House of Props

This vintage photograph is taken of House of Props, Inc. founder, Al Torf, during his years as a prop master for United Artists Studio Corporation. House of Props closed this week. (House of Props / December 5, 2013)

House of Props, one of Los Angeles' oldest prop houses, is closing its doors.

The renowned firm on North Gower Street shut down this week, referring calls to an accounting office. Owners Phil and Millie Torf could not be immediately reached for comment.

But Debbie Hemela, owner of the well-known online entertainment industry directory Debbies Book Online, said the company's accountant confirmed the closing to her on Tuesday.

"He said they [the owners] decided to close it,'' Hemela said. "They closed the door and let the staff go on Monday and will decide what do to with the contents of the prop house" in the coming weeks.

The owners cited personal reasons for the decision, Hemela said. Phil Torf is 91 years old.

"They have closed and will not be reopening,'' said Tom Gallardo, an accountant for the business, who declined to elaborate. "They are trying to decide what they are going to do."

Founded in 1948 by his uncle, Al Torf, a former prop master for United Artists Studio Corp., House of Props worked with decorators and film industry professionals worldwide. Phil later took over the business with his wife.

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The closing is the latest blow to an industry that has been hard hit by the flight of films and TV shows from Southern California to other states and countries.

In 2009, another prominent firm, 20th Century Props, closed after 40 years in the business. Several other prop houses also have slashed payrolls in response to dwindling local business.

"A lot of business is leaving town,'' Hemela said. "It’s brutal out there for a lot of them."

House of Props was known for its beautiful and rare objects, from a ram's head jeweled snuff box from Persia to inkwells from the 18th century.

“House of Props, Inc. has art deco Demetre Chiparus sculptures, knights in shining armor, breathtaking and extravagant sterling, crystal, ornate porcelain, and regal signed bronzes to ephemeral alabaster and marble sculptures,'' the company's website proclaims. "Design professionals come to House of Props to rent extraordinarily unique treasures -- the same as those you might covet after viewing them at museums, galleries and castles.”

In the close-knit world of prop houses, even rivals were saddened to hear of the news.

"It breaks my heart,'' said Pam Elyea, co-owner of History for Hire, a prop house in North Hollywood. "It's a great loss to our industry."

(This post was updated to include a statement from the business accountant.)

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Twitter: @rverrier

richard.verrier@latimes.com