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From Museum Pieces to Wedding Gowns : Precious Fabrics Are Northridge Cleaner’s Forte

Times Staff Writer

Catherine Mulholland, granddaughter of the man who built the Owens Valley aqueduct, wanted to get her mother’s 64-year-old beaded chiffon wedding gown cleaned. So she did what many in similar circumstances have been doing for years. She turned to Jerry Goldstone.

So did the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, with some fragile Navajo rugs. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art used Goldstone regularly, until it started doing the work itself.

Jerry Goldstone owns Museum Textile Cleaners Inc., a one-man company in Northridge that specializes in cleaning ancient, fragile or high-priced garments. Shunning sales volume and a big organization, Goldstone doesn’t advertise, has no employees and does all the work personally, much of it by hand.

His work doesn’t come cheap. But his customers seem happy to pay for what he does.

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‘Sort of One of a Kind’

“I’m very impressed at the quality of the work he does,” said Jan Timbrook, an associate curator at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. “You can’t trust Navajo rugs to just anybody.”

Goldstone is not a professional textile conservator, of which there are just a few in private practice, but is a bridge between conservators and dry cleaners, according to Catherine McLean, an associate textile conservator at the county art museum.

“Jerry is appropriate for certain kinds of treatments, and the textile conservator is appropriate for others,” said McLean. “He’s sort of one of a kind. He’s aware of what conservators do.”

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Companies like Goldstone’s are scarce in Southern California, and he appears to be unique in the San Fernando Valley. Other firms do similar work in Santa Ana and La Habra.

Financial figures are hard to come by, largely because he has no idea what they are, Goldstone said. He spends most of his time on his painstaking work, and little on aspects of the business not directly involved with, for example, cleaning opera costumes, antique dresses or an intricately detailed priest’s chasuble.

Goldstone, 64, a Northridge resident, said he cleans hundreds of items a year. Among the more interesting ones: the wedding dress Mary Pickford wore to tie the knot with Douglas Fairbanks Jr.; costumes from a Diaghilev ballet company, one painted by Matisse, that were acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; a creation by designer Coco Chanel; another Mulholland article, a 100-year-old chiffon dress worn by Catherine Mulholland’s grandmother, and a $10,000 wedding dress by a Beverly Hills designer.

He has also cleaned rugs for the William S. Hart ranch in Newhall, and a bedspread and two pillow shams for Rancho Los Alamitos in Long Beach.

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“It’s all technique,” Goldstone said, adding, “I’m clearly not a miracle man.”

Working in a cluttered shop on Londelius Street, Goldstone cleans the most delicate items by hand, bending over a specially equipped bench using a spray nozzle operated by foot pedals. But the equipment is not as unusual as the labor, sometimes dozens of hours’ worth on a single garment.

Cleaning Since 1940

Goldstone said business is pretty good these days, even at $150 a pop for cleaning a 50-year-old wedding dress, but it wasn’t always so. A Brooklyn native who devoted himself to specialty cleaning 15 years ago, Goldstone used to own a conventional cleaning business in Hollywood, and has been in cleaning, one way or another, since 1940.

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About 1970, Pat Reeves, a conservator at the Los Angeles County museum, sought him out on the recommendation of a cleaning-supply seller. When the museum acquired a set of the Diaghilev costumes, they sent them to Goldstone for cleaning.

“The challenge--for me, that was the thing,” he said.

Pleased, the museum started sending things regularly, and referring others to Goldstone. He enjoyed it, so he sold his business and started Museum Textile Cleaning.

In his first five years, he said, he didn’t even make a living. But he was afraid to advertise, for fear of bringing down an avalanche of work he couldn’t handle.

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Now there is enough business to warrant expansion, he said, and he plans to take on a partner and open a second operation in Newport Beach, where he is convinced there are a lot of people with expensive old things that probably need cleaning.

“My wedding gown business has grown and grown,” he said.

After Goldstone cleans an old garment, he packs it in acid-free tissue paper in an acid-free box, since acid can discolor cloth and make paper and cardboard deteriorate. He also tells customers to unpack and then repack the thing once a year, so that the creases don’t become permanent and the fabric doesn’t break down.

Supremely confident, Goldstone said he never worries about accidentally ruining a valuable item, although once, cleaning an ornate Japanese sash, an emergency kept him on the phone and he left it in the machine too long. So, he bought it from the owner for $125.

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What he likes best, he said, is the surprise of it all.

“I never know what I’m going to get,” he said. “I never know what’s going to come in.”


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