By Richard Guzman
October 6, 2014
It was heart-wrenching for Anthony Toth to see his life dream slowly being dismantled into hundreds of pieces.
The Pan Am enthusiast had spent upwards of $100,000 and more than 20 years of his life collecting authentic items to create a replica of a Pan American World Airways Boeing 747 cabin.
First he set it up in his home. Later he moved it to a bigger space in a City of Industry warehouse where he had more room to fit the cabin, which included a cockpit, the economy and first class sections and an upper deck lounge. All were completed with original seats, tables and even smaller details like branded glassware, napkins and authentic Pan Am headphones.
About three months ago, it was dismantled and loaded into trucks for the 40-mile trip to Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley.
Despite the emotional ache of seeing his creation hauled away in pieces, Toth knew it was a good move to a new home that, starting this month, will give aviation enthusiasts a chance to once again take flight on a Pan Am 747.
Well, sort of.
“For me walking through that Pan Am doorway when I was a kid and seeing the flight attendants with the staircase in the background was such an exciting moment that I want to re-create that for everybody who walks into this airplane,” Toth said while work crews were busy putting his cabin back together inside a cavernous warehouse at the Pacoima-based Air Hollywood studio.
The aviation-themed film studio has partnered with the 47-year-old airline executive to provide “The Pan Am Experience” for $267-$297.
The first “flight” takes place Oct. 18 and seats have already sold out, as have five others.
Although it costs as much as actual plane tickets to get into the cabin, passengers who buy a seat aren’t going anywhere at all. Instead, they’ll get a dinner, a movie and cocktails because their real destination is nostalgic rather than geographic.
“We’re trying to make it as authentic and reflective of Pan Am style back in the ’70s. Everything from the way the flight attendants dress, serve the meals and serve the wine, to the way the carts look,” Toth said. “The way the cabin looks will be reflective of the Pan Am experience of the era.”
The iconic airline folded in 1991 after decades of being an industry leader known for revolutionizing flight routes and the way passengers were treated once on board.
“Pan Am is really famous for its in-flight experience,” said John Wensveen, head of the Department of Aviation Technology and a tenured professor at Purdue University who teaches a course on the history of Pan Am.
“From the flight to the drink service, to meal service, to the entertainment provided on board, it was all five-star. They served food on real china and real crystal glasses to drink out of, they had real silverware, white tablecloths, it was like eating in a five-star restaurant,” he said. “They made flying attractive and fun and more affordable to mainstream society.”
When the Pam Am passengers arrive at the Air Hollywood studio, located on a dead-end street in an industrial area of the Valley, they’ll see an image of a 747 spanning the width and height of the interior of the warehouse.
Toth and Talaat Captan, CEO and founder of Air Hollywood, got up at 3:30 one morning in late September to drive to an airplane graveyard in the Mojave desert to take a picture of a 747 that would match one from the Pan Am era.
Once the image is blown up, it’ll cover the exterior of the cabin with an opening cut out for the cabin door. It’s all to add to the illusion and make it seem as if people are actually entering a real Pan Am plane.
“It was just such a beautiful era for traveling,” Captan said.
Passengers will then be greeted by stewardesses dressed in authentic 1970s Pan Am uniforms, which cost Toth as much as $1,000 apiece. They will lead passengers into the cabin where they can check out Toth’s creation and mingle during a cocktail hour.
Then they’ll take their seats either on the main deck (the $267 ticket) or in upper deck lounge seats ($297) where they will be served dinner like the real airline did it back in the day: a multicourse meal on real Pan Am china and glassware.
There will be no movement in the cabin to simulate flight, but there will be sound effects in the form of the auxiliary power unit hum that’s heard in airplanes.
After dinner the passengers will be able to tour the rest of the Air Hollywood facility and see other aviation production sets that include the cabin used in the 2011 comedy “Bridesmaids” and the cockpit used in the 1980 comedy classic “Airplane!”
“It’s ultimately an experience that can’t be replicated anywhere,” Toth said.
His love of Pan Am started when he took his first Pan Am flight in a 747 at the age of 5. He bought his first airline seats at the age of 15 and in his 20s he began collecting Pan Am pieces.
In 2007 he hired a contractor to begin turning the garage in his Redondo Beach condo into a life-size cabin.
He held dinners with friends there, which were similar to what’s now being offered at Air Hollywood, but this is the first time it’s open to the public.
To add to the authenticity of the experience, the women hired to act as flight attendants for the Air Hollywood event will be trained on how to attend to passengers by an authentic Pan Am stewardess.
“They didn’t spare any effort or expense in keeping their passengers happy,” said Signal Hill resident Barbara Norberg, who worked for the airline for more than 20 years, starting right out of college in 1970.
“We did six- or seven-course meals in first class, we always had the finest wines and champagne. I remember sitting in first class with passengers after the meal service playing poker because that’s what we did, our job was to make the customers comfortable and give them an experience they would never forget,” she said.
Meanwhile, as crews continued to put his cabin back together, Toth stood in the first-class lounge area excited about some of the changes made to the cabin as a result of the move.
Since there’s more room now, the galley and staircase are the correct distance apart. He’s been able to add more seats to the cabin, too.
He also reflected on a bigger overall goal with his passion project, which is to create a living museum of sorts to help preserve the memories of a different era in the airline industry.
“I think there’s such a rich American history that exists. Unless someone preserves it and allows people to feel it and experience it and touch it and be a part of it, it’s going to evaporate from everyone’s memory,” he said. “And that’s what I want to avoid.”