In a nondescript warehouse tucked in off Edinger Avenue near Gothard Street, there exists a mind-boggling, jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring collection. An emporium crammed with so many fascinating artifacts and dusty, musty, one-of-a-kind pieces of history that it's hard for the mind to process.
No, you haven't just stepped into "The Twilight Zone." It's Vintage Productions, and it's the sort of time-warp place that makes you feel as if you've climbed into one of the great attics on the planet.
I met Danielle Chatt when I spoke at Hope View Elementary School in January, on Author's Day. She's a school mom who helped show me around, and that day she said to me, "You really need to meet my husband. He's a history buff like you."
Little did I know she was talking about Bob Chatt, renowned war-era memorabilia collector and dealer.
Several days later, my son and I were at Vintage Productions, being given a tour by the burly legend himself.
With a self-effacing sense of the absurd, Chatt picked through his warehouse collection, calling out certain favorites.
"See this flight jacket?" he asked, holding up a worn, frayed old bomber. "The patch on the pocket is from the Manhattan Project. The guy that wore this worked on the atom bomb."
With a devilish chuckle, we moved on.
"I'm a third-generation antiques seller," Chatt said. "My grandfather dealt in guns. My dad dealt in Indian art. When I'd come home from school in the early '70s, the house would be full of just the most amazing Indian art known to man. If there was one rare blanket, there were 100 of them. I have a photo of me wearing Kit Carson's leather jacket."
But traveling to hundreds of Indian and folk art flea markets took its toll on the youngster who grew up in Los Angeles.
"I got sick of it," he said. "I got so sick of Indian art, I rebelled. I thought, what's the exact opposite of Indian art? Military. And so that's what I started collecting."
By 13, Chatt was actually dealing military antiques. Today, he's known as one of, if not the top, Vietnam War dealer on the planet.
"It's a specialized market," he said. "To the high-end collector, a patch that's $1,000 isn't going to scare him. They're serious."
As we walked into the second, larger room, a customer left the warehouse. Chatt told me who it was: a well-known, Academy Award-winning screenwriter. He's a collector as well, and comes in to do research for upcoming film projects.
Within the room where we stood were clothing and artifacts from the Spanish-American War, both world wars, Vietnam and the Civil War along with about 30,000 historic patches.
In the next room are hundreds of vintage bowling shirts, baseball uniforms and 1950s T-shirts. There are hats, duffel bags, movie props, bomber jackets, boots, pea coats, flags, matchbooks, figurines, belt buckles, signage, jewelry and all sorts of odds and ends.
If you're interested in shopping around, you can meet Chatt himself. Go to http://www.vintageproductions.com and write him to make an appointment.
Or you could just wait to see him on TV. You see, he's just sold a show to a major cable network based on his passion for military collecting, so you'll be getting to know a lot more about Chatt real soon. Congratulations, Bob.
Student competition is back
Last year, I started the first annual In The Pipeline student journalism competition, and it's time again for entries. If you're a Huntington Beach or Fountain Valley high school student, e-mail me a story about a person, place or thing in your city that you'd like us to know about — reveal something special in 500 words or less using interviews, photography or whatever it takes to bring your story to life. Deadline is April 30 and the winner will be featured in this column, receive a signed copy of one of my books and appear with me on PBS SoCal during an edition of "Real Orange."
Good luck! Any questions, write to firstname.lastname@example.org (which is where the entries get sent to as well).
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can write him at email@example.com.