You think the Reagans threw star-studded parties? You should see the crowd at Bea DeArmond's White House.
Any day of the week, you'll find W. C. Fields and Pee-wee Herman sharing a laugh, Batman cozying up to Krystle Carrington and the ever-dapper Barbie and Ken comparing satirical notes. And talk about easy to please. Guest-wise, these folks are real dolls.
DeArmond is the co-founder and proprietor of the Doll and Toy Museum in Anaheim, where nearly 3,000 dolls and playthings are showcased in a half-scale replica of the White House. The collection includes everything from celebrity look-alike dolls to an ancient Egyptian figure that DeArmond says was plucked from a pyramid "nine miles up the Nile from King Tut's." The Doll and Toy Museum is the centerpiece of Hobby City, a 6-acre, 20-store outdoor shopping mall built on a former chicken ranch.
DeArmond and her husband, Jay, dreamed up the center in 1955 because "they wanted a place where families could come to spend the whole day together," explained DeArmond's daughter Yvonne Ansdell. "It may sound corny, but Mom believes that a hobby family is a happy family." Nearly all of the shops, which range from a model train store to an antique gun shop, are owned and operated by DeArmond family members or friends.
The Doll and Toy Museum, added to the complex in 1976, offers a peek into history's toy box. A small army of Barbies line one wall, while across the way, antique English dolls with beeswax faces gaze serenely from their tea table. Ornate collectible dolls that have never known a child's embrace share space with a tattered Raggedy Ann. It's a friendly, folksy hodgepodge that, according to DeArmond, a straight-talking, bright-eyed woman of 78, appeals to all ages.
"The very young children like the newer dolls, the ones from the '60s or so," she said. "But the older ones like to see what their mothers and grandmothers played with. It's a history lesson for them."
There are no fancy gallery cards or catalogues at this museum, but if you happen to visit on a day when DeArmond is around (and there's a good chance you will--she's on the grounds "from 5 in the morning till 8 at night"), you won't miss them. An avid collector who purchased her first doll at age 12, she knows and is happy to share the story behind nearly every doll and toy in her museum.
A welcoming committee of 300 Kewpie dolls (all signed, original pieces by artist Rose O'Neill, who created the popular bare-bottomed character in 1912) greets museum visitors. Nearby, a hand-carved, 19th-Century replica of the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, Japan, houses dozens of elaborately costumed figures. Looking for a quick nostalgia fix? Stop by the Barbie and Ken display, where hundreds of the dolls model virtually every outfit the stylish couple wore between 1959 and 1970.
Chatty Cathy and Flintstones dolls, along with a battalion of G.I. Joes and an original Cabbage Patch doll with creator Xavier Roberts' autograph on its derriere will also bring back memories for baby-boomer parents.
Weekend activities at Hobby City include miniature train rides, crafts fairs and other special events, a complete schedule of which is available at the Doll and Toy Museum.
What: The Doll and Toy Museum at Hobby City.
When: Open daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: 1238 S. Beach Blvd., Anaheim.
Whereabouts: Exit the Riverside (91) Freeway at Beach Boulevard. Hobby City is between Ball Road and Cerritos Street.
Wherewithal: Museum admission is 50 cents for children and seniors, $1 for adults.
Where to call: (714) 527-2323.