Driving south down La Brea, it’s impossible to miss the crazy carnival of ephemera at the corner of West First Street. The huge, mazelike home and its lot are brimming with movie souvenirs, casino slots, unusual props, strange toys, fairground curios and almost everything else you can imagine.
At the center of it, behind a tchotchke-covered desk, is Nick Metropolis. “Yes, that’s my real name,” he says, mentioning his Greek heritage and pointing to a handsome headshot from his acting days.
Dapper in blue and wearing a tie with a lion’s head, a crown pin and a Pink Floyd button on it, Metropolis can be found at the house — a business that goes by the name the King of Collectible Furniture — seven days a week, attending to the endless stream of celebrities, tourists, production assistants and looky-loos in search of a life-size Elvis, a vintage telephone or letters that spell out “Hollywood.”
“We got 16 sets of those from a guy in Texas — they were the signs from the Hollywood Video stores,” says Metropolis, who has collectors and flea-market pickers calling and visiting every day. His clients have included Bruno Mars, Lana Del Rey and Iggy Azalea — and, back in the day, Michael Jackson and Bill Murray.
Metropolis says it’s an honor that people want to come to his store and maybe share (or hear) a story or two — and he has plenty. He left his hometown of Rochester, New York, in the 1960s to come to L.A. as a singing George Harrison look-alike. “I’m 70 but looking 52,” he says. He also points out that his given name is George and explains how his life mirrored Harrison’s (the veganism, the meditation) — and how in 1978 he sat next to the real Beatle at a bar.
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The years haven’t always been easy, and that’s particularly true of late. In a recent robbery, he lost $30,000 in Beatles, Marilyn and Elvis gear. Despite his “very kind” landlord, a local rabbi, the rents along La Brea are skyrocketing, and things are tight. “If that woman had bought that rug yesterday,” he says, “I would have been able to pay that bill on time.”
But Metropolis is optimistic. He mentions plans for a reality show — thanks to appearances on Storage Wars, his SAG card is still up-to-date — and points to a recent, TV-ready moment: A 1950s bashed-up bumper car came in, and Metropolis realized it was from the fairground near his childhood home. “That kind of stuff happens,” he says.
An Orthodox Jewish man drops by and quietly leaves a pink 1950s phone on the desk. “He comes in all the time,” Metropolis says.
As should anyone who wants to lose themselves in a retro treasure trove.