Herb Citrin, who pioneered valet parking in Los Angeles and was known to many as Mr. Valet, died on June 15 at the Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda following a long illness. He was 91.
Born in 1922, Citrin grew up in Boyle Heights and then Glassell Park, where his mother kept a traditional Jewish home in an area he described as “99 percent gentile” during a 2002 interview with the Jewish Journal. Because his mother didn’t drive and his father worked nights and slept during the day, Citrin didn’t have a traditional Jewish education and never had a bar mitzvah.
A month before his 16th birthday, he joined his father parking cars six nights per week at restaurants, including Lawry’s The Prime Rib, even before he had a driver’s license. Citrin briefly attended Los Angeles City College before joining the Navy in 1942, where he worked as a radio and sonar operator aboard submarines in the Pacific during World War II.
Following his discharge in 1945, around the time of his marriage to Harriett Rosenmeyer, Citrin took over the parking concession at Lawry’s. Citing sloppy dress among valets at the time, he brought formality to the industry by having employees dress in military uniforms and wear white gloves.
After founding Valet Parking Service (VPS) in 1946, Citrin went on to handle parking for more than 20 restaurants along La Cienega Boulevard. VPS switched the uniforms for black ties and vests and expanded its client list to include hotels, department stores and Los Angeles International Airport as well as such Hollywood events as the Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes.
Wanting to retire, Citrin sold VPS in 2003.
A supporter of The Jewish Federation, the Jewish Home for the Aging and Gateways Hospital, Citrin joined Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin to help found Stephen S. Wise Temple in 1963. His first wife, Harriet, who died in 1987, made sure their children got the Jewish education Citrin didn’t have access to when he was younger.
In 2002, at 80 years old, Citrin had the bar mitzvah he missed when he was 13. His son, Rabbi Paul Citrin, officiated during the service at Stephen S. Wise Temple, while his grandson Rabbi Micah Citrin, then a student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, sang and accompanied him on guitar.
Citrin is survived by second wife Ione, daughter Laurie Briskin, son Rabbi Paul Citrin, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.