Arthur Edwin 'Art' Nyhagen, Jr. worked at The Ambassador Hotel for 43 years, becoming both a human icon and Ambassador of Goodwill for the grand old California hotel--both a meeting place and cherished Los Angeles Hospitality landmark from 1921 to 1991. On the verge of being rebuilt and greatly expanded, the grand hotel's renovation deal collapsed and the hotel folded within 3 years of Art's retirement. Perhaps it was just as well. The Ambassador just wasn't the same without tall, tan Art The Doorman, his cabbie whistle, and ever-present smile out front under its iconic curved awning.
Addendum:April 3, 2007 -- Eileene Jensen Nyhagen, Art the Doorman's life partner of 58 years, passed away in her sleep early Sunday morning, the 18th of March. Eileene Jensen was born in Utah on October 2, 1920, the first of 8 children--four sisters and four brothers--to William and Mae Jensen, a Mormon couple from Utah and Idaho. She was a very good student throughout her matriculating years, expressing something of starstruck admiration for Hollywood and it's actors and actresses. As a young girl and teenager she helped out with her father's very successful Hamburger Stand, widely cited as an inspiration for the McDonald's chain. The Jensens proudly advertised the least expensive hamburger meals in all of Salt Lake City, the capitol city of Utah. Her father's hamburger stand continued to gain notoriety throughout the state and western states, and many budding entrepreneurs visited the stand over the years to gain some insight into how Bill Jensen managed to offer hamburgers for a nickel apiece right through the 1950's. His secret, among many, was that he made everything himself, from grinding his own hamburger from sides of beef he maintained in his walk-in freezer (next to as many as 3 - 5 sides of venison as well the year round), to using his own family's potatoes for French fries--and he even brewed his own soda syrups for his soda fountain! His secret was maintaining a low overhead by requiring virtually nothing from outside vendors or suppliers. His 5-cent hamburgers came at a time when Salt Lake City, along with many other large American cities of the era were still recovering from the aftermath of the Great Depression and the early World War II years of rationing and sacrifice. Their stand was attached to their home for all those years and the entire family pitched in to keep labor costs down.
Eileene was always rightfully proud of her parents' contributions to feeding hundreds of thousands of families during those years at such remarkably low prices. It taught her a degree of stubborn self-reliance that stayed with her throughout her life, as well as unwittingly preparing her for a life-long union with a similar soul-mate--her eventual husband of 58 years.
Eileene displayed a truly remarkable artistic talent early in her life in Utah and routinely drew and painted hundreds of small and more ambitious sketches throughout her formative years in Utah. Her wanderlust eventually drew her to the land of her dreams--Los Angeles, California and Hollywood. Her first efforts at employment in Los Angeles were attempts to work in the Animation Studios of Walt Disney, a job she was both well prepared for, and highly skilled to undertake. But it wasn't to be. After two promises of employment by the Studios that fell through, she got a job with the Haberdashery department of Bullock's Department Store in Downtown Los Angeles--and later at the May Company Department Store. It was at the May Company that she eventually met Lucille Nyhagen and they became fast friends and coworkers. Lucille had served in the Army Air Corps as a Women's Air Corps volunteer. The two became roommates. When Lucille's brother Art Nyhagen moved to L.A from Tucson Arizona, Lucille introduced them, and Art and Eileen fell in love.
Art Nyhagen and Eileene Jensen were eventually married August 15, 1946, as Lutherans, and remained life partners for the following 58 years ending only with Art's passing on October 29, 2003. Art became the Doorman at the already famous Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, and remained in that position for the following 43 years, retiring just two years before The Ambassador Hotel itself retired permanently.
They lived on Kingsley Avenue--close by the hotel for the first two years of their marriage--eventually moving to their home in downtown L.A. in 1947. Their first child--a son--was born in November of 1947, and their daughter was born four years later in 1951. After renting their home on 12th Street for a couple of years, they accepted an offer to buy the then 55 year old home from their landlords, the Paynes, in 1950. They paid off their mortgage in just 15 years, taking deed to their home in 1965, the year their son graduated from Culter Academy's High School, located at that time at 231 S. Westmoreland Avenue.
Eileene always drew on the strong family values she'd learned from her large Mormon family, and as wife, mother and grandmother, exemplified the Golden Rule values she proudly and humbly shared with her husband Art. She continued her artistic pursuits for the remainder of her life, sketching, drawing, cartooning, and painting in oils until her hands and fingers no longer permitted her that artistic expression.
