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IN THE Wind ----Part One

GAF –LAX Warehouse -Historic Notes-

by Neil Larson

It was in, on or about 1976,  that I found suitable employment with the GAF. It was in the fall of that year “76” after all the celebration of our National  Bi’s & Testicle Birthday.

A next door neighbor was gleaning the classified section of the local South Bay Daily Breeze when she noticed an inconspicuous  ad for …Artist  Wanted…Apply in Person  the address listed was 5600 block of 98th street at Bellanca Ave.- a tumble down warehouse on the north east corner of the LAX.  Since we lived  on 118th  at the 5400 block I was eager to land the job because it could be a very  close location to my crib. For transportation to the initial interview I rode a Sting Ray bike that had a re-chromed 1909 Henderson motorcycle seat and a twisted galvanized  ¾ inch plumbing pipe with a “T” fitting at the top corkscrewed in the stem as handlebar.

When I arrived at the GAF warehouse I rode the bicycle up into the loading ramp & into the building , immediately Beverly Howell eyeballed the bike & me… Later she confessed the strangest bicycle she had ever seen, was the major reason for hiring me that day. Several other applicants had also arrived , Beverly began to bark out direct instructions on the selection process- It seems this was the nucleus of the newly organized “Visual Effects/Interior Décor department of GAF. Our task to gain  employment was “paint”  a sleigh (sled) of our choice.

Additional instructions were to make a selection from the array of  sleds in the warehouse, use available paint & brushes and  commence the “task’…Now these were  regulation horse drawn sleighs of actual pre-combustion engine variety. I pressed Beverly for more information , and she explained that these would be “hung” in the ceiling of a “bar”.  Being charitable & cautious I selected a sled and turned it up so that the flat underside showed as a “canvas”…while the other nominees were busy painting their little hearts out…I proceeded to render a grand “still life “ in classic form of a Chianti wine bottle, flanked  with grapes & tulip stem glasses.

This artists focus was on the final display in a drinking establishment - since I had no idea of the Oar House at that juncture in my life, my only frame of reference was …”How strange to hang a perfectly good antique vehicle in a bar.”….But my rather formidable “still life” acquired the elegant & graceful panache I was intending to bestow on my little red  sleigh wagon.

The back story of course was Beverly had one perhaps two slots to fill on her warehouse based  Visual Effects Dept. but in truth she was being pressed by Mike Hogue and the construction/ Commando Babies, to supply  rapidly a fleet of said embellished vehicles for delivery to a GAF restaurant project- So whether we were  “hired” or not  these creatively hand painted  gems would  be the future saloon décor of a college bar-  My desire was to sort of leave my work un-finished to insure being called back , at this point I was just hoping to get one more day (with-out pay) so as to persuade our dear Beverly to consider me for the job.

Dutifully, like a schoolmarm ,  Beverly sundered by each  potential  “artist applicant” and  subtly inquired personal information from each person. I believe  Linc was already  on staff so he was there indulging in a far more precise project than our  simple attempts, he had probably been one or two days ahead of us at that point. Also present was Annie, I can’t recall her last name…she lived at the time in the tree section of Manhattan Beach, saw the want ad & eventually was hired by Beverly in the Visual Effects Dept. as the official macramé lady.

So that was my  introduction to GAF… I must explain I had several months  of employment at the warehouse before I was “exposed” to  actually visiting the Oar & Chips in Samo.  I truly believe that this backdoor initiation into the GAF family is considerably more unique than most of the push come to shove hire on site methods which are to be listed among these pages-

        Through my myopic view of the corporation I began to slowly understand the big Grand American Fare –picture…Like any other mushroom  who is kept in the dark, fed  bull shit & expected to grow, I eventually became more familiar with  the vast organization.  But at the time it was seriously over simplistic to say the least, when A.T. would be suddenly announced as …”Hay, A.T.  is gonna be here in a half hour” …to which I simply continued what I was doing, whatever that was and when Albert T. made his spectacular presence known in the warehouse doorway-I was literally too busy to be bothered, because I had serious work going on for Beverly and for GAF.

