Twenty-three years after the Herald-Examiner's final front page… (Christina House, For The…)
The last edition of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner was published on Nov. 2, 1989, with the headline:
"So long, Los Angeles."
But 23 years later, one employee has not yet said goodbye. Chuck Lutz hasn't even left the building.
"They never told me not to come back to work, so I just kept coming back to work," said Lutz, who was exaggerating a little.
When a colleague declined an offer to supervise the shutdown of the newspaper plant, Lutz — who joined the Her-Ex in 1973 as a truck driver — gladly stepped into the job. One task led to another, and the Hearst Corp., which published the newspaper and still owns the building, kept the reliable Lutz around to keep an eye on things and open the door for film crews that use the property.
"I didn't know how it was going to go," he said, thinking back to 1989. "The older I got, it looked like it was going to last forever."
It might have, except that at 68, Lutz has decided to retire Jan. 9.
All of us should be as lucky as Lutz, whose job has been so easy in recent years that retirement might not seem like much of a change. Think about it. His boss is 400 miles away in San Francisco. The checks never bounce. He gets to work before traffic is a problem, and his most arduous task on many days is to watch the minutes tick away until he punches out at 2 p.m. and goes home to Mission Hills to walk the dogs.
The job requires so little movement that weight gain has been an occupational hazard. He didn't even get up out of his chair to give me a tour of the building when I visited him on the job recently. I went instead with Bryan Erwin, who manages film shoots for Hollywood Locations and had tipped me that Lutz was the last Her-Ex man standing, having been part of both "a turmoiled newspaper and its rebirth as an iconic filming location."
To be honest, I felt creepy on the tour. For me, visiting the home of a dead newspaper is like going to a relative's funeral. The nearly 100-year-old building at 11th and Broadway has become a casket of Moorish and Spanish design. William Randolph Hearst hired architect Julia Morgan, who would later create his Central Coast castle, and she gave his newspaper an ornately grand, now ghostly lobby that looks like a workable setting for a Roman orgy.
You can almost imagine Herald-Examiner crime reporter Bevo Means, back in 1947, racing through the lobby shouting "Stop the presses!" because he'd come up with a good nugget on the sensational Black Dahlia story.
Former Her-Ex editorial writer Joel Bellman, now a press officer for L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, reminded me that for all the self-indulgent romanticism of those of us on the editorial side of the operation, it's always been the Chuck Lutzes who've done the unglamorous work that actually gets the newspaper printed and out the door.
Right he is. I'd be lying, though, if I told you Lutz saw any romance in the small roles he filled helping produce all the news that was fit to print, and some that wasn't. To him, it was a steady paycheck. After driving a delivery truck for 15 years, Lutz worked as a receiving clerk and purchasing agent and kept track of newsprint supplies.
"He's kind of a throwback to an old work ethic," said Lutz's boss, Marty Cepkauskas, who manages Hearst Corp. real estate from San Francisco. Get to work on time, do what's expected, get paid, go home, and do it again the next day. Lutz has been invaluable for his reliability, said Cepkauskas, and because he knows "every nook and cranny in that building."
Since the newspaper belly-flopped, the most interesting part of Lutz's job has been coordinating film shoots. If Joan Rivers is the queen of the red carpet, Chuck Lutz has been the captain of the ink-stained carpet. He's seen half of Hollywood walk past his scrubby ground-floor office.
"We have a bar, a jail set, a flophouse hotel, an apartment, a hospital, a vault, a police station. Remember 'The Usual Suspects?' The police station where they did all that talking was right here. 'End of Days,' with Schwarzenegger, was here."
Lutz scratched his beard as he went through the list of stars he's laid eyes on. Bruce Willis. Sandra Bullock. Jonathan Winters. Eva Marie Saint.
"It's easier to tell you who hasn't been in here than who has," Lutz said, adding that it's been fun to see what the stars look like before they're powdered and primped.
Anne Archer looked good in rollers. Efrem Zimbalist Jr. was shorter than expected. James Garner drove himself to and from work; no chauffeur for him. Mark Harmon didn't like how close Marlee Matlin parked to his car.
Some stars were happy to chat with him; others weren't, and Lutz was fine with that too. He's a movie buff, not a stalker, and no glitz rubbed off on this plain-talking country boy from Ohio. Lutz did get his denim britches out of a chair long enough, though, to watch Clint Eastwood direct a scene from "The Rookie."
I made the mistake of asking if he got permission.
"I walk in my own building," he squealed, "and I stand behind who I want to stand behind. What are they going to do about it?"
Lutz, a single man, plans to team with his brother, a Metro bus driver who's also retiring in January, and buy a little horse ranch in Nevada. He does not expect to gaze up at the stars there and wonder if he should have hung on even longer at the Herald-Examiner cemetery.
"I'm 68 years old, and I don't need this," he said. "I need some time off."