Originally published February 22, 2013 at The Los Angeles Beat
One of the nice things about living in a sprawling metropolis like Los Angeles is that there is always something to do and surprisingly much of it is FREE. Living here as long as I have I am constantly surprised by some of the amazing things that have existed right under my nose but have nearly completely escaped my awareness.
The Nethercutt Museum and Collection, located in Sylmar is one of those amazing treasures. Full of nearly 200 spectacularly rare and vintage automobiles along with possibly the world’s best collection of mechanical musical instruments, it is a fanatic’s dream come true. It was opened in 1971 and has expanded rapidly ever since, now encompassing two large buildings. The 2-hour guided tour through the Collection, which is separate from the museum, is a must. The guides happily describe the history of this museum and it’s founder, J.B. Nethercutt, who made his fortune as president of his aunt’s company, Merle Norman Cosmetics.
J.B. became obsessed with collecting and restoring rare cars in 1956 and had great success entering his automobiles over the years in the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, which is basically one of the most elite car contests and shows in the world. His collecting obsession also extended into the area of music machines as well and his collection is beyond impressive. These include many one-of-a-kind European Orchestrions, which were incredible early 20th century wall size machines that automatically played as many as 20 instruments in a given song. Along with the orchestrions there are player pianos, player violin machines, a player banjo, antique music boxes playing either cylinders or discs, an amazing Wurlitzer organ and nickelodeons. Many of these are demonstrated by the head of the music collection during the tour and it is nearly impossible to avoid a childlike feeling of magic and wonderment when watching and hearing these automatic bands play.
J.B. Nethercutt passed away in 2004, at the age of 91. Luckily his museum and his collection are in loving hands and are open for the public to enjoy free of charge. While the Nethercutt Museum is by self guided tour, one must join a scheduled tour to view the Collection. Make sure to also take a tour of the amazing 1937 Canadian-Pacific train engine behind the museum. It is attached to a 1912 private Pullman car once owned by the daughter of the infamous 19th-Century California businessman Lucky Baldwin. Both the engine and the Pullman car have been restored with intricate detail.
The Nethercutt Museum: 15151 Bledsoe St, Sylmar, CA 91342; (818) 364-6464.