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FIXATIONS

Envisioning History : Visitors to This Huntington Beach Home Keep an Eye on the Antiques

July 26, 1994|JIM WASHBURN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

HUNTINGTON BEACH — Boys! Girls! Be Happnin'! Be the Life of the Party! Be an Ophthalmologist!

Is your living room drab and devoid of revelers? Then check out what happens when you fill a corner with an old leather medical chair surrounded by creepy eye-doctor equipment.

"At all of our parties we've got people hanging around it, sitting in it, looking through it. Everybody loves it. It's a real conversation piece for sure," says Jason La Bounty, who does indeed have a living room graced with restored early 1900s ophthalmological gear.

It's stylish in a queasy way, things that look like watchwork-crafted, comic criminal masks or fanciful ray guns, all mounted on a tiered black-and-chrome stand, ready to be pointed \o7 right at your eyes! Aieee! Aieee!

\f7 "It is real 'Frankenstein,' isn't it?" La Bounty admitted. "When I first got this stuff I had it all out in the garage, and it was all dusty, rusted and in various stages of disrepair. I had a classical music station on the radio, and all the lights in the garage off so I could test the small lights on this stuff, and my wife came out and said, 'You're scaring me!' It looked like the mad doctor (was) in there."

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La Bounty, 26, isn't an ophthalmologist. Rather, as head of the service department at the Tustin-based Ophthalmic Instruments Inc., he services and repairs their equipment.

He says he and his wife, Blanca, have always loved antiques, and he enjoys tinkering with things, but his specific interest in the old eye gear began with the job.

"I saw an ad in the newspaper that said, 'Can you turn a screwdriver and do you like to work with your hands?' and I said, 'Yeah.' I've always been into gadgets, making things with my hands, taking old things that don't work and making them work. I'd been really worried I'd never have a job I'd like, and I love this job. I take a lot of pride in doing it," he said.

Though one might think he had enough of fixing equipment doing it for a living, his gaze kept straying to the company's "dinosaur room," where outdated gear was amassed. "We had so much stuff we couldn't even get to the center of it," La Bounty said. "But I knew there was this chair and stand in there."

He bided his time, repairing outmoded Poindexter-ish trial frames, which are used for fitting glasses to a head, and other small devices. Then, when the company decided to expand his department last year, they needed to clear out the old stuff, and he offered to give the more aged pieces a home.

Those included a 1920s multi-lensed refractor used to determine a patient's lens prescription, ophthemometers with light sources on them known as "fixation devices," a couple of slit lamps used to look at the back of the eye and a Synoptophore, which is a 1940s British curiosity that looks like some bit of evil out of Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" but was actually used to gauge depth perception by showing a different projected image to each eye.

The prize of the lot was the chair and stand setup, which La Bounty has dated to 1911. It was a rusty, non-functional mess when he got it, but four months of painstaking work took care of that.

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Though patent medicines and other medical hucksterisms were still the rage early in the century, La Bounty says his old equipment is surprisingly valid.

"They pretty much had it down. A lot of it's very similar to today's instruments. Looking at this stuff, the concepts haven't changed that much since then. The refractors, for example, are very similar to what they are today. They might even be a little better," he said.

Much of the new equipment, he noted, is operated from a computer key pad, rather than the doctor being right there beside the patient working the devices manually. La Bounty wonders if some of the human contact isn't lost in the process. And if an old piece of gear went on the fritz, doctors could often still find a way to make it function until it could be properly repaired. That's not the case when a logic board blows, he said. Most of all, he added, modern equipment just doesn't look like much fun.

"You've got to like the old stuff better, just because of the look of it. I mean, it's real stylish. To me that stand is very Art Deco-ish (in) the shape of the pieces. I love just looking at it."

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For a young couple, the La Bounty's have quite a few antiques. Jason may sport a nose ring and earrings (these come off when he's working in doctors' offices) and have worn blue Dr. Martens shoes at his wedding, but the couple's 1920s house is furnished with old chests, an ornate aged piano a windup Columbia 78-r.p.m. phonograph and other antiquities.

"I just think that saying 'They don't make them like they used to' really applies. I like surrounding myself with the older stuff. I'm really drawn to it. I have a fascination with history. It's one of the only subjects I did really well in in high school.

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