On an unusually warm December night, more than 25 years after her final flight with Pan American World Airways - 11 hours from Frankfurt to Los Angeles - Anna Gunther once again put on her pantyhose and blue uniform with white trim, so she could serve dinner on the upper deck of a Boeing 747.
But this airplane wasn't going anywhere. It was a model, like a child's playhouse, built by a man who had dreamed of re-creating the plane he loved as a boy.
This was a chance for Anthony Toth to unveil, for the first time, what he had created inside a 3,000-square-foot warehouse in the City of Industry. Here was his opportunity to show why he hired a contractor, spent more than $100,000 and used almost every vacation day he ever earned to reconstruct a major chunk of the interior of a Pan Am 747.
Sure, he had shown off airplane models before. He once even had a smaller replica inside the garage of his Redondo Beach condo. But at home there was no upper deck. And what's a 747, even a replica, without a second level?
There was another problem with his garage. Other than running to the kitchen, Toth had no way to prepare meals for his faux travelers. But the warehouse was different, and that's where Gunther came in.
She had never met Toth, a sales executive at United Airlines based in Los Angeles, but, almost on a lark, she agreed to help him. Toth wanted to pretend as if he were flying some of his co-workers and friends to another continent, and he wanted former Pan Am flight attendants to serve drinks and dinner, just as they might have three or four decades ago.
On the big day, Gunther arrived at 3 p.m.
When Toth's 11 guests arrived a bit later, they walked into his warehouse and past the ticket counter with the bright blue Pan Am logo. They saw a sign indicating Flight 21 to Tokyo would leave soon. Then they walked onto a short jet bridge, through a real aircraft door and turned left into first class.
On board, they took amenity kits tucked in plastic and filled with goodies like slippers and a damp "refresher towel." They picked up a real set of Pan Am headphones, ones they could plug into a jack on their seats to listen to music or watch the movie projected overhead. They grabbed vintage magazines protected by a Pan Am branded sleeve.
They took their plush seats - the cabin has 18 of them arranged in an alternating blue and red pattern - raised their leg rests and reclined. They looked around. Everything was accurate, from the distance between seats to the overhead bins to the aircraft's shell to the galley Gunther and her three colleagues used to ready drinks. Using his iPad and hidden speakers, Toth had even piped in the humming of jet engines.
It was so true to the real thing, it blurred the line between reality and fiction.
It was as if Pan Am was flying again.
Toth, 46, is lean and wiry, a few inches shy of 6 feet, with receding black and silver hair cut short.
In many respects, he had been planning for this night his entire life. Hooked on flying since his first Pan Am 747 trip at age 5, Toth once - as a 15-year-old in Ohio - persuaded his brother to pick up some airline seats he wanted to buy for his room.
In his 20s, Toth began gathering pieces for what has become his life's mission. He was working for United outside Chicago, and the airline had bought some of Pan Am's routes and airplanes. The old Pan Am stuff - glassware, ice buckets, serving carts, salt and pepper shakers, dining utensils and cocktail napkins - was no longer needed, so for a month Toth made nightly trips to a warehouse, loading the loot into his Honda Civic.
Wherever he moved, his collection came, too. By the time he arrived in San Francisco several years later, Toth had created a mock airplane interior running through his kitchen, living room and dining room. "The only problem with that is you can't hide your hobby for anyone," he said, grinning.
Toth next moved to Redondo Beach, where he bought a condo in part because it included a 2 1/2-car garage, and in 2007 he hired a contractor. First they worked to install real side panels and overhead compartments from a retired DC-10 airplane. Then he recovered some seats and installed a short piece of a real 747 spiral staircase.
That model was good enough to get Toth on television, in magazines and newspapers - famous for being the guy with the strange, expensive hobby.
Still, Toth felt like a charlatan.
Only the biggest aviation aficionados could discern the corners he cut, like the side panels from a DC-10 rather than a 747, but Toth was disappointed.
"He is perfectionist," said his friend, Brett Snyder, author of an influential aviation blog. "He wants it to be the way it was. I know it was killing him. If the seat pitch was off a little bit, he wanted it right. He needed it right."
Soon, he had his excuse to go bigger. Redondo Beach authorities started asking if his hobby was up to code.
He thinks it was, but it didn't matter. He knew the city would never allow him to cut a hole in the garage roof to add an upper deck.
He went looking for warehouse space.
The new cabin - about 60 feet long, stretching from the airplane's nose to the front of the wing - is an almost exact replication of a 1970s and '80s vintage 747.
In addition to first class, Toth installed 26 powder blue seats in what was called Clipper Class - a premium economy class section with extra legroom.
Much of his plane is a former Japan Airlines 747 he rescued from storage space for retired airplanes in the Mojave desert.
Perhaps most impressive, the first-class galley, or kitchen, came in one 800-pound piece from Mojave, trucked on a tractor-trailer and moved by four men from the parking area into his space. Contractor Doug Bernhardt was in charge of making it all fit together.
"We get a picture, and we look at it and he says, `This is what I want it to look like,"' Bernhardt said. "That's the magic in it. That's where you have to have an imagination."
While most of the interior is real, Toth uses some re-creations. But things must be perfect. His upper deck tables were constructed incorrectly, and while only serious Pan Am lovers can tell the difference, Toth had them remade. "Unless it looks exactly like it did when I was a kid, I'm not going to be happy."
He has big future plans. Recently, Toth paid $6,000 for a full cockpit from a retired Air Canada airplane. He's now working on getting it delivered to his mock-up - a process he expects will require a tractor trailer and a forklift.
For now, anyone who walks through the cockpit door is met with disturbing reality: It leads only into the dark, dank space of his warehouse.
For Gunther, it came back quickly.
Being aboard Toth's 747 was not so different from Aug. 3, 1967, her first Pan Am flight - New York to London on a Boeing 707. She loved Pan Am, how flight attendants never had to carry their own bags, how they stayed in the finest hotels and wore the sharpest clothing. She remembers layovers in London, where she would keep her uniform on for hours so everyone would know she worked for the world's most revered airline.
Now 65, she laughs about it. "Look at me, I'm a Pan Am flight attendant. It sounds so ridiculous now."
Pan Am folded more than two decades ago, but Gunther said she remembered her training as soon as she donned her white service gloves and stepped aboard Toth's plane. "It was just like the old days."
At dinner, Gunther served from a cart, plating each passenger's salad and entree individually, just as on Pan Am. Dinner had been dropped off by the Flying Food Group, a company that usually provides food for airlines operating at Los Angeles International Airport.
On this night, it was warm outside, and - with no air conditioning inside the warehouse - Gunther sweated profusely. Occasionally, she snuck sips of wine, but otherwise, she worked almost without break.
For much of the evening, Toth followed the flight attendants with a notepad, asking how he could improve his accuracy. Smiling, Gunther told him he was wearing his captain's wings on the wrong side and then rejected his offer of tongs for bread.
"Pan Am flight attendants don't use tongs," Gunther told him. "We use a spoon and fork like in the finest restaurants."
Six hours after it began, they were finally done. One of Gunther's friends took off her pantyhose in the parking lot. Gunther waited until she got home, making it the first thing she did after returning to Pacific Palisades. They were exhausted.
Toth was pleased. Eventually he'd like to rent out his replica for film shoots, perhaps to make enough money to pay for future improvements, like a full economy class cabin. But for now, he has what he wants.
"I know there are a lot of people who think I'm nuts," he said. "But ultimately this is such a major part of my life, I couldn't imagine not doing it."
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