Canoga Park's antique row is so dense with stuffed-to-the-rafters stores that, after a while shopping there, a sort of delirium sets in. You exit yet another old curiosity shop with the feeling that you must have walked blocks--maybe even miles--from where you parked the car. And yet there it is, and there you are: after two or three hours, only a few yards down the street.
It's hard to imagine any place richer in collectibles than this short block of Sherman Way between Remmet and Alabama Avenues (the major cross streets are Topanga Canyon on the west and Canoga Avenue on the east). "Six or seven years ago, it seems every shop on the street was American oak," says Zulia Scotton of Zulia's and Madgel's Antiques, which carries mostly country items. "Now there's a wonderful variety."
Practically every antique category that's become trendy in the last couple of years can be found in these 15-odd shops. Furniture much on the minds of collectors these days includes turn-of-the-century pieces in the Arts and Crafts, Mission and Eastlake styles, which were a rebellion against gaudy Victorian taste and the mass-produced excesses of the Industrial Revolution. Their simple lines and relatively undecorated, easy-to-clean surfaces also reflect the era's new-found fascination with household hygiene.
Other popular items are Depression and carnival glass; Bauer, Russel Wright, Hall, Fiesta, Franciscan, Roseville and Weller pottery; advertising art from matchbooks to vending machines; old children's books, and 19th-Century country kitchenware and painted pine. The block has examples of each.
Prices are generally lower than these of the chic, well-known antiques centers on the Westside, sometimes dramatically so. On Sherman Way, a Rauer bowl can be had for $10. On Melrose, you would typically pay at least two or three times that much. But you can't always expect a huge bargain just because this is a less fashionable area of town, especially when you're looking at higher-end items.
As Stan Goldman of Turn of the Century Antiques, which specializes in restoring old American oak furniture, explains: "I have to pay the same prices to get the stuff that they do. And I used to be able to get anything I wanted and as much as I wanted. But we're running thin." Still, the street is far enough away from the Beverly Hills set that prices remain comparatively reasonable.
"I always like to say we're the biggest secret in the Los Angeles area," says Laura Stern of Under One Roof, which, like many of its neighbors, is popular with savvy tourists. "I have a lady from outside of Boston who said she could buy here and ship home and still save a fortune."
A quick trip to a bookstore or library for a reference work helps enormously in appreciating what you find. An excellent overview of collectibles on today's market is "Schroeder's Antiques Price Guide" (Collector Books, $11.95). The 1988 edition is widely available in bookstores.
All the stores are open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and a few are open seven days a week. Starting from the northeast side of the street, here is a shopping guide:
Under One Roof specializes in good antique French and American Federal furniture, says Laura Stern, who owns the shop with her husband Cliff. "The two are hard to come by," she explains, "and of all the periods, this is the best investment value." But like most dealers, the Sterns also carry whatever catches their eye. Available recently were a five-piece brass Russian samovar with a Czarist seal for $1,295 and a $3,500 18th-Century English table with a green leather top and odd little drawers: The lord of the manor used them to keep track of his tenants' rents.
"I doubt we'll ever see anything like it again," says Laura Stern of the table. Near the doorway, where the Sterns' two dogs can be seen most days dozing in the sun, stands a small, unpriced turn-of-the-century statue of a woman, a sentimental favorite. "She probably had a little tray on her head for calling cards," says Stern. "Somebody wanted to buy her the other day but I just couldn't part with her."
Zulia's and Madgel's Antiques is piled high with country items ranging from old colanders and wooden spoons for a few dollars each to punched-tin and pine pie safes for $795. "The holes in the tin were supposed to keep mosquitoes out and let air circulate," says the chatty co-owner, Zulia Scotton. "Now, in California, with the amount of ants we have, I don't think it would work." Scotton estimates the same piece would be $1,000 to $1,200 on the Westside. "The Melrose dealers come over and buy from us," she notes.