With this in mind – it is no surprise that A.T. soon came to  rely on my honesty regarding all things –“warehouse”. The place where I was living at the time , known as the Freeman Pad, was one of the most intricately decorated residential homes in the Los Angeles county area- I had gained a true working knowledge of antiques from Freeman Pad roommate brothers Kenny & Stevie. These guys also  became  GAF  crew thru me, but our Freeman Pad was wall to wall memorabilia.

At the Warehouse I would entertain the crew with stories about what my house looked like-and at night I would entertain folks at the Pad with stories about all the stuff inside the GAF warehouse.    

On one occasion I negotiated a trade with A.T. directly…I had successfully completed a personal task for A.T.- moving a Bass Pub Mirror from one of his  abodes in the Marina to a new “undisclosed” location – he allowed me to have one of the jet cockpit windshields stacked in the dust of the rafters of the warehouse. His only precaution was to select one with a “crack” in it- I found the smallest crack made my selection and secured the prized cockpit as a “score” for the Pad.  We took great care of this object de ’art polishing the Plexiglas with hours of elbow grease.

It was sort of a pink elephant in the front yard on 2 sawhorses…until after specific measurements were made it was found to be a perfect fit for the window nestled in the kitchen breakfast nook-

We carefully built it into the framework on well placed hidden hinges after removing the old window. The final result was a tapered at the top  fully dimensional 3-D bubble window set into the dinette breakfast nook. It was adorned a saxophone hung as a planter, a rare table model antique remote juke box selector-and became the best seat in the house- Beverly Howell dropped in one afternoon to visit us at the Freeman Pad , she became totally transfixed with the overall look of our built-in four person dinette breakfast nook  - and decided there on the spot to fashion a complete line of official GAF  designed Nooks (booths) as standard  architecture in upcoming GAF Restaurants/ Omelet Parlors. Our Freeman Pad nook is the  basis for all GAF  Omelet Parlor  back to back booths- Though not an earth shattering tidbit of trivia , I do take great pride in the  portion of my life spent under the  shadow of the Grand American Fare-

        After a period of time Beverly was moved to a field location proving her worth on the job site of several notable GAF  locations-  In her position as the Warehouse Foreman was  Bruce Barefoot. Many  a tale could be spun regarding Bruce . His  Cheshire Cat Grin from ear to ear is the most noteworthy physical  trait. He brought  the GAF warehouse crew into a very optimized high level of stasis. Bruce Barefoot as I best recall had lived in Santa Monica and worked alongside  Hogue & other  Crew members- He was an Ace Carpenter and could wield a skill saw with agility-  We began a rapid fire assembly line of  Resin clear top decoupage bar tables   as our first  order of business . Bruce  did lack some degree of “artistic finesse” and therefore I set out to make it my first line of purpose to make sure everything done was kept to the corporate “Quality Is Us” standard .

*About the actual GAF Warehouse-I was informed by my father who had worked nearby at the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation (named after Simon Ramo and Dean Wooldridge) was named later TRW after a merger with Thompson… The Warehouse used to serve as a “chair Factory” assembling those elegant varnished wooden folding precursors to today’s modern folding metal  WWE smash chairs - …The building was actually a virtual labyrinth due to the severe lack of lighting due to the  tight wallet of A.T.- There were several on hand flashlights kept on the ready line in the front office of the  place so as to avail  adventurers who dared go back into the  depths of the establishment.  In one loft …a stairway allowed access to a formidable sanctuary known as the Electric Lady Land – this oasis was secured as the production area for a trio of females who undertook the assembly and creative design of all the  elaborate  crystal  chandeliers which decorated all GAF establishments. I had  worked well over 3 weeks at the Warehouse before I discovered the loft. I did know on occasion there were several ladies who punched in on the time clock  then wandered into the abyss of darkness only to appear again at lunch then again at closing time. Far be it from be to get into trouble wander off and not sticking to tasks at hand.

But at some point in my illustrious career at the GAF Warehouse , the powers that be found out Neil was the closest employee to the building- so it was then delegated that I become the official contact person in the event of a catastrophe.  I was allowed to obtain the secret  code for the alarm at that point & given a master key.  Due to this  bestowing of “power” I was then elevated to a higher  level in the GAF corporation. Among my duties were to be the safety person when the fire department made their inspections – becoming the contact person in the event of a break in or alarm set off – also becoming the liaison for rentals of  props to the movie studios.

