Part 1 – Some Old Magazine Stores and the Secret Magazine Warehouse. By Paul Hunt
Back in the 1960s and 1970s Los Angeles still had a few scattered shops that sold old magazines, comics and pulps. They were dusty, piled high with stacks of great colorful old magazines, and offered up pretty cheap entertainment. I’ll list a few of these as I remember them, all of them now long gone.
ABC Book and Magazine Research. 7064 Hollywood Blvd.
When I was a teen ager I lived with my Grandparents a couple blocks west of La Brea on Hawthorne Ave. I attended Hollywood High School, so I was very familiar with Hollywood Blvd., and all the great old book shops. Week day evenings I sold the Examiner for 2 hours at the corner of La Brea and Hollywood.
I soon noticed that just east of Hollywood and La Brea, in an old store front, was a magazine store called ABC Book and Magazine Research. I started going in there on Saturdays with my meagre newspaper sales money and to me the dusty old place was a wonderland. The proprietor was classic, a thin, nervious man in his sixties with thick glasses. He looked like an old scrooge and had about as bad a temperament as one could get. He despised children and young folks, and never, ever, gave out a happy “hello” salutation.
I was always overly polite, because if old scrooge would have let me, I would have stayed there all day rooting through the piles and piles stacked everywhere. All the important weekly magazines were there, Life, Look, Post and stacks of magazines going back into the 1930s. The store was also jammed with paperback books, and at that time period that I was there most of the used paperbacks were from the late forties to the 1950s. Let your imagination soar, Dell mapbacks, Avon Murder Mystery Monthlies, you name it. He would stamp all the paperbacks with his sloppy rubber stamp, but notice that he was “renting” the books – bring one back and pay 8 cents and get another one to read. Not bad, most paperbacks were 25 cents or 35 cents in those days, so if you wanted to read a batch of science fiction you could do so cheaply. In 1960 a gallon of gas was about 25.99 cents, a pack of cigarettes 25 cents, a coke was usually a dime or 15 cents. See how little your dollar is worth now?
I didn’t pay much attention to the comics at that time, I had already been through a comic book crisis in my earlier years. I subscribed to the first “Mad” comics and was spending my hard earned money from paper routes and weed pulling on war comics and horror comics. My parents went ballistic when they saw my collection of all those now rare comics and trashed them and forbid me to ever buy another one. They even marched me into the local drug store and told the owner not to sell me any more comics. I was devasted by this. I didn’t really understand that I had done anything wrong. I had worked for the money and spent it on something I loved to read, but there was a big propaganda campaign in the fifties telling parents that your kid’s mind would be warped forever because all the writers of the comics were communists. So because of my earlier bad experience I shied away from the comics. Now that I was in High School, my focus was on “serious” magazines like Life, Look, and Post. I was also reading a lot of science fiction paperbacks.
Old scrooge would only let me stay in the shop for 20 or 30 minutes, and then demand that I buy something and leave. I could always find a great paperback, and I never brought any back. Screw the 8 cents, I wanted to keep the books forever.
ABC had to move sometime in the 1960s, and they moved to a smaller shop almost directly across the street on the north side of Hollywood. I think they were gone by the 1970s. I had discovered Pickwick Bookshop by then and was spending so much time there that I forgot about ABC Magazine and the old grouch who owned it.
Marlow’s Bookshop, Hollywood Blvd. and Argyle.
The following is from one of the Hollywood Boulevard Bookstore Follies articles. I’m reprinting it here with some additional comments.
The first stop is right on the corner of Hollywood and Argyle, MARLOW’S BOOKSHOP. Owned by -you guessed it – a gentleman named Marlow, this store opened in the early 70s. It has a general stock of used books, but specializes in back issue periodicals and in research (mainly for the film industry). A graduate engineer before he got into the book business, Marlow said he recently got a call from the filmmakers of All The President’s Men. They needed to duplicate the library of The Washington Post for some of the scenes, so Marlow rented them an entire set-up of 10,000 books. It was a rush job , he put it together overnight so the film company could start shooting the scene the next day!
