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"Art The Doorman"
Arthur Edwin Nyhagen, Jr.
(Mar 31, 1918 - Oct 29, 2003)
Art Nyhagen was The Doorman at the Grand Old
Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California
for 43 years from 1946 to 1989

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.

Few people in life have the opportunity to meet, greet, and assist virtually every notable luminary, politician, world leader, film star, entertainer, artist, writer, sportsman, athlete, scientist, and business magnate of their era. Art Nyhagen humbly enjoyed that privilege, variously morning, noon, and night for over 43 years. But the privilege seemed genuinely mutual. Art's extraordinary gift for making every single guest--humble or regal--feel as welcome as a long-cherished friend, earning him the respect and affection of everyone who ever met him.

I had the privilege of working with Art for several of my own early working years as a janitor and parking lot attendant. It never ceased to amaze me at the sheer number of luminaries in every walk of life--domestic and international--who not only greeted Art by name, but often remembered details about his family or mutual friends and acquaintances as well. Art was blessed with a prodigious memory regarding details, preferences, and confidences of thousands of the hotel's long-standing guests. But in all the time I observed him working, I never saw him resort to a memo pad, or notes of any kind, regarding any of those guests. He effortlessly recalled them from memory--and with such facility and ease that it continually amazed guests, supervisors and co-workers alike.

Art's family had compiled a scrapbook of memorabilia that Art collected over his 43 years at 'The Door' of the Ambassador. The collection included hand-written personal notes of thanks from luminaries ranging from the Consort to the Queen of The Netherlands to returning conventioneers--and every imaginable range of personalities or luminaries in between. Many of those notes and letters from all over the world were addressed simply "Art The Doorman, Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles." Such was the fame of the Southern California's landmark hotel--and Ambassador--during their heyday. Art's trademark black tie was adorned with over 100 keepsake pins from virtually every point around the globe. As Art's pin collection grew, more and more of the Hotel's grateful patrons continued to add to it. That tie, his extraordinary tan, his generous smile, his signature 'wink,' and the toot-toot of his cab whistle became part and parcel of a complete Ambassador Hotel experience for every guest fortunate enough to watch Art work.

And work he did. . .

Art missed only three scheduled days in 43 years at The Door, often walking the 2 miles back and forth between The Ambassador and the 1894 Victorian Bungalow he called home in downtown Los Angeles. Even his first automobile became something of a trademark for him, parked as it was adjacent to The Door, itself sporting an equal number of decals or stickers from the many day trips and vacation spots he visited during his last 23 years at the door.

Whatever ends up on this page simply won't be enough, but I can try to capture in these few paragraphs what this remarkable man has meant to the author--and to virtually every other person who ever met him--in both health and sickness.

Arthur Edwin Nyhagen, Jr. was born on the Eve of April Fool's Day, 1918, in Stoughton, Wisconsin. Stoughton was a small tobacco-growing community then, across the lake from Madison, the State Capital. Born to Norwegian parents (from Bergen, Norway), he was raised not far from the site of Little Norway--an indication of the sense of heritage and community values that surrounded him during those formative years.

Art both worked hard and played hard and was loved by one and all. His nickname, "Cyc," followed him into Navy service during World War II. From what I've gleaned from his High School yearbooks, he was a real cut-up, and both well-remembered and beloved by all. Always ready with a new joke or anecdote, Art loved to laugh till he was hoarse--and he usually made those around him laugh just as hard. He was a Golf caddy at the local Country Club every summer and on weekends. One of two children, Art had only his older sister Lucille as a companion at home. She was incredibly attractive--as both child and woman--as was their Mother, Sadie. Lucille was one of the first uniformed military women from Stoughton and entered the service shortly before Art--soon after the Pearl Harbor Attack of December 7th, 1941. That's the kind of service and example their parents Sadie and Arthur, Sr. had shown them and they were both well suited to the task. Art's life was a testimony to service--to both his country and within his chosen profession.

