Rides and Destinations: The Nethercutt Museum and Collection

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The Nethercutt Museum and Collection.
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The Nethercutt Museum and Collection.

The Skinny

  • What: The Nethercutt Museum and Collection, 15151 Bledsoe St., Sylmar, California, 91342, (818) 364-6464. Admission to both the museum and the tour are free. Open Tuesday through Saturday.
  • How to Get There: From the south, take either I-5 or I-210 to Polk Street, to Bradley, and then Bledsoe. From the north, take I-5 south. Sylmar is about 30 miles north of Los Angeles.
  • Best Kept Secret: Caruso’s Italian Kitchen in Sylmar. It’s only 2-1/2 miles from the Nethercutt. Try the pizza, the sausage and peppers, or anything else. It’s awesome.
  • More Photos and Video:bit.ly/nethercutt-berk
  • More Info:bit.ly/nethercutt-cnet

Whatever you’re doing, stop. Get off your computer, quit playing with your cellphone, and get on your motorcycle. Your destination is the Nethercutt Museum and Collection in Sylmar, California. It’s outstanding, and you need to experience it.

The Nethercutt Museum (owned by Merle Norman Cosmetics, of which J.B. Nethercutt was a co-founder) includes several collections in two buildings. The first displays approximately 120 vintage automobiles, and you should prepare to be dazzled immediately; the collection starts in the lobby with a drop-dead-gorgeous two-tone blue-and-silver 1937 Talbot-Lago that looks like it just rolled off the assembly line. A grand hall showcases rows and rows of American and European classic cars, with special displays for vintage components (horns, headlights, hood ornaments, spark plugs and other antique automobilia). There’s a vintage steam locomotive (Canadian Pacific Royal Hudson No. 2839), its tender, and a private 1912 Pullman rail car outside, all restored to their original splendor. It’s how the wealthy traveled back in the day.

To get the full measure of this magnificent collection, call ahead and reserve a tour. The tour starts across the street in a second large building that houses three impressive collections of cars, vintage furniture and musical instruments. Kyle Irwin (the Nethercutt’s curator and master technician) leads the tours, and he is impressive. Captivated by his voice and knowledge, I remember thinking Irwin would have made a grand professor in any institute of higher learning, and then I realized: That’s exactly what he is. There are vintage cars in the entrance area, and even more impressive automobiles in the much larger grand hall, resplendent in Italian marble and ornate trim.

There are 250 automobiles in the Nethercutt collection, and it’s no accident these folks routinely take Best in Show awards at Pebble Beach and elsewhere. The automobiles defy description; every car is visually arresting. Irwin says that with the exception of casting glass, molding new tires, and chrome plating, the Nethercutt does all its restorations on the premises.

Irwin explains all of this while holding up a large, poster-sized black-and-white photograph of a derelict Packard literally disintegrating in a barn (a true barn find). Then, with a flourish, he drops the photo to reveal a fully restored, pearlescent pink Packard parked before us. “This,” he says, “is that car.” Our group erupts in applause. This is grand entertainment, and Irwin is a spectacular speaker. Every car is operational, he tells us, and each is driven on public roads once a year. “We’ve never had an accident,” Irwin explains, “but we’ve sure caused a few.”

The brilliant vintage colors, mixed to the manufacturers’ original specifications, go way beyond the staid black we normally associate with such vehicles. Wild metallics and opalescent hues were all the rage, formed by crushing abalone shells and more into the mixer. We tend to think all vintage cars were black because of Henry Ford (“any color you want as long as it’s black”) and the media of that era (black-and-white movies and photos). The Nethercutt shows that wasn’t the case at all: Prior generations had an eye for flash.

The tour progresses to a stunning collection of vintage furniture, vintage hood ornaments, and vintage musical instruments, all restored by Irwin and his team. The instruments are displayed in yet another elegant hall, a reconstructed silent movie theatre. The centerpiece is a 5,000-pipe concert organ. Irwin explains how the organ provided sound effects and musical accompaniment in those early years. There’s nothing in the world like being treated to and surrounded by music emanating from a magnificent and lovingly restored 100-year-old concert organ. “The old gal is feeling good today,” Irwin intones as the building resonates and our tour concludes.

As you know from reading this column, I get to write about many amazing destinations. The Nethercutt Museum and Collection is one of the best, and Professor Irwin’s explanations and delivery are flawless; he commands absolute attention. Every student would get an “A” in this course.

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