I recently sat down with my good buddy Lou Woolf and discussed his amazing collection of vintage 1950s space-age ray guns, valued at over $100,000. Lou has been a real estate agent in Encino for over 25 years. Our friendship is based primarily on a shared love of the 1950s and 1960s, which we both maintain was the last era of innocence in this country.
Hal: What started you collecting rare and retro-themed toys?
Lou: About seven years ago, I had received a book on vintage space toys as a gift, and immediately felt an affinity to some of the iconic shapes I was looking at on those glossy pages. It felt to me like a touchstone to a simpler time. I just had to get one. .... Hello, eBay!
Hal: Why did you choose space guns or ray guns to collect?
Lou: Growing up, we had fantastic early-morning Saturday TV shows that included such serials as Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Tom Corbett, Space Cadet and Space Patrol, as well as such masterpieces of film like Forbidden Planet, and The Day the Earth Stood Still. Sitting on the floor in your PJs, you simply had to have a ray gun to survive! The design and artistry that went into most of the ray guns of that era are really like miniature art deco pieces of art.
Hal: How big is your collection?
Lou: I probably have well over 1,000 pieces. They include not only the ray guns, but space helmets and space-themed lunch boxes as well.
Hal: What else do you collect?
Lou: I used to collect classic cars. I owned two 1957 Chevys, a 1963 Corvette, a 1964 Corvette, a 427 Cobra (scary fast), an Austin Healy Sprite, and a few other big-boy toys. ... Traded them all in for a wonderful family, and now enjoy building, and collecting anything from wooden ship and plane replicas to making doll houses for my daughter. I love the rare occasions when I am able to spend time in the garage. ... Just me and my table saw! Planning and building my next project. There's something very relaxing and Zen-like when you're physically and mentally immersed in a creative project
Hal: Why do you love the 1950s and '60s so much?
Lou: It was an optimistic period of America when the future was bright, and everybody would have a flying car. The atomic age had arrived! My favorite retro year has to be 1957. It was a great year for automotive designs, and I'm still a motorhead at heart.
Hal: What do you love about doing business in Encino?
Lou: While Encino is not the only area I specialize in, it will always remain one of my favorites. Encino contains such a wide variety of businesses, parks and restaurants, while maintaining a glimpse into the past where you can still see the American dream played out with everything from well-kept family tract homes to some of the most amazing estates in the country.
Hal: Are you still collecting new stuff now? Where do you store your collection?
Lou: I occasionally pick up something new, if it's unique enough. Most of my collection is in storage. I would really love to have a museum where others could come and enjoy the collection.
Hal: How does your wife feel about the whole "collecting thing"? And do your kids take part in the hobby?
Lou: My wife is very tolerant! She knows that it's something that brings a smile to my face, so she doesn't mind the fact that our family room resembles a 1950s toy store. My children Jonathan and Jessica just scratch their heads and explain to their visiting friends that "Dad is just a little bit crazy!"
I have to admit, I am somewhat envious of Lou having the ability to display so much of his collection in his home. Much of my '60s memorabilia remains in boxes or I've sold a lot of it on eBay. I wish I had collected a lot of 1950s-era ray guns. I probably could have traded them all for a new house in Encino with my retro buddy Lou!