If security staff member Dan Ellis had to pen a script about his experience at the Universal Sheraton during the Jan. 17 earthquake, he would write a science fiction movie.
“It reminded me of the ‘Poseidon Adventure,’ ” Ellis said. “All the plants and trees had been tossed aside like the hotel had been turned upside down. It felt like a giant, angry baby just stomping the hotel.” For the reopening of the “Hotel of the Stars,” Shelley Winters was nowhere to be seen, but Groucho Marx, Mae West and Keystone Cop look-alikes showed up for the celebration.
Though the 25-year-old hotel suffered no structural damage, 90% of the rooms were damaged with television sets and lamps strewn about, said Marje Bennetts, spokeswoman for the Sheraton.
Hotel guests were relocated to other hotels and all but 40 of the 300 staff members were temporarily out of a job while the Sheraton repaired the damage.
Ellis and other security personnel made sure looters stayed away during the four-month renovation. Though Ellis enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere during reconstruction--trading in a suit and tie for “sweat shirts and Reeboks"--he said he was glad when his co-workers and the hotel’s guests returned.
“It felt melancholy, as if someone had died,” Ellis said of the near-empty hotel. “The hotel was a big house, and it was like all the children had grown up and gone.”
Ellis, a four-year employee, said many staff members at the Sheraton feel a sense of belonging and family.
Gilbert Carlier, an immigrant from Bogota, Colombia, who was on hand for the hotel’s opening in 1969, anxiously awaited the reopening.
“It’s just like coming home since this is my second opening of this hotel,” bell captain Carlier said. “It was a relief to know that you’d have a job once again.”