Bright Colors, Big City: One Man’s Massive Collection of Postwar California Print Media | KCET
Bright Colors, Big City: One Man’s Massive Collection of Postwar California Print Media
Inside a cheerful Koreatown home, the promise of post-war Los Angeles is spread across the kitchen table. It is but a fraction of the collection of J.J. Englender, curator of the vivid online archive ADSAUSAGE. There are local magazines, ad inserts, teen ‘zines, and trade brochures, all brightly colored and striking, advertising the growth and vibrancy of 1950s-‘80s California. They are the tangible embodiment of the dreams of Englender, a friendly, optimistic man, whose childhood love of 20th-century kitsch and Hollywood has grown into an archive of thousands of pieces.
Englender grew up in England and was enamored with American exports from the start. “I was a TV addict from early on. Despite having only three or four channels at that time (being in London), I loved almost every American import,” he recalls. Like many natural-born historians, Englender wanted to learn everything he could about the culture he loved. “I’d always had a feel for history and read everything I could on whatever interested me,” he says.
Englender was miserable at school and left at 16. His obsession with pop culture continued to grow and led to his first foray into collecting. “I was an avid film buff from early on, too,” he says, “the classics, underground, drive-in, experimental, horror, kitchen sink.”
“I began collecting movie posters as a teenager,” he remembers. “I wanted to own pieces of films I loved and spent hours in a stuffy movie memorabilia store in London-with a very knowledgeable staff in corduroy blazers, discussing everything from French cinema to the merits of Busby Berkeley.”
At the age of 24, he left England and made his way to Los Angeles. Life happened: he became a graphic designer at Hustler, was married, had a child, got divorced. After his job at Hustler ended, Englender eagerly jumped into collecting. “The collection, as it stands today, was borne out of a period of unemployment around 2001-2002,” he says. He started scouring flea markets, eBay, estate sales, and buying bulk lots of old magazines and photos. One of his favorite places to explore was a small movie memorabilia store on Sunset Blvd., opened only a few hours on Saturdays, which was run by two veteran studio guys. At that store alone, he bought “boatloads of material.”
Soon, Englender had amassed a collection that was uniquely him: glitzy, vibrant print materials of the western world at its zenith of confidence and promise. But what to do with the mammoth collection? “I decided to digitize whatever I had and put it online – mostly to keep busy and creative. I scanned postcards, movie stills, catalogs, photos, brochures- all vintage stuff,” he says. “I also happened to scan a few magazine ads and spent some time categorizing them.”
“I found that I really enjoyed the process of categorizing the ads, and thought I could do something with it. That was my eureka moment,” he remembers. “I discarded everything else and focused solely on magazine advertising.”
After finishing his advertising project, Englender has increasingly turned to collecting pieces related to his adopted home of Los Angeles. “I do treasure L.A.-related material,” he says, “as it’s a great way to look directly into the city’s history.”
And indeed, it is. A look at his collection of L.A. print media illuminates a city of conflicting aims and aspirations. There is the “official” version of post-war Los Angeles, as portrayed in newspaper supplements like the Los Angeles Times West and the Herald Examiner’s California Living. Brightly colored and bold, they featured ads celebrating chic new modern buildings and profiles of L.A. movers and shakers such as Ray Bradbury and Ronald Reagan. Promotional brochures tout the opening of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Music Center, containing pictures of beautiful women in evening gowns standing in cavernous spaces, like one more priceless statue.
But there is also evidence of the growing counterculture, social justice and youth movements of the 1960s and ‘70s, exemplified in the alternative newspapers Los Angeles Free Press and the L.A. Voice. There are anti-war cartoons, ads for legendary haunts like the iconic gay club The Sewers of Paris, and hand-drawn invitations to shows by The Velvet Underground at the Shrine. The collection includes KRLA Beat, L.A.’s first rock-and-roll newspaper, which celebrated the music scene of the flower children in a gritty, personal way – a far cry from their parents’ glitzy celebrity mags.
Englender intends to keep growing his collection so that it can continue to be an online public resource for the community at large. The archive sits in countless boxes, new pieces just waiting to be photographed and cataloged. “It’s a one-man operation,” Englender says. “I already devote most of my time to acquiring content, curating, digitizing and uploading to the site. Fortunately, it hasn’t cut into my already uninspired gym schedule.”
Perhaps, one of the most interesting things about Englender’s collection style is that he views all print media equally. Call it a “Mad Men”-esque catch-all collection of goodies, a way to understand and dream about the not too distant past, when everything and anything seemed exciting, modern, and possible. “I’ve collected wedding albums, vacation slides, family snapshots, magazines, travel guides, brochures, movie memorabilia, and old menus,” Englender says. “I view all the material equally; it’s all worth preserving to me, and each artifact offers some piece of interest, some answer, poses a question or jolts the imagination.”
All images appear courtesy of ADSAUSAGE.
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