Even the name of her apartment complex takes you back to the good ol’ days.
A thicket of mature trees and plants frame a hidden, underground entrance to Ocean’s Eleven Plaza. Visitors descend a staircase and pass a tiled lobby with a bubbling fountain and shaded park bench. Inside the wood-paneled elevator time ticks by a little slower as you creep up to the third floor.
“What could be better than living here?” asks Sandy Roth, the building’s oldest tenant and longtime landlord. She’s used to selling the units to prospective renters. After 41 years, you would be hard pressed to find a building manager in Santa Monica who has been doing it longer than her.
“The apartments are very lovely, very lovely.”
A distinct New York accent betrays Roth’s roots, although she’s lived in California longer than most of her tenants have been alive. At 81 years old, Roth is admittedly “older than the fixtures” and is affectionately called Granny Sandy by many of her tenants. She moved in July 1, 1975. A few months later, the building’s owner offered her a job.
“The man who built the building, one day he knocked on my door. I didn’t know who he was and when he told me I thought ‘uh, what did my kids do now?!’ But he said ‘I understand you would make a good manager.’”
If her tenure is any indication of her talent, she certainly has. Over the decades, Roth has seen babies born and grow up on that corner of Eleventh Street. Her personal paintings adorn the walls, including the abstract image of a tenant’s daughter as Roth imagined her before she was born. That little girl recently moved out of the complex, having finally gotten an apartment of her own.
“She’s like an adopted grandmother to me,” said tenant Jimmy Famolare who has lived at the Plaza for just over three years. He can’t imagine leaving anytime soon.
“It’s a comfortable environment. There’s really no stress. It makes my living environment that much better to have a cordial manager.”
Famolare attributes Roth’s New Yorker mentality it her charm and success after so many years. He marvels at her ability to maintain a stern, no-nonsense façade with some tenants while forming deep connections with others.
“They do the neighborly thing for each other and they help each other out and look out for one another’s best interest,” Famolare said.
“It’s nice. I’ve got lots of kids to keep me happy,” Roth said while sitting under a blanket in the three-bedroom apartment where she has lived alone since her husband passed away a few years ago. She was a mom of two teenagers when she moved in. Now she is a great grandmother.
“The body may be getting old but there’s nothing wrong with the brain,” Roth said. “It keeps me going.”
As she and the building age, Roth is always just a phone call or a door knock away from a new problem – a leaky faucet or a clogged drain. She manages the maintenance man, the electrician, the appliance guy, the gardener and a cleaning service.
“I take care of everybody,” Roth said.
And in return, some tenants now help take care of her. Her neighbors keep her company and occasionally give her rides now that Roth no longer drives.
While it’s the hat she’s worn the longest, landlord is just one title of many Roth has worn over the years. During World War II, she and her sister gave dance performances for the troops. She’s been a teacher for special needs students. A few years ago, her son got her a job as an actress for obscure cable shows and b-list movies.
“Nothing you’ve heard of,” Roth said with a smile during a tour of her apartment. Now she’s thinking about getting back into her art – picking up some oil paints and brushes and setting up an easel somewhere. Tucked away a few blocks from busy Wilshire Avenue, she hopes to be around for her tenants for many more years.
“I guess I’ll do it until I drop,” Roth said.