The Rock Man – Part 2
by Paul Hunt
Garvin bails out of Hollywood and Moves to Paradise, opens a Book and Rock Shop; Helps to found the California Book Fair; Garvin vs. Civilized Society in Burbank and the ABAA; Founds the Geo-Literary Society; Feuds with Sol Grossman and leaves the Book Fair; Troubles with Wifey; The Last Days; Lindy Saves the House.
With two other partners, I opened the Burbank Book Castle in May of 1981 on the sleepy old Burbank Golden Mall, which Johnny Carson used to refer to derogatorily as “Beautiful Downtown Burbank”. It actually was beautiful, a hidden oasis at the far end of Burbank, nestled next to the mountains, far from the concrete jungles of central Los Angeles. The mall was an “outdoor” affair, a surviving remnant of urban design from the 1960s, with the shops facing an area of grass and gorgeous trees from around the world. Parking was free and plentiful behind all the storefronts, leaving customers to walk through the park-like setting for blocks without having to dodge cars. It was as close to a retail paradise as you could ever get.
After I got settled in for a year or so, I went back to Hollywood and stopped in to see Garvin. He was miserable. The Boulevard was changing, rents going up, a lot of violence on the street, bookshops moving out to the Westwood area near U.C.L.A. I suggested he move out to Burbank. There were plenty of empty storefronts, rents were reasonable, and although business was slow, it was safe and had potential. I invited Jack out for a tour and he liked what he saw. The strange thing was that Jack and his wife were actually living in Burbank, buying a house in the Northern part, near Lockheed, but had never ventured to the Burbank Golden Mall. This was somewhat understandable, as the Mall was well hidden. The City refused to put up signs directing visitors, even when the merchants offered to pay for them, and since the Mall was “inside-out”, with the back of the storefronts facing wide parking lots, it was sort of invisible to traffic driving by, unless you knew it was there. The City, of course, was secretly planning to gut the whole Mall under redevelopment, which they finally managed to do after a 20 year struggle with merchants and landlords. It is now back to being a street, all corporate owned, the original landlords mostly gone, replaced by REITs, and wall to wall restaurants and movie theaters, just like every other downtown in the County. But in the 1980s it was wonderful.
Garvin liked what he saw, and soon rented a nice shop about a block away from me, at 321 N. Golden Mall. He called it Garvin’s Book and Rock Shop. Garvin was always interested in rocks, geology, and gemstones as well as books. He had bought equipment to cut and polish gemstones, and displayed beautiful gems and mineral samples in his shop. Every year Jack would load up his old van with books he had acquired on geology, minerals and gems and head out to Tuscon, Arizona for the big Gem and Mineral Show. He would rent a hotel room and sell books and buy or trade for mineral samples and gems. These he would bring back to Burbank and display in his shop. The load coming back was always heavier than going in.
Jack’s love of gems and minerals led him to found, or help found The Geo-Literary Society, a group whose interest was books, ephemera and documents on everything from old mining operations to new and old books on the related subjects. In this field, Jack carved out a name for himself, and was recognized as an expert in the field. Anytime I found books or ephemera of interest to Garvin, he would pick it up from me and take it up to his shop, where he would always be able to get a good price for the material, the split with us much more that we could ever get, as Jack had the customers for it, both in Burbank and in Tucson.
Garvin loved Burbank. After he was established his business picked up. The gems and minerals sold to a steady group of customers on the Mall, the books on gems and minerals could be sold in Tucson if need be. He decided to participate in some community events, something that he never did in Hollywood, which led to a few amusing incidents.
The first was when the burger chain Fuddruckers opened up on the Mall. They invited all the merchants to come in for a pre-opening free dinner. This was music to the ears of booksellers, all of whom would much rather spend money on books instead of food. The merchants packed into the restaurant one night for a burger feast. Garvin joined us, sitting down next to me at a table. Fuddruckers had great burgers, a sidebar where you could add all kinds of condiments, and plenty to drink.
I looked over at Garvin’s plate. There wasn’t any burger to be seen, just a large bowl of chopped jalapenos peppers from the condiment bar. “Hey Jack, where’s your burger?” I said.
