The Incredible Automotive Museum built by a Cosmetics Empire

Sometimes I go somewhere and I am just so knocked on my feet I’m not even sure where to begin to share it with you. This is the case for the Nethercutt Museum and Collection. In fact, this place is so massive it’s actually receiving two blog posts! The Nethercutt is probably best known as an automotive museum, but if you decide to take the guided tour of the Collection, housed across the street from the museum, you’ll be astounded by amazing pieces of mechanical wonder of another sort. So stay tuned, in the meantime, let’s focus on the gorgeous automobiles of the Nethercutt Museum…

Exterior of the Nethercutt Museum, a butter colored building of smooth stucco with tan, almost gold trim. Letters above the doors read "Nethercutt Museum"

Looking down an aisle at the Nethercutt, with various antique and vintage automobiles.

Here, spectacular cars from the 20th century, with a particular focus on pre-1950 cars, are showcased, including many unique, one-of-a-kind cars, as well as ones owned by celebrities of all sorts, such as Rudolph Valentino, Fatty Arbuckle, and several heiresses. There is also an extensive collection of hood ornaments.

1923 Voisin C-5 Sporting Victoria. A long light grey convertible, with swooping black fenders and white wall tires.

Close-up of the hood ornament of the Voisin, which is a chrome cobra.

1923 McFarlan Model 154 Knickerbocker Cabriolet. A long dark red car, with thin white wall tires.

The above grey car is the unique Voisin C-5 Sporting Victoria, bought by silent movie star Rudolph Valentino in Paris. He in fact bought three, bringing one to Hollywood. Fellow actor, Douglas Fairbanks, gifted Valentino the cobra hood ornament. The maroon red 1923 McFarlan Model 154 Knickerbocker belonged to yet another actor, funnyman “Fatty” Arbuckle.

Close-up of a hood ornament from a 1928 Diana Light Straight 8 Sedan Deluxe, which is a figure of a woman shooting a bow straight into the air.

1947 Fore Super Deluxe 79A Station Wagon, butter yellow in color, with wood paneling in the back. A shiny chrome grill in front, and white wall tires.

1912 White Model GF Sixty 7 Passenger Touring, in white with green panels, and white wall tires, and gold trim.

Close-up of the hood ornament from a 1930 Cadillac Model 452 A Imperial Cabriolet, which is the figure of a man in mediaeval herald attire, the front of which features the Cadillac crest, he blows a horn, which features a banner that reads "Cadillac"

1932 Rolls Royce Phantom II, in two tone green, with the hood and fenders being a mid level green, and the side being a pale lime green.

Myself, wearing a black cowboy hat, white shirt with the neon Roy's sign on it, and blue jeans, several vintage cars sit behind me.

A 1928 Minerva AM Convertible Town Cabriolet, black and green in color, with cane detail and white wall tires

Close-up of a fox hood ornament in a display case.

Looking down an aisle of vintage cars, curling fenders frame white wall tires.

Front of a 1937 Packard 1507, Twelve, Fifteen Senes Club Sedan, with shiny chrome grill, the rest of the car painted blue.

Close-up of the hood ornament on a 1932 Pierce Arrow Mode 52 Sedan, which is a chrome male figure crouched with a bow and arrow.

1958 Vespa Model 400 "Jolly" a small orangey-red car with a canvas top in red and white stripes. The interior seats are made of whicker, and there are no doors.

Close-up of a hood ornament in a display case that is of a male photographer holding up a large camera.

Myself standing in front of the Vespa "Jolly"

Unrestored maroon 1917 Simplex Crane Model 5 Touring Car

While all of the cars in the collection are flawless, the above car is in somewhat sad condition, but it sits as an example of how some of these cars arrive at the Nethercutt, before the in-house team restores them to their former glory.

One of the most fascinating elements I came across was the art of caning on cars. I grew up with Victorian furniture and am familiar with caning for chairs and such, but I had not come across it on cars. Initially I thought this was woven cane applied to the cars, but it is in fact painted on, using paint thickened with lead and talc or powdered chalk. Originally this was done with a piping bag akin to the kind used in cake decorating, but later a pneumatic tool was developed. Below are some gorgeous examples of this unique design element.

Close-up of cane work down on the side of a 1928 Minerva AM Convertible Town Cabriolet. The cane work is down over black paint, which sits at the window line, below the rest of the car is painted a grass green.

Close-up of cane work on a 1916 Packard Model 1-12 Twin-Six Limousine in black. The tan colored caning is raised against the black body. White wall tires sit in the wheel wells.

In addition to the large collection of cars, just outside is a 1937 Canadian Pacific Royal Hudson train engine, with a 1912 Pullman Private Car in tow. The private railroad car belonged to Clara Baldwin Stocker, the daughter of one of California’s prominent settlers, “Lucky” Baldwin, for whom Baldwin Park (home of the first In-n-Out) is named after.

View of the train engine and pullman car.

View of the front of the engine car, which is rounded and features a streamline moderne design.

Close-up of the logo of the Canadian Pacific, which features a beaver sitting upon a red shield which reads "Canadian Pacific Spans the World"

Three-quarter view of the back of the pullman car.

A gorgeously set table inside the private pullman car. The dishes are white and feature golden poppies on them.

The narrow, wood paneled hallway aboard the private pullman car.

Gorgeous chandeliers of red glass and gold metal details.

Bedroom aboard the private pullman, with a brass bed and small white dresser with gold hardware.

Myself inside the cab of the engine, pulling the bell.

But just how did this amazing assortment of automobiles come to be? Well, it’s thanks to make-up. J.B. Nethercutt was born in 1913 in Indiana, but moved to Santa Monica in 1923. A few years later, in 1931, he and his aunt, Merle Norman, founded Merle Norman Cosmetics. Not long after he married his high school sweetheart, Dorothy, and soon they began collecting cars together. Beginning in 1956 they purchased a 1936 Duesenberg and a 1930 DuPont Town Car, had them restored, and they simply didn’t stop. By 1974 they decided to open a museum to showcase their now massive collection of cars. The tradition lives on today with J.B. and Dorothy’s son, Jack, and his wife, Helen. The museum likes to note that each car is still functioning, and goes out for a drive at least once a year. Additionally, the cars are still entered into car shows, and have participated in the New Year’s Day Rose Parade in Pasadena.

If cars aren’t your thing, but music is, then the Nethercutt Collection, a separate, ticketed tour is the place to be. But it’s also for car lovers too. Stay tuned for a look into the exclusive Collection next!

Gaze upon unique and fabulous cars at the Nethercutt Museum at 15151 Bledsoe Street in Sylmar, roughly 25 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. At the time of our visit, the Nethercutt Museum was free to visit, but had very limited operating hours of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Please visit their website for further details.

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