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San Pedro loft holds vintage wonders

On the first Thursday of every month in San Pedro, art lovers wander the streets of L.A.'s port town hunting for discoveries. If they stop by Gallery 741, proprietors Patti Kraakevik and longtime partner George Woytovich will gladly show their art, but more treasures reside upstairs in the couple’s stunning two-story loft, a former 1930s Montgomery Ward.

The entrance is designed to look like a movie palace lobby: vintage film posters, a neon popcorn concession stand, a grand staircase and a chandelier from Hollywood’s El Capitan Theatre.

Inside their self-described “cabinet of curiosities,” a maple floor and natural light streaming through loft windows provide a stage for their vintage gems. A brass spotlight from a Japanese cargo ship faces the Pacific. A blue bumper car from the ‘20s flanks a green car from Pacific Ocean Park, the Santa Monica amusement park, circa 1953.

Revolving mahogany, glass and brass doors from the Westclox Factory Building in Peru, Ill., now lead to the bathroom and closets.

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Every turn of the head reveals a different find: In a glass case lie programs from the opening days of the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building. On the wall hang an operations panel and floor dial from the elevator of the original Los Angeles Stock Exchange.

If the main room doesn’t prompt your imagination to take flight, a boarding ladder from a B-52 bomber rises to a roof garden.

The couple’s fascination with these kinds of antiques began with the purchase of a vintage Wurlitzer jukebox, which allowed them to play 78s that Kraakevik inherited from her father. The longtime real estate professionals were soon hooked on collecting. It wasn’t long before they outgrew an Encino home, then a Westwood home. They scouted for a new building that would accommodate their rapidly expanding collection, and they moved into the former San Pedro department store in 2003.

To pinpoint treasures, Woytovich and Kraakevik scour the Internet, flea markets and architectural salvage yards, at home and abroad.

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“Several times, Patti and I will start out in a different direction at one of these places, only to find out we’ve individually picked out the exact same items,” Woytovich says.

People who visit the loft sometimes contact them later with potential leads.

“It’s the thrill of the hunt, that is of most interest,” Woytovich says. They search for Art Deco, movie posters, ocean liner and train memorabilia, but the best finds are spontaneous.

“We don’t have a mentor, nor any methodology in our search for antiques,” Woytovich says. “It’s whatever strikes us, and, more often than not, it’s the first thing we see.”

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A fairly recent addition is the bird-cage elevator car that the couple found at a Chicago salvage yard. It took them a year to restore the car to its former glory. They planted it near their gym, where Kraakevik jokingly calls it an expensive lamp.

The space is constantly evolving. They recently added an 1898 lobby directory from Bamberger’s department store in Newark, N.J. A long, lean room that leads to their wine cellar will be finished as a 1930s or 1940s Streamliner train club car, an Art Deco style rail car with a bar and piano near the entrance. Faux windows will yield views of painted scenery.

Woytovich and Kraakevik also have major plans to transform the building’s sprawling basement into an improv theater and an extension of Gallery 741. They’ve added a gallery on the building’s ground floor, adjacent to the lobby, which showcases Woytovich’s photography. As Kraakevik says, there’s always more work to be done.

home@latimes.com

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