SoCal Connected on KCET

Charles Phoenix's Massive Vintage Kodachrome Collection

Original Airdate June 11, 2014

Charles Phoenix: The colors are so rich and beautiful. The quality is so amazing. I always say it’s a very luxurious medium to have been documented in. The color of Kodachrome and the colorful world of the 1960s and 70s – I mean it was a match made in heaven.

Val Zavala: The scenes are from everyday life of families he’s never met, in places he’s never seen, from an era that will never return. Charles Phoenix has amassed 200,000 slides. That’s right – 200,000. But only about 1 in a 1,000 will make it into his popular retro slideshows where the quirky side of life is on full display.

Charles Phoenix: What I am about 100 percent – all I’m doing – all I’m doing is pay tribute to our culture. The gems of it. And find the humor in it.

Val Zavala: He treated us to a private screening.

Charles Phoenix: This slide was marked Sue and their girls. First of all, how much do we love the lamp shade. It looks like it has the same trim as the dresses. How about that incredible piece of patio furniture that you can’t really see here because they’ve got it covered up by a big piece of.. but here it is, uncovered. It’s the greatest piece of patio ever. This is 1962, and this young man, crystal clearly, is living the American dream. Red swim trunks, a pair of bongos in case he wants some rhythm by the pool, and a telephone with an extra long chord. It’s kind of like all of our lives so we kind of don’t really see those people as strangers, we kind of seem them as us. Or maybe we want to be them or we relate to them. People say that looks like my mother, or my dad had a car like that.

Val Zavala: How did Charles become so enamored of the 50s, even before it was fashionable?

Charles Phoenix: I grew up on a used car lot. Well, I mean we had a house. But my dad had a used car lot. So I loved as a little kid, to go down there and play with all the old cars. And they all had big tailfins on them and stuff, and I was completely mesmerized by every single one of them.

Val Zavala: Throughout his twenties, Charles owned more than 200 classic cars. So how did you go from classic cars to slides?

Charles Phoenix: One day in the thrift store I found a box called “Trip Across the United States 1952” it was a little shoe box – it was as if there was a glow around this box. I held a few up and as soon as I did that, I knew this was a real, real treasure with my name on it. And I got the slides and I haven’t stopped collecting slides since.

Val Zavala: Charles is attracted to anything with a distinct and collective style. Thus, the wardrobe. The suites come in handy for another enterprise. Charles’ obsession with all things retro inspired his bus tour, which offered a unique take on Downtown Los Angeles, as a reflection of one of his favorite places – Disneyland.
Charles Phoenix: This is kind of all of a sudden reminding me of Disneyland. Olvera Street is like Adventureland meets Main Street USA. Chinatown is Adventureland. And the Walt Disney Concert Hall is Tomorrowland. So all that area right there, that is Tommorowland – that is 60s architecture.

Val Zavala: Another part of history is Kodachrome film itself.

Charles Phoenix: Kodachrome as I say died. It no longer is processable. Processable, is that a word? The last guy who processed Kodachrome was at Dwayne’s Photoshop in Kansas, and he stopped processing Kodachrome December 31, 2010. So it’s over.

Val Zavala: As for Charles, between his slide shows, books, and tours, there seems to be a vibrant future in the past. So is this it? Are you going to do it for the rest of your life?

Charles Phoenix: This is it. This is it. I love paying tribute to American culture and I want to do it more and more and more. American culture is never ending. It’s infinite.

Retro geek and pop culture connoisseur Charles Phoenix has a massive collection of Kodachrome slides hidden in his cozy apartment in Los Angeles. Now obsolete, Kodachromes are vibrant color film mediums that documented the stories of everyday American life in the '50s and '60s.

"SoCal Connected" host Val Zavala gets an exclusive look at Phoenix's vast library of vintage slides featuring bold, whimsical scenes from Olvera Street, Disneyland, and even the Bob Baker Marionette Theatre.

So far, Phoenix has collected approximately 200,000 colorful Kodachrome slides over the last 20 years.

"All I want to do is pay tribute to our culture and find the gems in it and find the humor in it and find the reason to enjoy it," says Phoenix.

So how did Phoenix get involved with his impressive Kodachrome collection?

After shopping at a thrift store, Phoenix says he came across a blue shoe box with the words "Trip Across the U.S. -- 1957." As he held up a few slides, he couldn't take his eyes off the colorful beauties.

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