L.A. Now

Heyday of the civic greeter has passed by

Only in L.A.

In this fast-paced, sophisticated and somewhat suspicious age, civic greeters don't seem to be getting much love.

A poet who was Laguna Beach's unofficial greeter for almost three decades died last year. No one has taken his place.

A Long Beach homeless man who waves to motorists from a street corner was out of action for several months after he was hit by a car.

And Rodeo Drive's official greeter was laid off in January, a victim of the weak economy.

"It's too bad," said Hossein Abbasi, proprietor of the Greeter's Corner Restaurant in Laguna Beach. "All the world needs a greeter. The human interaction is missing."

Certainly Laguna Beach is not as small-townish as it was in the 1880s when Old Joe Lucas, a Portuguese fisherman, started his daily ritual of waving to stagecoaches on their way to Santa Ana or El Toro.

He was succeeded in the 1930s by Eiler Larsen, a bearded ex-gardener famed for booming out to passersby, "Hello-ooo, how are you-uuu?"

Larsen, proclaimed the city's official greeter in 1963, once conceded that people "may think I'm crazy, but when a motorist comes to town, tired and weary of the traffic, and smiles when he leaves, does it matter what they think?"

In 1981, a few years after Larsen's death, his cause was taken up by Number One Archer, a poet who said he was so named because his mother was speechless when she gave birth to twins. (His brother was named Number Two Archer.)

Archer also had a trademark phrase. When asked how he was feeling, he would answer: "I'm perfect — just like you."

Now, Laguna's only greeters stand mute — two statues of Larsen occupy spots beside South Coast Highway.

"It's hard to find the kind of person who would stand out there all day and greet people," Abbasi said.

For a while it appeared that Long Beach might be without its unofficial ambassador of good will.

But, after recovering from various illnesses and an automobile sideswiping, Bob Burt is back at his spot on 7th Street, stepping boldly into traffic to collect donations from his flock.

"A woman came up to me and said, 'Where have you been?' " the 54-year-old said recently. "People tell me I make their day. A few people flip me off, but I don't get upset. I figure they're the ones with a problem, not me."

No statues honor Burt, but a local clothier did put his image on a line of T-shirts.

The news is not as good for Gregg Donovan, who was the top-hatted official greeter of the Beverly Hills Conference & Visitors Bureau for 11 years.

Visitors nervous about window-shopping at the city's high-end stores will no longer be reassured by Donovan's voice saying, "Welcome to Beverly Hills! You have arrived."

His position was eliminated by the bureau, upsetting some locals, including Larry King, who told the Associated Press, "How could they do that? He's a Beverly Hills institution."

Donovan plans to write a book.

Los Angeles has had its share of unofficial greeters over the years.

In the 1990s, Larry Green could be found daily at Highland and Melrose avenues, holding up signs that carried a thought for the day. Melrose Larry, as he is known, later became a character on the Howard Stern radio show, ran for mayor and wrote an autobiography.

Before Green, there was Eileen Anderson, the one-time Miss Liverpool, who danced in a bikini at Temple and Main streets downtown on weekday afternoons for more than a decade in the 1970s and '80s.

Anderson also ran for mayor, delivering her speeches in song. One of her main proposals was to install giant fans to "blow away the smoggy-og-og," as the lyrics went.

She retired her sidewalk-dancing gig after the city turned down her request to use Mayor Tom Bradley's parking spot when His Honor was on overseas trips.

Another greeter with a cause of sorts was Upland's Nose-Holding Man, discovered a few years ago by columnist David Allen of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.

The man would appear on a Foothill Boulevard corner each morning, pinching his schnoz shut to remind drivers of the pollution their vehicles were producing.

"We're a toilet that needs to be flushed," Nose-Holding Man told Allen. "I hate to sound so damn negative, but who can be positive with this damn dirty air?"

After several months, he ceased to appear on the corner, unwilling, perhaps, to continue breathing in all that smoggy-og-og.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World