The Pioneer Of Parking Dies At 91

Herb Citrin, the man known as "Mr. Valet," died this past week at the age of 91. Citrin pioneered valet parking in Los Angeles more than 60 years ago.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Now, we're going to remember the man known as Mr. Valet. He pioneered valet parking in Los Angeles more than sixty years ago. He died this past week at the age of 93. NPR's Mandalit del Barco profiled Herb Citrin a few years ago, and we're going to hear a bit of her story right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED INTERVIEW)

HERB CITRIN: You have a valet to put on your clothes and you have a valet to park your car. We like our attendants to say good evening, welcome to Lawry's. But we don't say how's your wife, Mr. Smith, because he might be with his girlfriend.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CITRIN: (Singing) When I was 17, it was a very good year.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: That's Herb Citrin singing his favorite song. Before he even had his driver's license he began parking cars after school for his father, who had the parking concession at Lawry's. Citrin inherited the business when he came back from World War II. He hired two men to work for him and he outfitted them in military-style uniforms. Later, he dressed them in the familiar red tuxedo-style vests and black tie.

CITRIN: A good tip in those days was 50 cents and a really good tip was a dollar. And once in a great while, you'd run into a real swinger who would give you a five dollar bill and that was, wow.

BARCO: Citrin formalized the once-casual business and his company expanded to restaurants, clubs, hotels and private parties across the country. For decades, he parked cars himself. And as he dishes about the celebrities he's met over the years, a megastar from the early days of film and radio stands out.

CITRIN: His name was Rudy Vallee, and he was a real pain. He had a big German shepherd in the car that scared the heck out of everybody, but we still parked his cars. And he demanded that his car be parked in front. It was a Chrysler Town and Country. And his tip was 10 cents. He was a real cheapo.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Honey, can you spare a dime?

BARCO: Who's been your best tipper, you think?

CITRIN: May he rest in peace. Frank Sinatra was - nobody was like Frank Sinatra. Frank would come out of the restaurant and say, how many valets are working tonight? And if you said five, he'd give you a hundred dollar bill and say, split it up.

BARCO: At 83, Citrin has a zillion stories about valet parking mishaps. This week, he announced he's finally going into semi-retirement, but continuing on as a consultant to Valet Parking Services.

CITRIN: Old parking attendants never die, they just go on spinning their wheels.

BARCO: That's Herb Citrin, Mr. Valet. I'm Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "L.A. IS MY LADY")

FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) L.A. is my lady, and you're...

SIMON: NPR's Mandalit del Barco filed that story about Herb Citrin in 2006. Mr. Citrin died this week at the age of 93. This is NPR News.

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