The Coolest Museum You’ve Never Heard Of
Visited: March 10, 2016
Who knew that because so many women use a certain cosmetic product line that I would be afforded the opportunity to visit one of the coolest museums most people don’t even know exists? Located in Sylmar, the Nethercuttt Museum houses what it calls “functional fine art.” If you like vintage automobiles and musical instruments that will blow your mind, this is the place. An even bigger plus…this museum is free!
In 1923, 10-year-old J.B. Nethercutt moved to Santa Monica from South Bend, Indiana, to live with his aunt, Merle Nethercutt Norman, who also happened to be the founder of Merle Norman Cosmetics. In 1933, he married Dorothy Sykes, and the couple (who were married for more than 70 years) started their love affair…with classic cars.
The collecting became serious in the 1950s. The Nethercutts had lots of cash thanks to the cosmetics business, so they purchased a 1936 Duesenberg Convertible Roadster for $5,000 and a 1930 DuPont Town Car for $500, and the collection grew exponentially from there. In 1971, they opened the museum in Sylmar that now features more than 260 vintage cars, a “a world-class collection of automated mechanical instruments” not to mention a locomotive and private car housed out back. Let the journey begin.
I had 1:30 reservations to visit the “Collection,” but I arrived a little after noon to walk around the actual museum, located right across the street from the “Collection.” The museum houses 120 of those automobiles, and they are in pristine condition.
When I walked inside, the “wow” factor struck quickly. I’ll admit that I am not a big “car guy,” although I am able to put my own gas in the car without blowing up the station. This collection, however, is impressive. Before I go on, if you remember I said the collection is described as “functional fine art.” That’s because every automobile and every piece of music memorabilia is in working condition. I had plenty of time, so even though there were lots of cars, I did not walk at an accelerated pace.
Only 18 Phantom IV Saloon, 1956 Rolls Royce cars were produced. They were built “exclusively for either royalty or heads of state.” This car was driven by a sheik for only 20 miles along Kuwait’s only paved road at the time. You can see it here.
From a 1911 Matheson…
…to a 1932 Ford…
…where you’re allotted about 15 minutes to climb inside a 1912 Pullman Railcar owned by Clara Baldwin Stocker, who was the eldest daughter of E.J. “Lucky” Baldwin (see my report on the Los Angeles Arboretum in California Dreaming for more about Lucky).
Before the official tour began, we wandered through even more vintage cars…
…like this 1958 Vespa (the first “Smart Car”?)…
Among the many cars, the 1934 yellow Packard stood out.
…including a Lladro piece on a Louis XV style Butler’s desk…
…and more historic music makers…
…but the totally amazing automated musical instruments were still one more flight of stairs up.
The “Music Room” is where we spent a good amount of time. As some of the vintage “Orchestrations” played some great, old tunes, we were shown a Louis XV style dining room.
The chairs only had one arm, just like the real killer in The Fugitive. The reason? Our tour guide told us that men would wear their swords on the side to dinner; thus the chair only had one arm, so the sword could hang down.
We walked around the Music room, which features pianos, Nickelodeons, Disc Music Boxes and Orchestrations. Some of these European Orchestrations covered an entire wall and sounded like a symphony orchestra was playing inside the room . You have to visit to experience it. Words do these Orchestrations…and the incredible music they play…no justice.
The big-ticket item in this room is the 5,000 (5,132 to be exact) pipe Mighty Wurlitzer Theater Organ. This organ (built in 1907) played in theaters showing silent movies providing both music and sound effects for the audience. Irwin said this Wurlitzer was designed to “take you to some place special” and to “escape.” He played some of the sound effects for us. The organ was retired in 1940.
For the final 15 minutes we heard the organ and the piano play in unison. The room went dark, a couple of curtains opened, and we were able to view some of the colorful pipes of the organ (the pipes actually surround the room).
These two incredible instruments combined for perhaps the best version of Ghost Riders In The Sky I’ve ever heard, and ended with the Chattanooga Choo Choo. Our nearly two-hour tour came to a close.
When you step outside, if you are so inclined, there is a Merle Norman outlet there for you to buy some cosmetics as a “thanks” for the free visit. I decided to pass on makeup test, and no, this is not a cover-up.
I know there are a multitude of museums and places of interest in the Los Angeles area, but this museum, which I had only found out about a few weeks before, would be a great change of pace if you have some extra time here.
If you live in the area, you should really take some time to come visit. There might not be any planes, but you’ll get a train and lots of automobiles, not to mention some of the sweetest sounding automated musical instruments you’ve ever heard.
Reservations are necessary for the guided tour (done online), and the guided tours are only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
As far as museums go, this one is a cut (or should I say a Nethercutt) above! In other words, you really “auto” go.
The Nethercutt Museum & Collection
15200 Bledsoe Street
Sylmar, California 91342
Hours: Self-guided tours Tuesday – Saturday 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The Collection is only available to view by guided tour only.
Tours are available on: Thursday,Friday & Saturday
10:00 a.m. or 1:30 p.m. (only 1 tour available on Thursday & Friday)
ADVANCED RESERVATIONS ONLY
Locomotive & Pullman Car Visit: Tuesday – Saturday 12:30 & 3:45 p.m.
Not handicapped accessible
No Walkers, Strollers, Wheelchairs
Cost: Free (but you ned to email for reservations to the Collection)