He Restores Stoves to Real Hot Items
Some objects were made to be restored: Stearman biplanes, ’57 Chevys, wood-hulled sailboats, Victorian homes and the Wiltern Theater. But old stoves? Cast iron, overweight, ill-tempered, smelly and frequently explosive stoves?
“Why not?” asks Winsor Williams. He seems surprised by any suggestion that a vintage O’Keefe & Merritt doesn’t share the classicism of, say, an antique Daimler & Benz. “Old stoves are just like old cars and old clothes. They don’t make ‘em like they used to because companies can’t afford to build ‘em like they used to.
“Today’s stoves are built to break in four or five years. You’ve got electronic ignition on yours? How old? It should quit around Thanksgiving. When the turkey’s ready for the oven.”
It should be noted that Williams, 32, drives an Oldsmobile older than he is. Because it is sturdy and honest. He buys vintage clothes. Because they are pre-polyester.
It follows that his feel for the durability and utility of yesterday extends to furniture, old handguns and ancient household appliances. It certainly has elevated Williams to the position of angel of mercy of Antique Stove Heaven (“Where the good ones go”) at 1752 West 54th St.
His is a new and popular appreciation. Rusted, chipped stoves that only a decade ago were being dumped in Los Angeles’ alleys are currently being salvaged, restored and resold for up to $6,000. Barbra Streisand has an eight-burner Magic Chef (two ovens, two broilers and a warming box) from the ‘30s in her Malibu home. Broadcasters Alan Funt and Jess Marlow have ancient stoves that allow genteel roasting instead of microwave meltdowns.
Williams repairs and restores. He sells from an inventory of 100, from wood-burners with gas conversions to a free-standing Electro Chef for the Modern Woman of 1924. Popular prices range from $189 for most stoves of the ‘50s to $2,000 for a 1920 Quick Meal with a vertical broiler for broasting both sides of a steak at one time.
His best will be displayed at this weekend’s Home Restoration and Remodeling Show at the Convention Center. Williams will talk and advise and relish the definite charm of these 600-pound clunkers. For although modern stoves offer all the controls and dials of a space launch, he says, they certainly lack the simple niceties of down-home cooking.
“Look at this Magic Chef with a chart, all your temperatures for turkey and roasts, right inside the door . . . some stoves had deep wells for, say, ham hocks and beans you could cook all day on just the pilot light . . . and stove top griddles for bacon and sausages . . . here’s a little compartment for storing matches . . . remember these? Porcelain salt and pepper shakers that came with the stove.”
Currently, Williams is slaving over a cold stove, the full restoration of an elderly O’Keefe & Merritt that one customer, a mother, is handing down to her daughter.
“The mother is putting in a modern kitchen and has bought a new stove,” Williams said. “It’s one of those free-standing things and the stripping has come unglued already and she hasn’t even hooked it up to the gas.
“I know she’ll want her old stove back.”
No matter the damage (and he has returned a stove where its broken bits represented no more than 40% of the original parts), there is nothing, from mechanical thermostats to ceramic handles, that Williams cannot replace or remanufacture.
As long as one cast-iron leg remains, he can sandcast the missing three. Williams will re-enamel the whole or rechrome any part. By installing modern safety devices, he has taken the fun out of blowing yourself up. This Aladdin, however, doesn’t do clocks.
“They were mounted on top of the stove, close to the heat vents, and would burn out in months,” he said. “I’ll rewire one for $45 . . . but I’d prefer the customer gets a modern one to stick it in there.”
With clocks, apparently, they do build ‘em better than they used to.
Home Restoration and Remodeling Show, Los Angeles Convention Center, Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Adult admission $3.75, seniors and children 6 to 12 years, $2.50.