Brent Davis, a former city councilman and current owner of Group Management Inc. (GMI), reflects on a boy’s coming of age in 1950s Iowa and how that inspired a mini museum.
“My theme is 1950’s, Coca Cola and red, but really the collection spans the ’30’s to the ’70’s. People bring me ’50’s memorabilia all the time. I graciously accept things, but what I’m really looking for is vintage American made Coca-Cola signs. I’d say 90% of what I have is truly vintage.
“In 2003 my partner Christine (Barfield) and I moved into this midcentury house and began a major renovation. We started by designing a room for our ’57 Thunderbird, a one-car car museum. We enclosed the carport, threw down the checkerboard floor, had a workbench just for looks, and a jukebox for jive.
‘The collection grew and we ended up moving the car to the garage about 4 years ago. Now we call it the ’50’s room. The difference between my museum and everybody else’s museum is you get to play here.
“My interest (for collecting) started as a young child in the ‘50’s, growing up in an old house. I was old enough to remember things and understand that not every thing in the ’50’s belonged to the ’50’s. Not everyone could afford new GE appliances. They still had that 1948 washer. That’s the thing about interior design magazines. Not everything in someone’s house belongs to that era.
I remember my mother’s Oriental lamp sat on top of the television. Styles changed. My mother painted that base from orange to red to black to stay with fashion. That’s what you did then. You didn’t just throw things away and get new.
When I was 15 in high school we’d all go down to Elmer’s Bar. We weren’t drinking, just shooting pool and playing snooker. There was a beer sign in the bar that read “You are a stranger here but once” – Grain Belt Beer out of Minneapolis. I’d always ask Elmer if I could buy that sign and he’d say, ‘We’ll talk about it another time’. Must have asked him 40 times.
“When I was leaving for Tucson, for college, I went in and said ‘I really want to buy that sign, Elmer’. He said ‘Take it Brent.’ I’ll never forget that. It was my first collectible. Then I started collecting in college and got serious about it in the early ’90s. I grew up in an old house in Iowa and always wanted a new house. Then I got a new home and watched it get old.
“We antique locally and all over the country and the world, from Oklahoma to Iowa to Great Britain. We’ve found Coca-Cola signs at R&S Auctions Inc. here in town.
“Along the way we’ve acquired spats from the ’20s, a Texaco cap from the ’30s just because I liked them. We have lots of little items, one-of-a-kinds. Some items are from our childhood, the pedal car from Boulder City, Nevada. I made the ladder and added the bell. You’ve got to be careful though. Restoration gone wrong can destroy the value of an antique.
“The room is getting full. We don’t even drink Coca-Cola. We were Pepsi drinkers, but I don’t drink soda anymore. I gave it up.”
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