place to stay was Las Brisas. It would be fair to say that the Beautiful People traveled to Acapulco because that was where Las Brisas was, not the other way around. Had Las Brisas been located in Nicaragua, that is where the silky set would have gone.

Las Brisas overlooks Acapulco Bay.

Frank Brandstetter, who died at 99 in Acapulco earlier this year, was the man who deserves the credit for the place in the sun occupied by Las Brisas. As the multi-lingual general manager who took more pride in being a retired colonel in the U.S. Army than a scion of European aristocracy, Brandstetter lured in statesmen and princes as well astronauts after their flights into outer space. Not so welcome were celebrities and their paparazzi; they could find rooms elsewhere.

One of Las Brisas' iconic in-room pools.Las Brisas, which instead of rooms has hillside casitas – each with its own little pool – and where jeeps take the place of elevators, was, and still is, a most delightfully unusual hotel, but it took Brandstetter to make it legendary.

Brandstetter – Brandy, as he would introduce himself – with some help, wrote his autobiography. In it, you come to realize, Brandy achieved a success most hoteliers can only dream of without even trying. Yet he placed other interests first. “Brandy: Portrait of an Intelligence Officer,” reveals that the protagonist was really a spy. Not a spy with hostile intentions – he scorned the CIA – he was more an unarmed Sherlock Holmes, observing rather than merely seeing, listening carefully, taking notes and passing information along to people he called his “big brothers.”

Brandy’s love for the clandestine was understandable. At the outbreak of the Second World War he left his job in New York to enlist in the United States Army, which came to realize the value of his skills both in language and in intrigue.


Writing in the third person – calling himself “he” instead of “I” – Brandy related how he uncovered a plot under which the half-million German war prisoners in Britain  planned to escape in late 1944 while most of their guards were fighting in Europe. Brandy had taken part in the Normandy invasion, went on to capture armaments mogul Alfred Krupp and attempted to convince Field Marshal Walter Model to surrender (Model preferred suicide). Brandy even claimed to have designed the United Nations flag, although he admitted modifications were made later.

After all that, a return to civilian life must have seemed dull. Military connections did help him secure far better jobs than he had in 1941. By 1958, he was managing the Havana Hilton where, at Brandy’s invitation, Fidel Castro came to stay following the triumph of his revolution. Brandy claimed that Fidel was a patriot, not a communist, but he said that no one in the United States government would listen to Brandy, a mere hotelier. The Soviets, Brandy declared, went on to woo and win Fidel.

Brandy (at right) and some friends.In 1959, recently-opened Las Brisas was managed by Hilton hotels, which is how Brandy ended up there when the Havana Hilton became the Havana Libre. Hilton, however, was opening its own place (now the Hotel Emporio) in Acapulco and decided to turn Las Brisas back to its owner, Carlos Trouyet. Brandy promised that he could manage the resort better than any international chain and he went on to prove his point.

Suave, charming, aristocratic, dictatorial, Brandstetter never made any claim to controlling matters in Acapulco, but anytime anyone wanted anything done, Brandstetter apparently was the man to see. Lyndon Johnson’s daughter wanted an Acapulco holiday, but where would the daughter of a United States president be safe? At Las Brisas, naturally. The same would hold true for British royalty. To be doubly sure, space was provided for the British Consulate in Acapulco at Las Brisas. And there was more.

Amazingly, Brandy never related how his rule at Las Brisas came to an end. That I can tell you. A few years after Carlos Trouyet died in 1971, his heirs brought in Western International (later Westin) to manage the resort, and their executives decided that Brandy – in his 60s – had reached retirement age.

View from a high-up casita.

By then our man had built for himself what he describes in his book as a fortress home he called Casa Tranquilidad. Although retired not only from his management position but also from military intelligence, Brandy found himself free to travel to any trouble spot in the world, and he was quick to do so. Just how he could afford this is not explained. Nor why. Brandy related how he continued quietly gathering intelligence, passing on his information to any American government official willing or obliged to listen. From his book, it sounds like few heeded his reports.

After all of his trips, Brandy would return to Casa Tranquilidad atop Las Brisas. There he stayed, getting along in years, but, as his autobiography proves, not quite forgotten.                               

Brandy: Portrait of an Intelligence Officer, by Chuck Render and Frank M. Brandstetter. Copyright 2007. Red Anvil Press, Oakland, Oregon (available at

Boomers can find out more about the joys awaiting them south of the border in “Jimm Budd’s MEXICO” -- quick glimpses of places that you thought you knew, places that you would like to know and places that you never have heard of. More info:

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