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A Place With Every Single Thing--and More

The Marina City Club defined '70s hedonism. Today it's a sort of a graying college dorm that revels in a pampered social life and nonstop gossip.

August 13, 2000|MIMI AVINS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As a child, you expect that your parents will take care of you. Later, your employer and mate assume aspects of the job, as does the government, by mandating that you wear a seat belt, save for retirement and refrain from selling marijuana to your friends. But do you expect your home--the building in which you live--to take care of you, to keep you entertained, to set rules and make your life run smoothly?

The residents of the Marina City Club do.

The complex of condominiums and apartments that has been a landmark in Marina del Rey for a quarter-century provides an array of amenities that could coddle its nearly 2,000 residents from cradle to grave. Without ever leaving the gate that separates the Marina City Club from the world beyond, tenants can have their cars washed, order food delivered from the third-floor restaurant, get a haircut or massage, take a steam bath, buy food and liquor, see a movie, find a game of tennis, stag poker or Scrabble, go swimming or dancing, nurse a cocktail or orchestrate an affair.

The Marina City Club is a vertical neighborhood, a concrete village as friendly as any that Mister Rogers frequents. In this college dorm graying at the temples, there are no strangers. Howard Murad, a wealthy single man with grown children, met Carole Barlin here, then dropped her after a few dates, the club gossips say, when he learned she was older than he. Carole moved onto and in with Jack Eskenazi, after he'd decided he and Loralee Knotts weren't meant for each other. And Loralee, a charmer once married to a popular comic actor, wound up with Howard, who was smitten after one dance. Thus does the Marina City Club shape the romantic destinies of its inhabitants.

It's a place where the serial monogamists go while they're licking their wounds, savoring their freedom or searching for mate No. 2 or 3. Jack moved into a studio on the Center Tower's second floor in 1997, after his 33-year marriage ended. The female real estate broker who rented him the apartment told him, "The women here will eat you alive." Why wouldn't they, she thought. In his late 50s, he was professionally successful, tall and fit with a pepper-and-salt crew cut and a wit so dry that a smile never threatened his deadpan delivery. He became active in the tennis club and went to the bar and restaurant often to survey the talent in the building. Jack's idea of an age-appropriate companion ranges from 30 to 60. That would make the pool of women he's fishing in seem large, but he boasts that he won't date out of his area code. Until an in-house phone system was disconnected two years ago, he could call anyone within the building by dialing four digits.

The gym, spa, tennis courts and three swimming pools are all part of the Marina City Club, but when someone says they'll meet you at the club, they mean the restaurant and bar in the Center Tower, which is open for dinner Monday through Friday. People start arriving at the circular bar of about 30 seats at 6. Rhoda Rich, a real estate broker who handles many Marina City Club condo sales, has lived at the club on and off since the '70s. If she's on her way home, too tired to cook and wants to eat dinner at the club, she will call ahead and ask Gabe, the bartender, to save her a seat. She'd never go to any other bar or restaurant by herself, but she feels comfortable at the club.

The lighting is dim, the hum of conversation low. All sorts of people hang out here: a neurosurgeon, a psychic, housewives, salesmen, an entertainment lawyer who collects Rolls-Royces, the president of an escrow company, a man who's rumored to be a mercenary (no one's really sure), a matchmaker, an heiress, a teacher, a television producer, a Holocaust survivor, a retired film director, a bathing suit manufacturer, a stage mother and a divorced man of 75 who met a socially ambitious 40-year-old woman in the buffet line one Tuesday last November. Now they dine together, these lovers, averting their eyes when her former boyfriend, also a club member, takes a seat at the bar and trains his gaze on the Laker game broadcast from six televisions. People table-hop with impunity, then linger for hours.

Proximity to the Airport

Howard, who lives in the West Tower, moved to the club in 1995, newly divorced. A dermatologist with a gentle manner and his own line of skin-care products, he travels frequently and liked the club's proximity to the airport. He rented a one-bedroom apartment, then bought a penthouse when he decided to stay.

"Being married and living in Brentwood, I never went to a bar. In my former life, I never knew anybody. I went home to my wife every night. Here, I feel like I know everyone. The first time I came to the club, I sat down at the bar and someone started talking to me. It was home, but I didn't have to be alone."

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