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Saving Grace : Salvage Yards Treasure-Troves of Architectural Antiques and Accessories


When John Frayer sets foot in a salvage yard, he feels like a kid in a candy store.

"Seeing those stained glass windows, antique doors and decorative hardware makes me want to buy it all," said Frayer, whose passion for architectural antiques makes him roam local salvage yards every weekend. "It's like a treasure hunt," he said.

Frayer's richest treasure chest is Scavenger's Paradise, a fancy salvage yard in North Hollywood. Stepping into the tile-roofed church turned salvage yard on Satsuma Avenue means taking a tour through Los Angeles' architectural past.

Hundreds of panel doors, a choir loft full of antique lighting fixtures, fireplace mantels in brass or wood, claw-foot bathtubs, chandeliers and architectural gems such as a majestic pair of walnut columns fill almost 6,000 square feet.

Scavenger's Paradise is one of about a dozen salvage yards in the greater Los Angeles area that specializes in some form of architectural antiques. Scattered from Malibu to downtown Los Angeles to East L.A., they serve a diverse clientele ranging from homeowners to interior decorators and restaurant owners. While some look for old pieces to keep the style of a renovated building intact, others want to add a dose of nostalgia to a new home or commercial establishment.

The inventory of local salvage yards consist of just about everything from used sinks and hardware to highly decorative items such as ornate doors and antique fountains. The majority of raw materials come from about-to-be-demolished commercial and residential buildings such as hotels, offices, schools and private homes. Prices range from $2 for plumbing odds and ends to $10,000 for a pair of 4-foot-tall Art Deco lamps.

According to salvage yard owners, the market for architectural remnants has skyrocketed over the last 10 years. Rooted in the preservationist movement of the 1970s, the demand for those rare reminders of times long gone was boosted by the recycling wave that started in the 1980s.

In recent years, tight economic times and the trend to individualize homes have sent even more people to salvage yards in search for one-of-a-kind architectural antiques. "A house is like a mirror of your personality," Frayer said. "It reflects your likes and dislikes and gives you a chance to show creativity and imagination."

The 60-year-old former dancer has been a regular at salvage yards for many years. Among Frayer's most treasured finds are a gracious pair of Art Nouveau lamps and a dozen French-made terra-cotta tiles from the 1990s.

Frayer's love for antique remnants has forced him to add on to his 1918 Laurel Canyon home over the years. Just a few months ago he finished a deck as the perfect stage for two salvaged turn-of-the-century lamp posts. Frayer's current project--a sleeping house on top of a 28-foot-high waterfall in his back yard--is a charming hodgepodge of Victorian wooden ornaments, cast-iron railings and corrugated tin from the 1940s. "Since I gave up dancing, I've made architectural salvage my creative outlet," said Frayer. "I'm the choreographer who puts castoffs in the spotlight again."

As a third-generation Hollywood resident, he feels the need to preserve history. "Within 15 minutes a wrecking ball can demolish an old building worth 80 years of beauty," said Frayer, who always keeps tools and pickup truck ready for a short-notice rescue mission. "You don't find the same kind of magic in new things."

Inspired by salvage-decorated nightclubs such as the Magic Castle and Dan Akroyd's House of Blues, imaginative buyers like Frayer find news uses for recycled architectural items.

In Frayer's home, parts of a bowling alley came to new life as a kitchen countertop, and old-fashioned doors serve as wall paneling. A solid nickel curtain rod from murdered lawyer Stanford White's apartment was revived as door hardware. "Detailing is what excites me," Frayer said. "But it can take years to get the right hardware." Finding the correct hardware for antique doors and light fixtures has become less time consuming since Liz's Antique Hardware opened on south La Brea Avenue last year. Liz's specializes in mass-produced hardware for doors, windows, lightning and plumbing from the 1850s to 1950s.

"Paint and hardware are the most inexpensive ways to change the look of your house," said owner Liz Gordon, 37. "People come in here and are inspired just by the presentation of the hardware."

Most of the some 350,000 pieces that adorn the store's 50-foot-long wall are chronologically organized from Victorian, Eastlake, Art Nouveau to Arts & Crafts and Art Deco styles. The counters below hold milk crates overflowing with knob spindles, porcelain cabinet knobs, keyhole covers, keys and casters.

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