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Welcome To The Ft. Knox Of Record Firms

October 24, 1986|RANDY LEWIS | Times Staff Writer

Lee McGloin isn't ashamed to admit being "stuck in the '50s." In fact, the 39-year-old, die-hard Elvis Presley fan has made a career out of preserving and marketing what are, quite literally, "golden memories."

McGloin is president of California Gold Record Co. in Tustin. What the firm does is rather innocuously known as "plating and framing." In layman's terms, McGloin makes gold and platinum records--official awards that are presented to artists in the music and video industries as well as custom projects for record collectors and pop music enthusiasts.

McGloin and his sales manager, Matthew McMahon, 33, work out of a Tustin business park whose generic design is in stark contrast to the handcrafted awards and plaques that are produced within.

In one room, for instance, they have mounted four oversize wall hangings incorporating gold records by Elvis Presley, the Beatles, John Lennon and Frank Sinatra.

Looking around at the varied gold and platinum records he has produced and the numerous vintage jukeboxes he has been restoring for the past three years, McGloin said rather sheepishly: "I originally just wanted to make a playable gold record. I never thought it would turn into all this."

Schooled as an engineer, McGloin developed "a secret process" by which he can gold-plate vinyl records without melting or warping the vinyl, and the original record label does not have to be removed. He uses 24-karat gold.

Since the melting point of gold is about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, contrasted with the melting point of about 78 degrees for vinyl, the obvious question is: "How is it done?"

"That's the secret," McGloin said with a smile.

McGloin started in the music business making gold and platinum record awards for the Canadian Recording Industry Assn. (CRIA) and subsequently was contracted to do the same for the Recording Industry Assn. of America (RIAA).

In addition to its corporate clients in the music and video industries, McGloin's company is also licensed by the Elvis Presley estate to make commemorative products that are sold at the Presley mansion, Graceland, as well as by mail order.

"Elvis is our biggest seller, along with the Beatles," he said.

But McGloin is quick to draw the distinction between the official awards and those he makes for consumers.

"We never represent the customized records as official awards," he said. "Because they are official, the RIAA awards of, say, a Beatles album can sell for as much as $20,000. So the RIAA is quite protective of those."

Elvis or Beatles fans can order custom plaques of some of those artists' biggest hits, but McGloin will also custom-plate and frame any record a collector might want preserved in gold. As a result, many of the projects are genuinely one-of-a-kind products. Prices begin at less than $100 for basic plaques and can go as high as what someone is willing to spend.

The consumer side of the business has been steadily increasing in recent years, McGloin said, and the company has also branched out into buying, restoring and selling vintage jukeboxes.

McGloin's piece de resistance is what he bills as "the world's most expensive jukebox." It's a 1955 Wurlitzer Model 1800, fully restored and fitted with gold-plated parts and stocked with gold-plated singles--all No. 1, certified gold records from 1955-65. (Selection A-1 is, naturally, Bill Haley & the Comets' "Rock Around the Clock.")

"The idea was just to demonstrate that our gold records can be played," McGloin said. "This was a labor of love." Asked to put a price tag on the gold jukebox, McGloin hesitantly said $50,000 but quickly added: "I'll probably never decide to sell this one."

While the bulk of the company's business used to be its corporate accounts, McGloin said the custom gold records and jukeboxes now represent 50% of his work.

Restoring jukeboxes, he said, has become a profitable business in the past 10 years. Used jukeboxes that were made in the 1940s and '50s could be purchased for $150 in the 1960s, but they are now selling for several thousand dollars.

And with an increasing number of nostalgia-themed restaurants popping up around the country, the prices continue to go up as the number of old jukeboxes hibernating in junk shops and antique stores dwindles.

He pointed to a 1940s Wurlitzer Model 1015, which would have sold for about $5,000 just three years ago. Since then, the price has jumped to more than $8,000.

To jukebox collectors, the '40s represented the golden age, and the '50s were the silver age. McMahon joked that the more utilitarian jukebox designs of the '60s and '70s should be dubbed "the plastic age." But even those machines are just now beginning to show some collector value, McGloin said.

"We have two markets," McGloin said. "One is for the person who wants one in their home, and they want jukeboxes that work. The other is restaurants, where they'll ask for one that just looks good but doesn't have to work."

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