It was many years ago, recalls the "godfather" of Los Angeles valet parking, that a young starlet wearing a dress with a long, flowing train exited her limousine and wasn't entirely clear of the car door when the attendant closed it.
The back of her dress caught in the door and yes the train was torn right off.
"That's one of the ones you'd like to forget," said Herb Citrin, who founded Valet Parking Service in Beverly Hills in 1946 and whose company has had one of the longest-running contracts in Tinseltown history. Even though Citrin sold his company, he still remains a consultant and is particularly busy now during awards season.
Most of his memories from his 60 years of handling cars and stars at the Academy Awards, the Emmys and various other Hollywood happenings were more pleasant than the dress ripping episode. The Oscars were a favorite event.
"You feel like you are at the center of the world for those couple hours a fun day, everyone happy, even those who work behind the scenes," said the 85-year-old Citrin.
The storied parking pioneer's Valet Parking Service has handled the limo-parking contract and celebrity door-opening duties for the Academy Awards since 1974.
For years, Citrin also handled the valet service for passenger cars, but that stopped in 2003 when the Oscar ceremony moved to the Kodak Theater. Classic Parking, another company, had an existing passenger car contract at the Kodak.
Citrin's old company still handles the limos. The company's workers open doors for the stars, and they call for the limos when the celebrities are ready to be picked up. The limos are packed in at the Hollywood Bowl.
"We actually prefer doing the limos; it's more high-profile, high-visibility and there's less liability because we're not actually driving the vehicles," said Tony Policella, a top Citrin lieutenant who bought Valet Parking Service's name and some of its assets several years ago.
Typical awards-day traffic is upward of 800 vehicles, Policella said, and the 75 valets and supervisors work from 11 a.m. on awards day to 2 a.m.
The big day requires more than four months of preparation on the part of Valet Parking Service, from planning meetings, training and credentialing the attendants who work that day, to getting uniforms pressed and fitted.
Most problems that have arisen are mundane, the limo employees say. Stars often try to get into the wrong limo. Individuals get left behind by their friends. Stars lose parking stubs just like normal people.
When insurance premiums became too high in 2003, Citrin sold his business to two different entities: Ampco System Parking Inc., an L.A. based unit of San Francisco's ABM Industries Inc., and Policella and Victor Morad, two longtime employees of Citrin's.
Morad and Policella purchased 50 accounts for restaurant and special event valet parking including the Academy Awards contract and got to keep the Valet Parking Service name, along with prime L.A. locations such as Lawry's the Prime Rib, Spago, special event parking for the Playboy Mansion and the Hollywood Bowl. Ampco got different accounts.Citrin remains in close contact with Policella and Morad.
"He is always involved," said Policella of Citrin. "Victor and I say that we're just renting, he'll always own it."
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.