Both highly self-reliant life partners, and both from equally self-reliant families, they asked nothing of others, expected little of others but common mutual respect, and together enjoyed a highly active social life throughout their child-rearing years and well into their retirement years.
As a mother, she was both firm and gentle--as every situation dictated, passing her values and beliefs onto both her own children, her grandchildren, and her great grand-child. Her deep religious beliefs eventually expressed themselves in service to her family church of over 40 years--First English Lutheran Church still located on 6th and Shatto. She was the Director of the Church's Women's Group for over 15 years, and regularly hosted lay meetings, coffees and service meetings in her home. The pastor of her church and his wife were constant visitors to their home and they all developed a powerful bond until the Pastor Schwartz's retirement.
By the time her son graduated from Culter Academy she began further expressing her artistic talents with a series of beautiful oil paintings many of which have survived her to this day.
Eileen loved her family and friends to a fault, always expecting--without the need to demand--the best of those she loved. By both her example and her instruction, her family always knew she was there for them and ready to talk about whatever she was approached about--rarely imposing herself, but rather quietly and rationally counseling any and all who sought her advice.
Eileene was a woman of high intelligence, integrity, and intellect throughout her life. For as long as I can remember--until she began having trouble writing--she could complete the most challenging L.A. Times and Herald Examiner crossword puzzles in less than an hour--combined. Card games--a life long passion--were equally challenging for her, both intellectually and competitively, and she gave no quarter in either capacity. She was always both competitive and intellectually challenging and she rarely--albeit begrudgingly--gave in to any argument or discussion. But perhaps rightly so, since she was rarely wrong in the first place.
Art and Eileene made their marks in their world in ways that few ever achieve. Together they left a legacy of two children, five grandchildren, and a great grand-child. They sent their two children to two of the finest private schools in Southern California. This in itself was an extraordinary sacrifice for both of them on just a Doorman's humble wages. And yet, they put two children through two of the most expensive schools in L.A. while at the same time paying off their home mortgage during those same 15 years. But that was always their way. Paying all bills the day they received them, ensuring their family lacked no basic needs and indeed sacrificing even further for those special treats and needs that all children long for throughout their childhood. Somehow, someway they always managed to find the resources needed to ensure their family lacked nothing, nor ever envied others.
Eileene's last 10 years were very trying for her, but even though caring for her very ill husband she kept her composure, her determination to never fall behind in any of her obligations, and continued to remain a boundless source of both pride and respect to her family--both her immediate family and her extended family.
Life wasn't quite the same for her after she lost her life partner of 58 years, and though she rarely mentioned it, you could see she had lost much her zest for life. Her last years, though her most difficult, never really held her back. She remained as feisty, engaging, wise, and genuinely loving as any mother could be expected to be in her circumstances. Even at the end, knowing her home of almost 60 years had burned practically to the ground, she knew the lessons she taught her children about the importance of keeping, holding, and maintaining the family homestead would ensure that her classic 'Craftsman' style home would continue on, after it's reconstruction and repair, as a lasting symbol of every value both she and her husband believed in and passed on to her own family.
Eileene Nyhagen touched thousands of lives with her own, and every life she touched remembers her with both profound respect and admiration. One can expect little better from Life than to have a life of often extraordinary sacrifice and forbearance eventually translate into an enduring tribute to those beliefs and their validity. To that end, Eileene accomplished everything she ever set out to accomplish and spent even the final days and weeks of her life, ensuring those sacrifices weren't in vain.
Eileene Nyhagen will never be forgotten, and will always be remembered as a woman of integrity, deep love, artistic sensibility, deep spirituality, and indomitable strength. I only hope that some measure of that acheivement can be said of any of us by the time we leave this earth to join her and her wonderful husband.
Eileene Nyhagen is at peace now, precisely where she always knew she'd be, free of pain, free of limitations, and free of any need for further sacrifice. She's earned her place in Heaven next to her husband and all who've ever had the privilege to know her. Sleep well Mom. God, above all, knows you've earned it.
An informal Graveside Observance was held at 2:00pm, Tuesday, the 3rd of April, 2007, at Forest Lawn Cemetary, Hollywood Hills where Eileen was laid to rest next to her husband Art "The Doorman" Nyhagen.