"I really wanted something that would appeal to all my senses," said the 42-year-old executive of United Airlines. "I wanted to be able to sit in the cabin, to be able to look at all the things that were in there. And even maybe experience what the onboard product might have been like."
What he really wanted was to recreate his experience flying internationally as a child from his boyhood home in Ohio to visit relatives in Rome and Budapest, Hungary. So, when no museum met his criteria, Toth decided to create one for himself. Twenty years in the making, the result is a recreation of a first-class cabin of a Boeing 747 from the now-defunct Pan American World Airways, his favorite airline as a child.
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The cabin, made partially with parts salvaged from real Pan Am 747 cabins of the 1970s and 1980s, is ensconced in the garage of his three-level condo in Redondo Beach, Calif.
"Because the pieces are actually very expensive, I was only able to buy one or two things every year," Toth said. "So I would make one big investment in maybe overhead bins or side wall panels or seats."
Many of those parts came from so-called airplane graveyards, such as one in the Mojave Desert outside Los Angeles, a couple of hours' drive from Toth's home.
"I would sift through pieces, painstakingly, in the hot sun, in order to find the piece that I'm looking for," recalled Toth.
Hollywood productions routinely scrounge jet graveyards for parts which can command a fairly high price. For example, an airport departure screen with flight numbers and times cost Toth $800. The 14 first-class seats ran between $800 and $1,200 for each pair. Door handles from a 747 were $250 each. An overhead bin went for $350. And Toth paid well over $1,500 for the console table in the center of the cabin. In total, Toth estimates he has spent more than $50,000 on the project.
Two years ago, after an extensive house hunt in which an oversized garage was the number one criteria, Toth moved in and got started on his dream cabin.
A construction company spent about two months wiring the garage and assembling the aircraft pieces into a finished airplane cabin.
Each seat has an individual air unit and lighting. When an original Pan Am headset is plugged into the seat's audio jack, vintage music and commercials from the 1970s and 1980s are piped through.
Toth hired a custom carpet sculptor to create the nautical decor on the walls that was the signature of every Pan Am airplane. The design was copied from a photo that Toth took inside a plane during one of his trips as a child. Because airline fabric does not last long, a custom textile designer respun the Pan Am fabric in the 747 design to reupholster the red and blue seats.
Though many parts of the plane are not original to Pan Am or even to a 747 aircraft, the cabin is host to Toth's vast supply of Pan Am accessories. He has all of the in-flight magazines from the 1980s in addition to original Pan Am headsets, napkins, stir sticks, dishware, glasses, pillows and blankets.
"I probably have enough of those things to last me the rest of my life if I used one every single day," Toth said.