Notice the 50% off sign in the window. This came about when Marlow had stopped over to Hollywood Book City. While chatting with Book City owner Alan Siegel, he complained that business was a little slow. “Why don’t you have a sale?” said Alan, “It will bring in some new business.” Marlow said he would try it, but didn’t know how to start. Alan generously loaned Marlow a beautiful large banner that said “Anniversary Sale, 50% Off”. Marlow borrowed the banner and put it up on his shop (not shown in the photo). It worked so well that he kept the banner up there permanently, and refused to give it back to Alan. “That damned banner cost me over a $100,” said Siegel. “No good deed goes unpunished on this street” he said sadly. To make matters worse, a couple of Marlow’s customers claim that he doubled the price on most items in order not to sell too cheaply. I can only say that these are at the moment unsubstantiated and unproven claims, but certainly in the realm of bookstore lore.
I used to drop by Marlow’s from time to time, mainly looking for early bound periodicals. Marlow was a stocky man in his 60’s and seemed to have a short fuse, especially when asked for a discount. At some point in the 1980s he was forced to move out and eventually ended up on Lincoln Ave. in West Los Angeles. Along the way he had rented a lot of storage units and jammed them full of periodicals. Every so often one would turn up with unpaid rent and be sold to some book scout pretty cheap.
Marlow fell ill and hired a young African American guy to run the shop, and he kept it open after Marlow died. He didn’t know much abut the book business, but he was a really nice young guy and was eager to learn. He had some consignment deal with Marlow’s family and he tried to make a go of it. I think the store closed in the 1990s. Marlow always had a big selection of magazines and it was a great place to browse.
Garvin’s Hollywood Book Store and the Secret Magazine Warehouse.
The story of the Secret Magazine Warehouse is a douzy. I’ll start it here with reprinting the original article about Kovach, Mark Trout, and Jack Garvin. Then I’ll add in some additional information that is part of the legend of Nick Kovach’s massive warehouse.
Walking on a few doors will bring you to HOLLYWOOD BOOK SHOP. This store has been here about three years, although one of the owners has been in the book business in Hollywood about 10 years. They carry a large general stock of used and out-of-print books. The partners, Jack Garvin and Ray Cantor are polar opposites, at times engaging in bitter quarrels. Garvin, a stocky man who resembles Nikita Khrushchev, started as a book scout, operating out of a garage behind some storefronts on Adams Avenue, east of Western, a once rich area that has seen better days. He is also into minerals and geology, and this specialty led him to buy equipment to cut geodes and polishing machinery to further enhance specimens that he buys. Jack is a chain-smoking, gruff man to deal with, Ray the nicer of the two, but they have built up an excellent stock of books. See my articles on Jack Garvin called “The Rock Man” elsewhere on this site.
Recently (1970s) they purchased a large warehouse stuffed with magazines and pamphlets. The story behind this is an odd one. There was a periodicals dealer down in the South Los Angeles area by the name of Nick Kovach, who was dealing in scholarly periodicals back in the 1950s. When the Russians launched Sputnik, it was a big kick in the rear to the U.S. educational system, which all of a sudden woke up to the sad fact that this great country was falling behind in science and technology. Kovach found himself to be center stage in the arena of scientific and mathematical periodicals, courted by libraries across the country who needed this material. He bought and sold enormous quantities of paper goods and magazines, filling up many warehouses. In later years he realized that the collections included a lot of non-scientific stuff that was of no use to the libraries at the great universities and corporations. So Kovach started to dispose of tonnage of this stuff, which was mainly popular culture and mainstream magazines.
Along came a roving dealer named Mark Trout, who traveled around the country in a van, looking for this kind of material. He “leased” the rights to an old, long closed-down bowling alley in South Los Angeles from Kovach that was jam packed with just the right stuff that he wanted: popular magazines, like Life, Time, Fortune, and the such. Trout made a great amount of money over the years selling this at flea markets. One time, at the Rose Bowl flea market, Trout showed up with a stack of over 50 Number 1 Life magazines in mint condition. The collectors went berserk. After milking the contents of the bowling alley for a number of years, Trout offered to transfer the “lease” to Jack Garvin and his partner. All the great popular magazines had been removed and sold by Trout, but the place was still jammed with pamphlets, ephemera and lesser-known periodicals. Garvin pulled out van loads of great stuff, including a world-class collection of pamphlets and rare broadsides on the subject of American radicalism, which he is selling to libraries at big prices. Garvin and Canter go down to their bowling alley once a week and pack their old van full of paper goodies and rare ephemera. “It’s like owning a gold mine,” Jack once told me. “Every once in a while we hit a particularly good vein!” And it is enough material for years to come.
