Sheila and David Epstein are accumulating properties faster than Donald Trump. While the appreciation factor of their buildings is more modest, it's not insignificant. Along with such icons as the Eiffel Tower and the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., the semiretired Woodland Hills residents number their holdings at about 1,000 sites--souvenir building replicas produced since 1910.
Their L.A. landmarks include the Capitol Records building, City Hall and Griffith Observatory. New York City is also well represented, with sites such as the Statue of Liberty (they have 40 versions), Empire State Building, Flatiron Building and the Guggenheim Museum. A good portion of the collection consists of souvenir bank buildings. Most are made of cast pot metal--a stew of zinc, copper, aluminum and other metals.
The replicas hail from throughout the United States, from Alaska Mutual Savings Bank to Ford City Bank in Chicago to Tallahassee Federal Savings. "The ones from the '60s and '70s especially give a good idea of what suburban banks looked like," says David. "It's a good architectural history lesson."
Experts agree. "Souvenir buildings . . . offer something like an alternative, shadow history of architecture," note Margaret Majua and David Weingarten in their book "Souvenir Buildings Miniature Monuments: From the Collection of Ace Architects.'' "This history is popular, rather than academic. It is largely unconcerned with period, place, style and the inexorability of progress; instead it focuses on the range of buildings people have thought remarkable, important, appealing and worthy of a souvenir."