By Carolyn Kellogg
2:06 PM EDT, October 31, 2013
Thirty boxes of stuff -- the kind of thing a frustrated spouse might suggest be cleared out of the garage -- is being donated to the L.A. Public Library, which has accepted the lot with much enthusiasm.
The boxes belong to Dr. Melvin Schrier, a retired optometrist who now lives in Palos Verdes. Schrier was born in Brooklyn and practiced on Park Avenue in Manhattan; when he started going out on the town, he began saving souvenirs. That was back in 1944, and he kept at it for the next sixty-some years, noting the date on each item.
"He kept ephemera from every dinner and theater date," says Ani Boyadjian, principal librarian for Research and Special Collections. "It's quite amazing!"
Among the collections Boyadjian oversees at the L.A. Public Library is a collection of almost 9,000 menus and the like, to which Schrier's restaurant menus, ticket stubs and other ephemera will be added.
"It's fascinating to look back now to see how interesting menus are in terms of showing the economy of the time," Schrier told Boyadjian when they talked about his materials. "Who, in 2013, would believe that a steak at the Cocoanut Grove would be $1.25?"
That's our Los Angeles Cocoanut Grove, the A-list restaurant and nightclub that was located at the Ambassador Hotel. When Schrier visited California, he went to the famed Cocoanut Grove -- and pocketed the menu.
Schrier pocketed menus in 120 countries and almost every state, which he traveled to with his wife and family. Before he married, he picked up other things too -- like the Little Black Book from San Francisco's Rainbow Room. A mini phone book, it had places to write down the names and numbers of the ladies a gentleman met at the club. It included a 1940s version of hot-or-not: a blank spot for "rating" each dame, along with checkboxes to note whether she was a blond, brunet or redhead.
These kind of items may not be rare books, but they provide a window into the past, allowing researchers a chance to get a feel of daily life. "I think it provides a glimpse into history, food habits and societal mores, and above all is a visual treat," Boyadjian said. "Every menu is a story."
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