L.A.'s answer to the doorman

Need to hire a cat sitter, meet new people or rent a helicopter? Just ask the residential concierge.
(Kimberly Roberson / For The Times)
Times Staff Writer

New York has its doormen, ready to assist city dwellers at a moment’s notice. Downtown L.A. has its concierges.

Though they don’t wear the bulky overcoats, funky hats and white gloves that doormen do — besides, in L.A., who would really want to? — and the job description differs somewhat, the basic concept is the same: Concierges put a friendly, familiar face among the sometimes mean streets surrounding a high-rise apartment or loft.

Want to get from downtown L.A. to the beach without a car? Need tickets to Cirque du Soleil? How about a hot tip for meeting people? The concierge has the answer or can get it for you.

“Part of the job is being people’s mother, father, tour guide, coach and referee in disputes,” Jon Lennie says in between greetings to residents passing through the lobby of the Grand Tower apartments. “Often, we’re the first friend they have in the building. It’s like being an ambassador.”

Over the last dozen years, half of those in downtown, Lennie has seen it all. In addition to fielding the usual calls about dinner reservations, grocery shopping and things to do, he’s had to track down a good cat sitter; a place that rents Maseratis; and a helicopter, so that a man could propose to his girlfriend while flying over the city. Perhaps the most eccentric request came from a resident who didn’t want to tie his own neckties; a quick call later, and Lennie discovered that his former employer, Nordstrom, would pre-knot 40 of them for free.

Indeed, concierges tend to be a tightly knit group, often relying on one another to find a quick solution. When Sherry Zelickson of the Pegasus Apartments needed to procure a flower arrangement for a resident after 6:30 p.m. one day last week, she called a hotel concierge across town, who knew of a late-night florist. On a typical day, Zelickson fields about 30 requests, sometimes juggling three or four at a time from residents in the 322-unit complex. To provide quick answers to some of the more common questions, she’s developed handouts g. Most important, though, is careful listening to gauge what each person’s interests are.

Though the residential concierge field is fairly small, it shows signs of expansion, in large part because of the surge in housing in downtown Los Angeles, according to those in the business. Concierges are a natural for the high-rent district, but they’re also a way for developers to offer an amenity in a building without a pool or spectacular views. Anticipating that demand, Lennie formed Concierge Solutions, a business that contracts with complexes such as the Medici and Orsini.

“With the residential growth downtown, to me, that’s a whole new ballgame,” says Richard Sain, president of the 42-member L.A. Society of Corporate Concierges. “Though the concept has been around for a long time in other cities and even places like Beverly Hills, it’s new downtown.”