“The meat here is no good, kid, I checked it out,” he said.
The burger was delicious, and I tried to pitch him to go get one, but he waved me off, and started to gobble down his bowl of chopped jalapenos with some cut tomatoes sprinkled on top. Wow, I thought, what a man of steel this guy is. I had never met anyone who could sit down and snarf up an entire bowl of those spicy peppers. Maybe a guy from Mexico, but no gringo could do this, except, evidently, the Rock Man. Frankly, I was somewhat stunned. I could eat a few of them mixed in with a salad. But an entire bowl? No way.
I watched Garvin. He gobbled up the whole bowl very quickly, just snorting it down. After a few minutes, he got up from the table and when he returned he had a large bowl of vanilla ice cream. He also snarfed that down quickly. When he had finished he said “Well kid, see you tomorrow, I’m going to head home.”
The next afternoon, on the way to the bank, I stopped in to The Rock shop to see if Garvin was still alive.
“Boy, I had a bad night, kid. My stomach was on fire. That joint is no good, the food is rotten. Even a bowl of ice cream couldn’t cool off my gut.”
“Jeez, Jack, it’s no wonder. I couldn’t believe that you ate an entire bowl of chopped Jalapenos peppers.”
“Chopped Jalapenos? Uggh.” he grunted. “Kid, I thought those were olives!”
Smoking two packs a day had destroyed his taste buds.
He somehow lived through that experience to go on to the next incident of bad food behavior, one that caused a lot of trouble.
The next incident, which sent some shock waves through the top tier of commercial elites in Burbank, revolved around the opening of a new movie theater next to the Golden Mall. The owners of the theater decided to throw a shindig for the city officials and various big shots, like the bankers, top tier realtors, and lawyers. Invitations were sent out. Not included were the peasants and especially dealers in used books and rocks. Somehow, Garvin heard about this event, and decided that he should be there to sip champagne and nosh with the elites of the city. He stopped by my shop one Tuesday evening on the way to the party.
“Hey kid, are you going to the big shindig tonight.”
“Uhh, no Jack, I wasn’t invited, it’s sort of a private affair for the big shots.”
“They won’t notice, we’ll just slip in. I heard there’s going to be plenty of food and booze.”
“I’ll pass on this one, Jack. Besides, it’s a dressy affair. Everyone will be wearing suits or sport coats. They might notice you with your red and white checkered lumberjack shirt on.
“Aw kid, you’re too paranoid. Selling all these books on conspiracies has got to you. It starts in 10 minutes. I’m going to slip in and grab a bite. See you tomorrow,” he said, heading out the door.
The next afternoon, during the slow time after lunch, I walked up to Jack’s shop to see if he had managed to escape arrest for crashing the party.
“Hey, Jack, how’d it go last night? Did they let you in?”
There was one character trait that Garvin had. No matter how embarrassing an event in his life could be, he would tell anyone about it. Most folks, not wanting to look bad, would never tell anyone about some major faux pas that would reflect on themselves. With Jack, it was all there for anyone to hear and howl about. He never seemed to care about any social implications.
“Well kid, it was a disaster. I got in ok, I just walked in like I belonged there. You were right, all the big shots were dressed to the nines. They had a great spread put out. I ate way too much, they had the best food and horsd’oeurves.
“I was stuffed full, so I thought I would take a breather. I lit a cigarette and I saw a table behind me, I put my arm back to lean against the table. How was I to know that they had brought in a huge cake and put it right where I wanted to lean back? My arm accidentally went right into the cake.”
“Good God, Jack, into the cake? You ruined the big cake?” I could envision a gaping hole in the cake, laced with small red and white threads from his lumberjack shirt.
“Yeah, it was bad. Some woman screamed. Then the chef came running toward me, yelling and screaming.
“What did you do, make a break for the door?”
“No, but I knew I was in trouble. I had to go on the offensive. When the chef got up to me, I yelled at the top of my voice, ‘DON’T JUST STAND THERE YOU IDIOT – GET ME A TOWEL.’ I waved my arm at him, it had cake and iceing all over it. See, kid, in these situations you gotta turn things around. My yelling at him interrupted his thoughts, which were probably to kill me, and he ran off to get me a towel. I wiped the cake off my shirt and then got out of there pronto.”
