On a quiet Monrovia street stands a house, ordinary in all respects but one: It's full of treasure. Its outer walkways and its interior are crazy with baskets, cages, drawers and wooden shelves filled to bursting with dazzling rocks and minerals: golden pyrite, purple amethyst, orange alabaster, amber iridescent hematite, marble, opal and more. "We probably have 150 tons of rocks and minerals on the property," says George Burnham, owner of the house/rock shop.
Burnham opened his company, Burminco, in 1946, together with his wife, Mildred, to whom he's been married since 1939. His customers run the gamut from individual rock hounds to JPL, which bought rocks to test moon-landing gear, to colleges and school districts around the country. "Tens of thousands of Angelenos have probably used Burnham's specimens in their introductory geology courses," says USC geology professor Greg Davis.
"I was about 9 years old when I first got interested in rocks and minerals," says Burnham, who turned 80 this month. "I had an Aunt Lillian who liked to find pretty stones, and I would go with her. I was born at Lake Elsinore, and the pegmatite gem mines of Pala and San Bernardino are not too far from there. One could go out and sometimes find quartz crystals on the ground and green epidote." Since then, he's wandered more afield: He's traveled from Africa to Iceland to gather specimens.
"I don't have any particular favorite. I like 'em all," Burnham says. And he calls finding the minerals "an aesthetic experience." Of course, there's a bit of specialist snobbery involved: "I enjoy picking up what most people think is an ordinary rock," knowing that it's really something much, much more.