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HEARTS OF THE CITY

The Americana Dream

Chuck Nader has devoted 15 years to filling his Gardena barn with nostalgic artifacts, from old cars to butter churns. He's hoping to share his country corner.

July 31, 1996|TRACY JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Some folks collect stamps, others prefer matchbooks, but the only hobby that ever interested former Gardena City Councilman Chuck Nader was buying a barn and filling it with vintage Americana.

He waited 30 years for that red-and-white barn in the middle of Gardena to go on sale, and when it did, 15 years ago, he grabbed it and filled it with country and western and other American nostalgia and created his own museum.

Though it is his own private space, Nader revels in taking Girl Scouts and senior citizens on tours. On days when there are no scheduled visitors, the native Southerner can usually be found tinkering with his toys while listening to country music.

As Patsy Cline sings softly from an old turntable, Nader looks over his glass-encased collection of porcelain liquor decanters and replicas of old Las Vegas brothels.

He acknowledges, though, that the antique car collection is one of his favorites. That and the barbed wire collection, which dates back to 1878.

Nader, 74, says he snatched the old barn for a sum he says is too good to talk about and hung a matching red-and-white sign out front with its new name: Chuck Nader's Classic Barn.

Now, with the barn's 45th birthday, Nader has high hopes of expanding it to include a collection of old stagecoaches and covered wagons. He is putting together an informal proposal that would require the use of Thornburg Park, a small community facility behind the barn, and hopes that by displaying the old modes of transportation, he can share history with more of the community.

"This is a piece of the country one block from the city," Nader said. "There's nothing else like this."

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Chuck Nader's Classic Barn isn't your typical henhouse; in fact, the Daphne Avenue barn has never been home to an animal. Built as a community center, it was used during the '50s as a square-dance hall. Now it's a home for his vast collection of what Nader said his wife affectionately calls "junk." He saved much of the memorabilia over the years, and visitors often bring items such as old newspapers, beer steins and Avon perfume bottles.

There are times when Nader rents out the barn for fund-raisers or political rallies; he says he charges just enough to cover insurance and operation costs, since the barn is "strictly a hobby." Many Nader family birthday parties and anniversaries are held in the barn, and a few times a year he rents out the space to a local square-dancing group.

And when curious passersby stop for a look, Nader will take them around himself, pointing out such items as the 1902 banjo and steel drum that hang from the wall, or the potbellied stove and butter churns.

Gardena resident John Warhol has added the attraction to his regular itinerary of places to go and things to see when visitors come to town. "We take them to the barn instead of Knott's Berry Farm," he said, laughing.

Warhol has lived in Gardena for 45 years and remembers when the barn was a community center. The old-timer prefers Nader's version to the old community center. He has visited the barn often and has attended wedding receptions and anniversary parties there.

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It's the memorabilia, however, that Warhol, 75, and his wife, Ceil, enjoy so much. Nader walks the couple and their friends through a time in history that the Warhols relive each time they come to the barn.

"He's got all kinds of stuff like vintage kitchen utensils and farm tools," Warhol said. "I remember that stuff and every time I walked through the barn memories come back."

The Beat

Today's centerpiece focuses on Chuck Nader's Classic Barn, a collection of Americana assembled by Nader, a former Gardena city councilman. For more information about the collection, call (310) 327-5804.

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