“Now I gotta send the shirt to the cleaners.”
“Yeah Jack, but the cake, it must have cost them a hundred bucks for one of those huge cakes.”
“It was their fault, why did they put it behind me there without telling me?”
Around this time, Jack was angry with the ABAA. He had gone to one of the monthly meetings, which was at Heritage Book Shop’s elegant digs in a remodeled mortuary building on the edge of Beverly Hills. He was upset that there was not much food, just a cracker and cheese plate.
“Kid,” he told me, “those guys with all their money are so cheap that they don’t even put on a big spread. They should have plenty of food and some wine. What they put out to eat was pathetic, with all their money.”
I tried to tell him that it was just a bookseller’s meeting, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He pointed out that even our Golden Mall monthly merchants meeting had a good dinner set up, since the meeting was at 6pm they felt it was appropriate to feed everyone. This anger at the ABAA not having a good meal at the meetings led Jack to also begin talking about putting on a book fair every year in Southern California, a low price show where booth rents were reasonable and the admission was free or very low.
“The ABAA show is only here every other year, and it’s far too expensive for a lot of the dealers to attend.” he said. This eventually led to a group of us getting together to explore the idea of putting on a book fair that would be accessible for booksellers and dealers who might not be members of the ABAA. Sol Grossman, Keith Burns, Jack Garvin and I ended up founding the California Book Fair Associates.
Since Jack was knowledgeable about various shows, we leaned on him for guidance. Without Jack, there probably would not have been a book fair. He had been to many shows, including regional fairs and also the big gem and mineral shows in Pasadena and Tucson, and had the basic knowledge of what had to be done to put on a show. We spent months having meetings at Sol Grossman’s warehouse/office in North Hollywood, refining our ideas and working out details.
Our first show was at the Glendale Civic Auditorium, and was a great success. We eventually put on 2 shows a year in the L.A. Area, plus shows in San Diego, Monterey, Ventura, San Francisco, and Santa Monica.
We met almost every week and paid attention to detail. We took over the monthly book fair in San Diego at the Masonic Temple on Adams Avenue in order to keep a presence in the area for the once a year big show there.
If I can find all my notebooks on the subject, I may write an article that would provide some guidance on how to put on a show, and how much effort goes into it. The book fairs today do not have the pull or attraction of the shows we put on. How to generate excitement and entertainment is an important element in any show. Just telling people to come on over to a hotel and buy some old books from some seedy looking used book dealers does not attract much attention. I would also add in the new platforms of social media that are available to entrepreneurs to publicize the show, tools that we didn’t have back in the 1980s and 1990s. Back then we were stuck with having to put advertising in papers like the L.A. Times, which would gouge you on price and rarely give out any free publicity.
Eventually, the book fair meetings were moved to Ventura, when Sol Grossman and Keith Burns moved up there. But before the move, when the weekly meetings were at Sol’s warehouse in North Hollywood, Jack and Sol got into a big beef, ending with Jack leaving the book fair committee and being bought out by the fair.
How this came about was somewhat strange. We would break for lunch at our meetings and walk over to a nearby all-you-can eat smorgy. During the lunch chatter, Jack and Sol would start talking about old times and some deals that they had together. Jack would always find a way to tell Sol how he had gotten the best of him, or made a lot of money off him in these deals. Sol would get furious at the thought that not only had Jack made money on these old deals, but here he is 20 years later bragging about. To make matters worse, when Jack would be spinning these tales, he would laugh and chortle about it. For Jack, it was a chance to get a little one-up on Sol, who was usually viewed at the most successful business guy. He didn’t realize how pissed off Sol would get, his anger about it would lead to harsh words, disrupt the meetings, and give everyone except Jack a knot in their stomach, two knots for Sol.
The war between Sol and Jack got worse by the week, especially on Sol’s end. He no longer would go to lunch with Jack because he didn’t want to hear about how Jack had made money on his past deals. He wanted Jack out of the book fair or he would close down the whole fair. Jack finally realized that the situation was serious, and got a lawyer. Then Sol got a lawyer. On the verge of a self-destructive lawsuit, Keith and I stepped in and deescalated the situation and forced a fair settlement for Jack. He was off the show committee, but still kept his booth, a solution that seemed to work.