Though he only rarely spoke of it, Art was on the clean-up crew after the horrendous landing at Iwo Jima in The Pacific Theater of World War II. Iwo Jima was the Pacific Theater equivalent of the Omaha Beach Invasion in Europe--and just as devastatingly bloody. Art was a Seabee during the War. Once the Marines had finally taken the beach at Iwo Jima, it fell to Dad and his fellow Seabees to clear away all the carnage and pave the way for the support equipment for which those Marines had valiantly fought and died to clear the beach. One can only imagine the gut-wrenching experience that was for a man in his early 20's, as any of us who've seen the movie "Saving Private Ryan" can only begin to imagine. Herein lay one of Art's strongest traits: as in every other aspect of his life, he just soldiered on, doing what had to be done without complaint or hesitation. I've reflected on that trait of Art's through hundreds of times during critical junctures in my own life--during my own Air Force career, as a civilian professional, and as a father and husband.

After a tour with a Fire-Fighting Detachment in Hawaii following his combat experience, World War II ended and Art, along with many of his compatriots, returned stateside--to Tucson, Arizona--and began working as a Doorman there. Within a couple of years he'd made his way to Los Angeles to work at the Ambassador Hotel. (For those of you unfamiliar with L.A., that's the hotel that was featured in the Tom Hanks movie "That Thing You Do" and literally hundreds of other movies of the last 60 years. It was also infamous for being the site of Robert F. Kennedy's assassination. Art was stationed at The Door during the assassination.) He met his wife, the former Eileene Jensen, in Los Angeles while she was working in the Haberdashery Department of a May Company department store with Dad's sister, Lucille. They married August 15, 1946, and bought their home on West Twelfth Street in downtown Los Angeles.

The Nyhagens raised two children--a son and a daughter, bought their own home in only fifteen years, were devoted lay-workers and servants of their congregation at First English Lutheran Church and sent both of their children to two of the finest Christian private schools in Los Angeles--all of this on a doorman's pay. When necessary, Art took sides jobs as well to meet his family's needs. The year his son graduated from high school and his daughter graduated from junior high school, Art served for five months as a driver and personal assistant to actor Robert Young--a period during which the famous actor could not drive himself. But through it all they saw to it that their children wanted for nothing while continuously tithing to their beloved Lutheran Congregation through good times and bad. They spent their weekends entertaining friends from their church and their Summers with Eileen's extensive family in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Art reluctantly retired after 43 years of service at The Door at the Ambassador Hotel after realizing that its extensive renovation plans had fallen through. He spent his retirement years with family and church friends in L.A., Palm Springs and Twenty-Nine Palms. As his growing fight with emphysema began taking its toll, Art spent his remaining years with his family, 'puttering around the house,' gardening, reading and playing cards with his wife. At no time during which his emphysema continued to advance, did he lose one ounce of his signature good humor, laughter, outlook, 'winks' or playfulness. Throughout every year of his life he paid every bill the day it was received--through good times and bad. And as with many fathers of his character and of his Age, every one of his Christmas trees were surrounded with several presents to each of the members of his family and friends, with only a handful of presents to addressed to himself. That was both how he wanted it--and expected it--every year.

Art The Doorman passed away at Midway Hospital Medical Center at 7:40am, October 29, 2003 at the age of 85, from complications arising from a 7-year battle with advanced emphysema. He was survived by his wife Eileene of 58 years, his son and daughter, 5 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. Art made his mark in this world in more ways than he'd have ever acknowledged. But no one who ever met him remembers him with anything other than the greatest fondness and respect. That's just about as good a life as anyone can hope for in this world.

Art, I can't begin to tell you what you've truly meant to us all these years. The two years I was privileged to spend at your hospital bedside were the most enlightening and heroic experience I've ever witnessed--both in peace and war. I only pray that our own lives will one day be measured by even a fraction of the goodwill and Christian love that you contributed to our world.

A formal military Graveside Observance was held at 1:00pm, Wednesday, the 5th of November, 2003, at Forest Lawn Cemetary, Hollywood Hills. The Navy Color Guard in attendance presented an American Flag from a grateful nation to his spouse, Eileene, in honor of his Navy service.

Rest in Peace now, Dad. God knows you've earned it. And enjoy--for eternity--the companionship of the thousands of friends and acquaintances that have looked forward to their reunion with you and your ever present good humor, smile, wink and laughter.

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.


Thank you taking a few moments to mark and share this extraordinary woman's life.

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.


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