Monday, December 19, 2011


I spent some time in Sylmar, the northernmost district of L.A, on Saturday.  Sylmar hit my radar because the Nethercutt Collection and Museum came up among my internet searches for cool things to do for free in Los Angeles.  On the surface, the museum appeared purely to be an automobile showcase.  I'm not a car person, but I can appreciate the aesthetic of a big, shiny machine as well as the next person, and the collection sounded intriguing.
Museum showroom
However, the Nethercutt Collection and Museum is far more varied and impressive than I imagined.  J.B. Nethercutt, co-founder of the Merle Norman Cosmetics empire, had a passion for purchasing and restoring vintage cars, and he started his collection in the 1950s.  His hobby lasted until his death in 2004, and his heirs share and continue his passion.  To date, there are over 250 vehicles in the collection, all of which are in working condition.
Collection showroom
1923 Duesenberg..."it's a Duesy!"
In addition to automobiles, the Nethercutts collect automated mechanical instruments, most notably the musical kind.  There are massive nickelodeons, orchestrions, and grand pianos, as well as every manner of music box.  The crown jewel of the musical collection is their 5,000-piped Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ which is still used on a regular basis for events.
ballroom full of musical instruments
self-playing xylophone
Mills Double Violano Virtuoso, a self-playing violin
5,000-piped Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ
I made a reservation for the 2-hour tour that's offered twice daily.  The Nethercutt Collection and Museum is actually housed in two buildings.  The museum building is open every day, and visitors are free to roam there at their leisure.  However, the more significant "collection" building can only be accessed via guided tours which one must reserve at least a day in advance.  The tour, as well as the museum admission, is free.

I enjoyed my visit.  The docent was engaging, and I especially liked the Wurlitzer organ demonstration.  (I plan on attending one of the "Silent Movies and Organ" events in which silent movies are accompanied by a live organist!)  The depth of the amassed treasures is jaw-dropping, and it's equally impressive that the Nethercutts choose to show off their enormous wealth so freely.

After the Nethercutt visit, I had lunch at Buffalo Bruce's Mercantile, a small, eccentric hole-in-the-wall that I found on Yelp.  The lunch was delicious.
Buffalo Bruce's Mercantile
pulled pork sammy, coleslaw, & potato salad w/ iced tea--YUM!!
Besides the great food, the restaurant itself was a trip.  I have to emphasize how super small the place is--there are only two tables inside the restaurant and a couple of tables out back in the patio area.  Besides food, the restaurant sells sundry goods.  I saw incense and fashion accessories and the property was stacked with Christmas trees.  One of the Yelp reviewers alleged that the joint (pun intended) also dispenses "herbal" medicine, though I didn't ask nor did I smell anything suspect.  During my meal, I chatted with the cheerful owner, and she invited me to look around the property after I was done eating.
What's visible in the pic is the entirety of the restaurant interior.
Vivian, the B.B. Mercantile's proprietress
After lunch, I headed over to the Wildlife Learning Center.  It's open to the public as a kind of zoo, though apparently, its primary focus is as an educational center. 
Wildlife Learning Center entrance
bald eagle
American alligator
The organization's website states that it "rescues wildlife and provides outreach and onsite education in wildlife biology."  It further states that its outreach program is the largest in Los Angeles.  However, the zoo itself is tiny, with probably at most a couple dozen species on display for the public.  The location of the center is also very inconspicuous, in the middle of a residential area and not particularly noticeable from the street unless one were looking for it. 

Admission to the center is $6, but for an additional charge, one is able to choose special one-on-one tours or to interact with various animals.  I initially intended to try one of the animal meet-and-greets, but I ultimately opted not to when I saw how frightened one of the animals was during its interaction with another group.  However, adolescent visitors seemed delighted to be able to pet wild animals so I might take my nephew to the center some day for the experience.  
barn owl meet-and-greet
fennec fox meet-and-greet
In total, I spent about 5 hours in Sylmar which includes the time I spent at lunch.  As much as I researched, I couldn't find much else to see/do there.  However, I absolutely think that the Nethercutt Collection and Museum is worth a visit.  And while you're at it, try some fantastic bbq and interesting conversation at Buffalo Bruce's Mercantile!

P.S.  Here are some parting animal photos:
This bobcat first hissed at me, and then he ignored me.
Eurasian lynx
snoozing serval
snoozing fox
fennec foxes--so cute!
prairie dog
No joke--this little guy was scratching to wear away the wood in an obvious attempt for freedom.


  1. Now I totally want a pet prairie dog.

  2. I wonder how Ted would feel about that.