The stress from Sol and the Book Fair mess was bad enough, but things got worse. Jack returned from his annual trip to the Tucson Gem and Mineral show and found that his wife had changed the locks on the door to his house. He banged on the door to let him in, the response was that she called the police. They showed up and after hearing both sides of the story, told Jack to get a motel for the night and get a lawyer in the morning.
Jack’s wife was always a sweet woman, and seemed very religious, unlike her husband, who was ambivalent about the subject. I remember Jack telling me once that his wife was related in some way to John Murrell, the infamous land pirate and murderous outlaw of the Natchez Trace. “She’s one of the Murrells, I have to be careful not to ever cross her.” he said. Something, however, had gone wrong with wifey. She had snapped, her personality took a 180 turn. No longer the sweet religious lady, the next time I saw her she was swearing like a sailor. I have no idea what brought this on.
Jack, banned from his own house, had suffered some kind of miner stroke from the stress. When he got out of the hospital he was having trouble with numbers, telling me what a good deal it was to stay at the Holiday Inn in Burbank. I knew that $125. a night was not a good deal for Jack. Someone contacted Jack’s sister, who lived in Orange County, and she took him in. He was devastated about the situation with his wife and decided to get rid of the shop. Joel Malter came in and auctioned off all the books, gems, minerals and shelving, clearing everything out.
Jack’s wife was taken back to Oklahoma by relatives. Jack had a heart attack and was sent back to the Hospital, where he was hooked up on life support. A bookseller friend of Jack’s, Lin Currey from Orange County, came up and surveyed the situation. He found out that Jack’s house was only about 3 payments away from paying off the mortgage completely, but that the wife had not made any payments in months and the place was headed for foreclosure. He arranged to sell off all the furniture, clothing, books, gems, everything he could find in the house, and paid off the mortgage completely, leaving clear title for the wife’s relatives to sell it and get enough money to care for her.
Lin Curry called me over to Jack’s garage to haul off some old debris to my dumpster. He told me the doctors said Jack had only a few more days to live. Just as I was driving off, he threw a duffle bag into the back of my van. “It’s Jack’s underwear, you can use them for rags to clean books” he said.
A couple weeks later, I ran into a lady who worked at the local mortuary. She knew Jack. I lamented his passing. “Oh no,” she said. “They took him OFF life support and he got a lot better, HE’S STILL ALIVE.”
I found out where he was and visited him in the hospital. He was in bad shape.
“What’s up kid?”
“Well, Jack, there’s good news and bad news.”
“Yeah, Lin Currey saved your house, but he had to sell off everything to do it, the furniture, all your books, your gems and minerals, even your clothes. We thought you were dead. They took your wife back to Oklahoma.”
“Christ, kid, with all that, what could possibly be the good news?”
“I have a duffle bag in the back of my van with all your underwear in it, so you can make a fresh start”
Jack grunted. We chatted a little longer, but he tired out and I left.
He died a few days later.
Postscript. At my urging, Janet Jarvits had purchased all of Jack’s really nice shelving and rented the store from the landlord. She opened up her cook book and culinary store at that location and was there for years until the Burbank City Redevelopment destroyed the old mall and the building fell into the hands of real estate sharks, jacking the rent so high she had to move out.
Today, there is no trace of any of the bookstores that used to line the Golden Mall, with the exception of a movie memorabilia shop. Rest in Peace Jack Garvin, Garvin’s Book and Rock Shop, now only a whisper in the wind here at Bookstore Memories.
Bookshops on the old Golden Mall:
Burbank Book City
Burbank Book Castle
Garvin’s Book and Rock Shop (later Janet Jarvits Cook Books)
Burbank Book Shop (new books)
Crown Books (Remember them?)
Best Seller Book Shop
Atlantis Book Shop
Movie World (Movie Memorabilia)
plus a few $1 book blowout shops over the years.
plus Tom Lesser’s Paperback Collectors Show at the Golden Mall Pavillion.