When Jack’s partner Ray dropped dead after a 45 minute screaming match with Jack one night, Jack Garvin became the sole owner of Hollywood Book Shop, (after paying off Ray’s wife). I talked Garvin into moving out to Burbank, which he did, but that meant he had to dump the Secret Magazine Warehouse on someone else. Garvin found a young couple who took over the “lease” on the bowling alley. In a funny incident, Garvin told me that he and Ray had to use flash lights because there was no electricity in the basement of the bowling alley. When the new prospects came in, the pretty lady buyer, a school teacher, found the main power switch and boom – the whole place lit up in a blaze of lights! Garvin said “I can’t believe we never thought of that…..all those years in the dark stumbling over stuff…”
The new owners moved a lot of the items into a storm cellar at the corner of Gardner and Sunset. The old Pacific Electric ran in a diagonal through the intersection, and just NE next to an old building was a large storm cellar. The couple began hauling magazines out to the Tuesday night antique show at the Great Western Exhibit Center. They did a pretty good business there but eventually they split up and the man rented space in Burbank for a few years. Eventually, he vanished, along with the remains of the popular magazines.
This was only the story of the bowling alley. The main warehouse that Nick Kovach owned was an old supermarket, plus three or more storefronts on Florence Avenue. The places were packed with periodicals, millions of them. Maybe billions. After Kovach died an antique dealer Jerry Aboud and his partner Robert Mann contacted Kovach’s son and made a deal to “Lease” the billions of magazines. Actually, the most valuable things in the warehouse were a set of microfilms that Kovach had made of the early copies of the Panama Star, one of the first newspapers in the Americas. Kovach somehow found the originals in some archive and donated them to the country of Panama. He kept the microfilm masters that he sold to university libraries around the world. The Panamanians loved Kovach, and he was feted on many trips to the country, where he was guest of honor at State dinners. He had given them status as a civilized country. However, when it came to beauty, Mr. Kovach was a failure to the Panamanian men.
Mr. Kovach was a judge in the July 1964 Miss Panama contest that was held at the Panama Hilton Hotel in Panama. He and the other judges had voted for a dark beauty, Gloria Navarete. According to Kovach, the audience was rooting for another girl, who he claimed had “spindly bow legs”. When the result was announced the audience started screaming at Kovach and the other Judges, and attacked the stage. Kovach and the others ran for their lives out the back door of the Panama Hilton, with a mob after them. They threw rocks and bottles and even tried to ram Kovach’s car as he raced away. Beauty in Panama is not what the old gringo sees, it is what the macho men of Panama says it is. It took Kovach a while to recoup his honor with the men of Panama.
Bob Mann and Jerry Aboud kept working the Kovach warehouse for about a year. The place was packed to the ceiling, with huge crates stacked full of periodicals. They eventually turned the warehouse over to Jimmy Brucker, who had become half owner of the Burbank Book Castle, and also half owner of the building itself, with its 10,000 sq foot basement. The problem with the Kovach warehouse was that at the time it was located in a gang area near Crenshaw and Florence. It was an old supermarket at 4801 Second Ave., with apartments on the second floor. The building is still there, but now remodeled. It was best to go there early in the morning and be gone by about 3pm. Weekends were especially bad, as the drug dealers were on every corner in the surrounding area, and gunfire was frequent as darkness approached.
