Classic cars. Old Hollywood. A Sunset Boulevard view from the 1950s. On the Vintage Los Angeles page on Facebook, every day is Throwback Thursday.
Martino, 43, who lives in West Hollywood, launched Vintage Los Angeles in 2010 so that she and friends could share photos and wax nostalgic together. She thought they were alone in glamorizing the past. But she soon found that tens of thousands of people share her fascination with a local history that really is an important part of the nation’s history.
Vintage Los Angeles quickly became a phenomenon. Martino’s tribute to the Los Angeles of yore, much of which features what now is West Hollywood, has more than 140,000 followers on Facebook—and it’s still growing steadily. “The word got around really fast,” said Martino, a self-proclaimed “DeLorean of the Internet.”
Each morning, Martino starts the day sipping coffee and researching L.A. history online. She spends about an hour planning posts, usually three or four each day. “It’s definitely something I look forward to every day,” she said.
Most of the photos Martino shares on Facebook aren’t from her personal collection, though occasionally she’ll share an old photo of herself or her parents. Other photos she finds online, or her followers submit them. She isn’t merely collecting and posting the images. She collects the memories that go with them too. Followers comment to share those memories. Martino reads every comment, and she responds to many of them.
The page dabbles in the world of celebrity—an A-lister’s birthday is often the hook for Martino to share a vintage photo—but that’s peripheral to the page’s main purpose. Actors aren’t the stars of this page, which Martino says is about “celebrating a city for more than just the Hollywood aspect…The people that lived here—it’s their history,” Martino said.
Martino is one of those people. Born at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, Martino grew up in Beverly Hills. The West Hollywood area was part of her early life. She fondly remembers the Ferris wheel and pony rides that predated the Beverly Center. She remembers roller derbies, bowling alleys and restaurants that have been lost to time.
Her knowledge of the L.A. area is an asset in maintaining the Vintage Los Angeles page, for which she uses “Los Angeles” in a broad sense, meaning the greater L.A. area. While she focuses largely on her childhood stomping grounds—WeHo, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, the Sunset Strip—she also features images from as far outside of L.A.’s center as Malibu, Long Beach and West Covina.
“L.A.’s so big,” she said. “It’s kind of an endless city.”
Lots of people like “Mad Men” and the Beatles. But Martino is passionate about the era just before her time. She grew up in the ’70s and, even as a child, found the’50s and ’60s fascinating. The buildings from those decades seemed to have a whimsical “space age look,” said said. “I guess I’ve always been fascinated by past architecture.”
It isn’t just the architecture that fascinates her. She wishes she’d experienced the so-called “British Invasion,” that she had memories of Elvis and JFK.
Some of her nostalgic leanings might be attributed to stories she heard from her father, Al. When Martino launched the Vintage Los Angeles page on Facebook in October 2010, it had been exactly one year since her father’s death. The page wasn’t about him, but it was a way of honoring him.
A celebrated “crooner,” Al Martino was a Capitol Records chart-topper who dated iconic sex symbol Marilyn Monroe (another celebrity with ties to WeHo). Martino was known for singles such as “Take My Heart,” “Rachel” and “When You’re Mine,” all on the U.S. Top 40s list in the early ’50s. In 1963, his cover of “I Love You Because” was No. 3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Chart. He also sang “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte,” the title song for that 1964 film. And one of his biggest hits was “Spanish Eyes.”
Martino’s life wasn’t all Hollywood glitter —there was grit, too. After the Mafia bought out his contract and demanded money from him, Martino fled to England, where he became a recording success. He returned to the United States in 1958. The singer/actor portrayed Johnny Fontane in the iconic Mafia film, “The Godfather,” in 1972 and in its 1990 sequel, “The Godfather: Part III.”
That nostalgia spring-boarded Martino to social media success, but her collector tendencies extend to physical objects as well. As a teen, Martino was so devoted to The Doors that she literally worked for memorabilia. She worked at a rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia store, and her boss gave her posters and other Doors items instead of money.
“My obsession with the Doors opened up L.A. to me,” said Martino, who at age 21 was called upon to provide authentic Doors items such as posters for the Oliver Stone biographical film “The Doors.”
Her collection has expanded into other areas, and Martino frequented flea markets to hunt for historical Los Angeles items. The flea market searches eventually gave way to auction sites like eBay, and Martino now does the bulk of her collectable-hunting online. Automated alerts let her know when items that fit her interests go up for auction. “I’m always looking,” said Martino, who has assembled a massive collection of matchbooks, postcards, collectable books and other items, including ashtrays from most of the clubs on The Sunset Strip.
One of Martino’s more than 140,000 fans is Tommy Gelinas, a preservationist who launched the San Fernando Valley Relics Facebook page about seven years ago. “I think the Vintage Los Angeles page is an absolutely awesome page,” he said. “[Martino] really loves the architecture, she gets people involved, and it’s an awesome page. It’s one of my favorite pages.”
Like Martino, Gelinas focuses not just on sharing photos but on creating an online community for his followers. And like Marino, his zeal for history comes with a penchant for collecting physical items—in his case, that includes some sizeable objects such as historic signs.
One of the signs in Gelinas’ collection from the Tiffany Theater, which was demolished late last year to make way for the Sunset La Cienega project (formerly called the Sunset Millennium project). Gelinas recovered the sign after Martino, whom he’d friended via Facebook, posted that the building was about to be demolished.
That sign is now on display along with an array of other historical items at the Valley Relics Museum, which opened in October in Chatsworth.
Martino hopes to find a venue to exhibit her vast collection and currently is in discussions about that. And she hopes to build on Vintage Los Angeles in other ways. She writes for Los Angeles Magazine. And she’d like to publish a Vintage Los Angeles book, featuring photos and related stories submitted by readers.
A Vintage Los Angeles web video series, produced by Martino and friends, is already in the works, with the first episodes slated to premiere later this year.
On the pages that follow are a selection of Vintage Los Angeles photos of what was to become West Hollywood.