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JAUNTS: In and around Ventura County | GOING SOUTH

Sylmar Surprise

Visitors to the Nethercutt site make some stunning finds.

June 12, 1997|IRENE GARCIA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They call it the best-kept secret in Sylmar. When you walk into the San Sylmar building and see its 200 vintage cars and antique mechanical musical instruments, you'll know why.

The building and collection seem out of place in a working-class neighborhood surrounded by factories, warehouses and liquor stores. The building is owned by millionaire J.B. Nethercutt and his wife, Dorothy.

Free tours of the Nethercutts' famous collection are offered twice a day Tuesday through Saturday by reservation only. Oh, and there's a dress code: No jeans or shorts.

The tour begins in the underground garage, which contains an array of restored vintage cars such as a 1930 Cadillac and 1948 Tucker.

"It's so wonderful to go back in time like this," says a woman in her 70s. "This brings back memories."

Curator Byron Matson introduces himself to the morning's guests. He leads the group of about 20 to the Grand Salon, where the highlight of the car collection is housed.

"As you can see, this is sheer elegance," Matson tells the group.

He's right. The room, with marble floors and crystal chandeliers, looks more like a grand palace ballroom than an automobile showroom.

The cars are amazing and in top condition. There's a 1906 Franklin, a 1934 Packard Dietrich convertible sedan, and the most valuable automobile in the collection, a 1933 Duesenberg Arlington Torpedo sedan worth about $5 million.

"None of the cars are for rent or for sale," Matson says. On the building's top floor is a variety of vintage mechanical musical instruments, music boxes, orchestrions and a 1917 Wurlitzer theater pipe organ. "Orchestrions were used in ballrooms in place of an orchestra," Matson says.

All the orchestrions are functional, and visitors sitting on antique chairs and couches that dot the huge room are treated to music.

"This is a real toe-tapper," Matson warns the group. "So get ready."

All of this in the heart of Sylmar.

BE THERE

San Sylmar tours, 15200 Bledsoe St. in Sylmar. Free tours Tue.-Sat., 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. (818) 367-2251.

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