I became aware of the magnitude of the  collection early on in my employ and through a past education in all things antique by the Aziz brothers- Stevie & Kenny- had thus become indispensable to  the Firm as a very  wise coinsure of antiquity and memorabilia . 

*Mrs. Betty Torpin...   graced the threshold of the GAF Warehouse regularly never venturing past the front  office but relying on my intricate knowledge of the premises to supply her with vivid details on what A.T. had  managed to store inside the  Crypt known as the Warehouse.   Betty Torpin  was the  “Contact Person”  who managed the rental of the GAF  “Props” ...she was sort of a Hollywood institution who knew A.T.. Her network included most all of 20th Century Fox & other Studio production people. When she would be  looking for a specific “prop” to fill a studio want list, there would be an obligatory call to Neil at the GAF Warehouse...Betty relied on me to give an accurate account of items within the labyrinth, or confirm whether a particular prop was indeed physically in the building- From Indian Birch Bark Canoes to  B-52 cockpit fuselage sections framed &on casters   ,  the Quality Is Us Warehouse had it all.  Yu could find a Horse drawn Circus Wagon from Toby Tyler or an  elaborate beveled edge glass window funeral hearse wagon, like the one used in Magnificent Seven- GAF actually owned the  motorized  escort boat –the “motor-pan” sampan which was used in the film SAND PEBBLES...the warehouse crew often discussed & fantasized about getting the unit in running order then secretly dispatching it & us down to the Marina Del Rey Harbor to  cruise around among the elegant & fashionable upper crust of Los Angeles on the water-

Betty & her husband where the  live in  caretakers of the 20th Century Ranch  aka Malibu Creek Park Ranch , a location used for films of Hollywood since Buster Keaton & Fatty Arbuckle not to mention M.A.S.H. and  F Troop & Planet of the Apes . Miss Betty  always carried herself with a distinct air of grace & charm...her visits to the GAF  LAX warehouse served to be a welcome “break” for me to obediently handle whatever detail her little heart desired. I guess Betty understood a walk back into the abyss of the building would include banging into objects in the dark and ripping ones clothes on protruding devices of ancient description. All that was left to me of course, and was expected to be dispatched in  rapid order...locate the required object  in the building and  either bring it to the front or “tag” it to be hauled out with the fork lift-

Now with regard to an visit (usually a spontaneous surprise) from  our beloved A.T. E. ... things were quite different...He would personally meander throughout the byways of stacked “stuff” and meticulously keep a perfect visual – mental record in his head where everything was placed. A.T. often would grab  objects like porcelain faucets and deliberately place them down in a very deliberate specific location... Then upon his return on a later incoming Western Airlines flight he would drop in and walk back into the belly of the beast to look for that item and check as to whether it had been altered or moved even as much as one inch from where he placed it 4 days earlier- This was done to determine the focus & direction of all those he paid wages to in the building- He would inquire as to who had been back in that location & for what reason the person was wasting time in an area where there was no business or operation occurring- This  behavior verged on the fringe of Obsessive Compulsive- However it must be explained any mere mortal walking the planet could only make a feeble attempt at successfully undertaking the complex functioning of operating a vast restaurant empire, piloting commercial airliners daily around the world , organizing  bulk lot auction purchases from Christie’s , schmoozing with the well to do of Hollywood & romancing any assortment of beauties...as I said ...any mere mortal?

No...I think not... we must at some point during all this Oar House discussion make a trusted & honest assessment of just who was A.T. ?  In all my years on this marvelous planet I have yet to actually meet another man with the sum total comprehension & concentration skills possessed by Mr Albert T. Ehringer ... And God help the poor fool who steals the glass bottomed pewter beer tankard with the smiling face of A.T.  embellished into the bottom of the glass which sat  unobtrusively on the desk near the Time Clock at the front door of the Warehouse... God help that fool , he would be “In The Wind”.....

 OK --- kids  you all stay tuned for ---part two ...coming soon---