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A happy ending for a man who went missing

Hal Solarz, 92, wandered off after a family dinner at a downtown L.A. steakhouse. A frantic search lasted more than 20 hours before he was found at a nail salon.

November 07, 2010|By Alan Zarembo, Los Angeles Times

Hal Solarz, 92, had just sat down for a family dinner at a downtown L.A. steakhouse Saturday night when he excused himself to go the bathroom.

Ten minutes later, he hadn't returned.

A grandson checked the bathroom and returned to the table with bad news: His grandfather was gone.

"He kind of has dementia," said his daughter-in-law, Barbara Solarz. "He might not have remembered that he was with us or where he was."

What followed was a frantic search that lasted more than 20 hours, as the family chased a trail of clues. Solarz appeared to be wandering the city in a state of confusion.

The managers at the restaurant, The Palm, searched the premises and couldn't find him. Perhaps he had accidentally wandered out a one-way door into a neighboring office building. In that case, he would have had to go outside to get back to the table.

Relatives fanned into the street. In the shadow of L.A. Live and Staples Center, there were bright lights and people everywhere. His son, Neil, drove around for several hours hoping to spot him.

Nobody knows where Solarz spent the night. But Sunday afternoon, his family got some good news: He had used his MasterCard at 9:30 a.m. at a Denny's on Wilshire Boulevard.

"We were really busy," said the restaurant's manager, Patricia Aguirre, who took his order when she saw him sitting by himself in a tweed blazer and dress shoes.

He ordered a Diet Coke and an omelet from the senior citizen menu. The meal came to $10.18.

"He was a very nice man," Aguirre said. "He said 'thank you' a lot. He seemed pretty OK. He seemed happy."

By the time police and his family arrived at the Denny's, Solarz was long gone. All that remained was video from a surveillance camera.

His friends and family were convinced he was walking across Los Angeles toward his home in Brentwood. At the pace he was traveling, it would take days.

"He likes to walk," said his 60-year-old friend, Howard Shabsis, who spends a couple of days a week with him. "He's got a lot of stamina."

Though Solarz is 92, he is a young 92. He lives alone, with daily visits from friends and families. A widower, he has a girlfriend. Only in the last couple of years has he scaled back his commercial real estate business — he held on to a small apartment building — and given up driving.

About 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Solarz called his house and spoke to a friend who was staked out there as part of the search effort. He said he was calling from Karen's Nails on Pico Boulevard, where he often got manicures.

"Why isn't anybody coming to pick me up?" he asked.

But when his son arrived, he learned Solarz had never been there.

Then Solarz called again. This time, he gave an address. It was another nail salon, on Western Avenue, not far from the Denny's.

When his family arrived, the manicurists said Solarz had been there napping most of the afternoon.

alan.zarembo@latimes.com

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