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Century Plaza Hotel: A Workplace Friendship 47 Years In The Making

James Lee and Patsy Anderson are the longest lasting employees at the soon-to-be shuttered Hyatt Regency Century Plaza. Photos by Mariella Rudi.
James Lee and Patsy Anderson are the longest lasting employees at the soon-to-be shuttered Hyatt Regency Century Plaza. Photos by Mariella Rudi.

James Lee and Patsy Anderson are the longest lasting employees at the soon-to-be shuttered Hyatt Regency Century Plaza. In less than a month, the pair will be gone along with countless other employees who have spent decades serving one of Los Angeles’s most recognizable hotels and Century City.

Part of Michael Rosenfeld’s $2.5 billion renovation, the famed and reimagined crescent-shaped Century Plaza will open again in 2018 as a luxury hotel and residence, with two 46-story towers behind.

Lee and Anderson experienced opposite perspectives of the storied hotel – Lee in the front, Anderson in the back – but they’ve been by each other’s side for nearly a half-a-decade.

“We’ve been friends for 47 years, and we’ll be friends until death,” Lee said.

The two started working together in November 1968, a couple years after the Century Plaza Hotel first opened its doors. Lee was a 23-year-old valet, and Anderson, 18, was learning how to cook in the employee kitchen. Back then, the hotel stood mostly by itself on Avenue of the Stars, but the former 20th Century Fox backlot was rocketing into today’s Century City.

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“When I first became a doorman, I almost turned the job down because of the beefeater uniform,” Lee said. “Two minutes after I was out there in the uniform, it was like I had always been out there.” Today, his license plate reads Beef Eater. Courtesy image.

“When we first started, the hotel was kind of in its heyday. There were all kinds of galas, presidential events, night clubs,” Lee said. “The lobby court was something. People would just come to sit there just star gazing. The lobby bar was just grand. It had marble and was beautiful. I will always carry a part of the Century Plaza with me because I have a slab of that marble at home that I’m going to do something with one of these days.”

Surpassing Anderson by just two weeks, Lee has worked at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza the longest, acting as head doorman of the hotel.

“We were just constantly busy out in the front, both day and night,” he said of the hotel’s prime. Some of his more stately memories include President Richard Nixon’s “Dinner of the Century” to celebrate the Apollo 11 moon landing and the 10,000 Vietnam War protestors against club-swinging police at President Lyndon Johnson’s Democratic fundraiser.

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Lee is the longest lasting employee at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, acting as head doorman of the hotel.

Political impressions aside, the celebrity tales Lee holds in his arsenal could fill a seasons-worth of an E! Television show. He’s collected autographs for his wife over the years, snagging signatures and conversations with James Garner, Clark Gable, Robert Duvall, John Ritter, Lucille Ball, and Loretta Young, to name a few.

Holding onto scraps of notebook paper, Lee consulted his notes, 47 years worth of talking points.

One event he could recite from memory was the time Whoopi Goldberg arrived at a fundraiser, “riding on the hood of a limousine all silvery, dressed as a hood ornament,” he recalled.

Meanwhile, Anderson saw a different side to the Century Plaza, behind the scenes that only she and a few secret service agents can tell you about.

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“People ask me what I do and I tell them the recipe is done with love,” Anderson said.

Patsy’s Cantina – as the kitchen is named in her honor – feeds the hotel’s employees, security detail, and other law-enforcement officers all day, but she’s most famous for her breakfast.

“People ask me what I do and I tell them the recipe is done with love. And I enjoy what I do. I’m very busy, I get tired, but I enjoy – I cook the people’s food like I’m going to eat it myself. And I enjoy seeing people eat,” Anderson said.

Getting to her “office” is a lesson in the Century Plaza’s back-of-house operations.  Through the lobby and behind steel double doors, past the cleaning supplies and a few money blowing machines, and down the beige cement labyrinth is Patsy’s Cantina.

Inside contains flat screen TVs and a foosball table. Employees on break play chess, and one man is taking a power nap on the couch. Despite its stylish modern update, the Cantina acts as the employee’s home base with its countless late-night conversations and break time powwows. It’s also where Anderson grew up, learned how to cook, and first met her husband.

Patsy - Cafeteria
Anderson started working at age 18 at the Century Plaza Hotel in November 1968. She learned how to cook in that kitchen, named in her honor. Courtesy image.

“We have over 600 employees and she knows every one of their personal preferences,” said Hyatt Regency Century Plaza director of public relations Adrienne De Vore. “It’s her kitchen, you feel like you’re at home, and mama’s looking out for you.”

Anderson conceded to her own modesty, and replied, “Pretty much. I know everybody, and when I see them coming, I get their food ready for them.”

Even when a new employee arrives, Anderson acts as gatekeeper, shepherding him in and shedding the first-day nerves.

Anderson, a 30-year breast cancer survivor, said she has a lot to owe to the family-atmosphere of this hotel. When she was in the hospital, she credits the hotel’s employees to her recovery, including Lee who she said took care of her.

“You would’ve though I was a celebrity with the room filled with flowers,” she said. “I get emotional right now because I was really, really sick, but I refused to give up. When I saw all these people that loved, it just made me push a little bit harder.”

Anderson and Lee both planned to retire in 2016, so it was fortuitous that they could leave at the close of the hotel, taking the golden parachute.

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“I know everybody, and when I see them coming, I get their food ready for them,” Anderson said.

“It’s been a good time here,” Anderson said. “I’m really going to miss it when the place closes because it’s been a part of me for all these years. I have mixed emotions, but everything comes to an end. I’m not going to see the people I’ve been with for 30 to 40 years anymore.”

Anderson and Lee said they definitely plan on seeing each other after the hotel closes March 1.

“My husband used to get mad” at the close friendship, Anderson said.

“I didn’t know that!” Lee said, adding that both of their spouses now understand the deep-rooted relationship the hotel has nurtured.

They laughed, and you could tell that there exists a 47-year-old history only they and the Century Plaza Hotel will know.

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