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A 'Born Collector' Toys With Idea of Opening a Public Gallery for His 7 Miniature Rooms

July 15, 1986|Herbert J. Vida

"When I first saw them," said Douglas Johnson of Newport Beach, "I said, 'oooh, wow, that's neat.' " And that's a monumental understatement.

What he's talking about are seven elegantly furnished miniature rooms, some of them with chandeliers, marble floors, handmade rugs, tapestry on the walls and French Provincial furniture. They're sitting under and atop work benches in his model car factory in Newport Beach.

"One of these days," he was saying as he turned off the lights so the 1-inch-to-the-foot rooms could be seen under their own inside lights, "I'm going to open a gallery so everyone can see these rooms."

He answered a newspaper advertisement and bought the rooms from a beautician who spent years making them.

"Doug is a born collector," said wife Georgia Johnson, who manages the model car business and is a member with him in the Toy Collectors Club. "He also has collections of castles and decanters." He said that he had recently sold his 20 kiddie pedal-car collection to a museum in Arizona.

"I bought the rooms because they were gorgeous," he said, although unwilling to tell the price. "I do things I enjoy, and I buy things the same way." That includes his 6,000 miniature model cars, a collection he started as a small boy, as well as a five-foot-long trailer of the 1930s era.

To a certain degree, the rooms sort of fit into his main occupation as an environmental designer for home and industry, although his first business was an exotic car repair shop in Glendale at age 17.

"You have to see the rooms to enjoy the depth of the work," he said, pointing to such intricate workmanship as decorative coffer ceilings, library books with gold titles, brass hardware and hardwood furniture. He said the rooms are patterned after the Throne Rooms which are on display in a Chicago museum.

The seven rooms recreate Early Spanish, Victorian, French Versailles and traditional French settings as well as a library, ballroom and entrance way. They all measure two feet high, three feet wide and three feet deep.

"The beautician also had a sense of humor," Johnson said. "He built a Venus de Milo statue and put a Miss Piggy head on it."

Poor Christina Lehigh. She put 55 cents in a soft drink machine at the Brea insurance company where she works and the Diet Coke didn't drop down. Unfortunately, she stuck her hand up the chute to dislodge it.

A half-hour later, a paramedic managed to figure out how to release her hand. "I was in pain," said Lehigh, who was sitting on the floor during her ordeal. "For a while I thought I had a broken finger," said Lehigh, who still had enough composure to form an opinion about the paramedic who helped her. "He was a very good looking paramedic," she said in a telephone interview.

She never did get her Coke.

"I never had luck before in my life," said Nick Sperber Sr. of Garden Grove, an immigrant from Hungary 26 years ago who likes to ride the bus, the reason for his newfound luck. He won the Orange County Transit District's grand prize drawing, a trip to London for two. There were 4,000 entries.

Just like everyone else, physicians have hobbies such as photography and various forms of painting. But then again, they step into less familiar projects, as shown in St. Jude Hospital's Physician Hobby Show.

For instance, Dr. Daniel Chiles showed his collection of citrus labels, and Dr. James Green not only displayed his antique toy soldiers but had a recording of military marches playing to get people into the mood.

In contrast to Dr. Bruce Danto's primitive art collection, Dr. Frank Amato showed his novelty watches, one with moving eyes of former President Richard M. Nixon.

"The hobbies are a release for many of the doctors who work 15-hour days," said Mary Harnetiaux, hospital spokeswoman.

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