CHATSWORTH -- Over the past 16 years, entrepreneur Tommy Gelinas has collected thousands of historic artifacts, vintage signs, and old photos, postcards and documents from around the San Fernando Valley dating back to 1800s.
Gelinas founded Valley Relics about a decade ago in the Los Angeles area. He stored most of the collection inside the warehouse of his T-shirt printing business, The Print Lab, in North Hollywood, arranging quick tours for those who called him wishing to see it.
Starting Oct. 12, however, Valley Relics, which became a nonprofit earlier this year, is opening a museum to the public on Saturdays that will showcase the Valley's commercial, architectural and cultural history inside a large industrial building on Marilla Street.
“It's a labor of love. It's my history. It's the only history I have,” said Gelinas, who is 49 and was born and raised in the Valley. “I think the San Fernando Valley needs something at a community level that we can all enjoy. Really, that's our past. It was a simpler time, a safe time and that's just where my heart is at.”
Gelinas has a team of about 10 dedicated volunteers, including family members and friends, who help him find, transport, restore and promote the artifacts. The San Fernando Valley Relics Facebook page now boasts more than 270,000 fans.
The Valley Relics collection includes the iconic White Horse Inn sign and tufted door from the former Northridge restaurant on Roscoe Boulevard that was established in 1958 and the original Googie-style Henry's Tacos' sign and original wooden sign menu from the Studio City “gringo taco stand” that closed and relocated under new ownership earlier this year.
It also includes a letter that is believed to have been written in 1865 by real estate developer Mr. Isaac Newton Van Nuys, a Valley pioneer who founded the community of Van Nuys in 1911. The rare letter to a friend, which bears his signature and was bought in an online auction, explains Van Nuys' journey from the East Coast to San Francisco and his impressions of Northern California.
“This wasn't on the auction block for a million dollars,” Gelinas said. “Technically, it's worth a few hundred but to someone like me, it's worth everything in the world.”
The collection also includes the towering sign from Drexler's Delicatessen in North Hollywood, the Valley's first kosher deli, and two classic, garishly-decorated Nudie Cohn automobiles on loan from the famous rodeo tailor's granddaughter, Gelinas said.
Jim Hier, a history buff and author of the book Granada Hills (Images of America), said he was impressed when he saw the Valley Relics collection for the first time in July. It's a long-running joke, he said, that the history of Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley is temporary until something newer or better comes along.
“The Valley is often overlooked and simply lumped into the overall history of L.A. (but) it has an interesting and unique history all its own,” Hier, who lives in Oregon, said. “I hope with Tommy's effort, people are going to start to realize that and really start to appreciate what has gone before and what still remains of the history of the community.”
Gerald Fecht, immediate past president of the Museum of the San Fernando Valley, which has been looking for a home for its own artifacts since 2005, said he was thrilled that Valley Relics has found a location for its artifacts, many of which focus on popular culture in the second half of the 20th century.
“We're excited about anybody creating focus on the incredible history of the San Fernando Valley,” Fecht said. “It's just extraordinary. Every day I discover some intriguing and some exciting new thing about the creativity of this place.”
The Valley Relics Museum will have its grand opening from noon to 5 p.m., on Oct. 12, at 21630 Marilla Street in Chatsworth. The museum will be open every Saturday thereafter from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, go to valleyrelics.org or call 818-764-0230.