The Hotel that Takes Money Laundering Seriously


Money is dirty. You’ve been hearing that since you were knee-high to a grasshopper and your mom had to stop you from putting coins in your mouth and up your nose. Turns out, mama didn’t know how right she was: the flu virus can actually survive on money for up to 10 days. And you’ve probably heard the crazy statistic that 90 percent of U.S. bills have cocaine on them.

Lucky for all of us, then, that the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco is doing their part to make the world of currency just a little bit cleaner. For the better part of a century, neat freaks at the Westin St. Francis have been fastidiously scrubbing every single coin that comes into their possession. Rumor has it the practice started when a high society lady complained that her perfectly white gloves got dirty after she was handed some change at the hotel.

The St. Francis has employed the same coin cleaner, Rob Holsen, for the past 20 years. By his calculations, he’s washed about $1.5 million in cash since he was hired. Back in the day, this kind of money laundering was a full-time job. These days, it only takes about 10 hours of Holsen’s time every week. The washer before him, Arnold Batliner (pictured), was so legendary that the Mayor declared a day in his honor when he retired in 1993. The hotel still celebrates his birthday with cake every year. Batliner's grand total, by the way, came to somewhere around $14 million.

In case you want to give your cash the St. Francis treatment at home, here’s their recipe for cleanliness: a burnisher filled with water, some birdshot to knock the big pieces of grime off of the change, and a good scoop of Borax soap. After three hours (three hours) of washing, the money is sorted out from the birdshot, dried off, put into rolls, and redistributed to cash registers around the hotel.

Alas, the treatment is reserved for coins only. Unless the Westin St. Francis decides to start washing and ironing bills, you’ll still have to deal with drugs on your paper money. Sorry!

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