Jimmy spent many months in the warehouse, looking through things. Most of the popular titles had long ago been moved to the bowling alley that Mark Trout had gotten early on. A huge quantity of periodicals were things that had no reason to exist, like thousands of copies of the Los Angeles Board of Education news. But there were gems. A storefront next to the supermarket was full of bound periodicals, many great titles in beautiful and sturdy library bindings. Jimmy gave me the keys and told me to start pulling things for the shop. So for over 1 year I went down to the warehouse once a week with Keith Burns and our friend Bruce Cervon, a famous Magician and expert on old magazines. We hauled van loads over to the Book Castle in Burbank, stopping only to fuel up at a fantastic all you could eat Chinese restaurant on Crenshaw.
We found many gems and brought over thousands of periodicals. It was like being in magazine heaven, although it was not easy working with the old wood crates, which had rusty nails sticking out everywhere. In addition, I was also nervous about making too much of a ruckus with the crates, I didn’t want to be swarmed by the millions of plump silverfish that were hiding inside some of the magazines.
After a year or so, Jimmy wanted to move it all into the basement of the Book Castle. We had some long discussions and finally he let me go through the warehouse and mark the crates that were good enough to maybe sell some day. Jimmy’s truck driver, a genial pot-bellied guy named “Big Bob”, would get a local crew and load a semi- truck and haul it out to Burbank, where I would hire another crew to help unload the thousands of magazines pouring in. In the end we brought in thirteen semi-trucks of magazines, completely filling the entire basement of the Book Castle with a billion magazines. It was hard, dirty work, the crates of magazines had layers of dust an inch thick. But the first truck they brought over was the hardest and almost killed us.
Here’s the thing about semi-trucks. They look really solid, like there is no chance of tipping it over. Wrong. The crew at the Kovach warehouse had grossly over-loaded the trucks, like to the ceiling. Thus we learned our first lesson on how to unload a truck that is 20 tons over weight. We started just unloading from the back door of the truck, crate after crate. We should have gone down the center of the truck, leaving the crates on the edges, and then worked our way back. That was the lesson we learned.
Since the first truck was so full, several of us were working inside, and when we reached 1 magazine over the half-way mark, the truck flipped up, the back end with the wheels went flying upward, crashing us inside to the front (where the stilts were) and slamming us with 60 pound wood crates full of dusty magazines. It was a miracle nobody was killed. Once the dust cleared and we crawled out of the back of the truck we could not believe what had happened. The back wheels were sticking up in the air. There was no tractor attached, it was down at Kovach’s getting another load. Dust and smoke swirled out of the back opening. Birds were landing on top of the trailer. A crowd was gathering. We shouted to the outside crew to bring us a ladder so we could climb down. One of our crew announced that he needed a beer, and he went off to the local bar. We didn’t see him for a week.
Summers in Burbank are hot, and this late afternoon it was near 100 degrees. We were drenched in sweat and magazine dust. We started trying to figure out what the hell we were going to do. About 100 people had gathered around. Mostly they wanted to know how in heck we had accomplished that feat, something nobody had ever seen before. The problem was how were we to get the damn wheels back on the ground.
My friend Stan remembered his high school geometry class. It’s simple he said. We go back into the trailer and carefully start shifting the magazines forward toward the back door. “It’s just like a teeter-totter” he said. When we get the load balanced the wheels will just come easily down to where they were. We just have to be careful.
We got on the ladder and climbed back into the trailer. The dust had settled a little, but with the heat it was still like being in an oven. We formed a chain and gingerly started passing crates one at a time to the back and out to guys on ladders. After this had gone on a while I got nervous and told the guys to take the ladders away and stand back. We now had enough room to slide crates toward the back, trying to judge when the tipping point would come, and the gentle trailer wheels would shift down. We finally reached that point.
Wham! The back of the trailer slammed down without warning. The door of the trailer came down like a guillotine, then back up, then down, then up, crashing along its tracks. Crates tumbled over, we went flying around the inside of the trailer like loose rag dolls. Everything became quiet. Then someone on the outside started to clap and pretty soon a large cheer went up from the crowd of neighbors watching this clown show. “You did it” someone yelled.
We called it a night, lucky to be alive. We all needed a few beers. But we now knew how to unload the next 12 semi-trailers that came in over the summer. We never pulled a stunt like that again!
Coming Part 2: Last Days of the old Magazine shops of Los Angeles.