Abell Auction Company | L.A. Times: The Abell auction house has been in the business of buying, selling and bargains for 100 years | Abell Auction Company
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L.A. Times: The Abell auction house has been in the business of buying, selling and bargains for 100 years

A woman bids at Abell Auction Company, Los Angeles' oldest auction house, on Feb. 4, 2016. (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

A woman bids at Abell Auction Company, Los Angeles’ oldest auction house, on Feb. 4, 2016. (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

 

By Susan King (contact reporter)

The Abell Auction Co. not only has sold the estates of many Hollywood stars, its auctions attracted many a legend.

“Lucille Ball used to sit in the front row at our Sunday sales,” noted Abell CEO Don Schireson, who began working at the auction house with his father in 1977. “Julie Christie used to come, Buddy Hackett. Phil Everly came in — he used to buy rugs.”

Leslie Caron also frequented the auctions. “I was so infatuated with her when she would walk in, I would, like, bump into posts,” joked Abell’s executive vice president, Howard Zellman, who has also worked at Abell’s since the 1970s.

But these days, Zellman said, celebrities rarely frequent the weekly Thursday and quarterly Sunday auctions; they’re not as involved as past generations were in picking out their decor. As Zellman points out, today “celebrities buy what the decorators want them to buy.”

The auction house was founded in 1916 by Russian immigrant Abraham N. Abell in the West Adams area near Western Boulevard. But one entire building — complete with historical records — went up in flames during the 1992 riots. The Abell family owned a building in Commerce and moved in three weeks later.

Among the items the auction house has sold over the years include:

  • Loretta Young’s Palms Spring estate featuring personal and studio stills as well as correspondence.
  • The Laughlin Park Estate of Cecil B. DeMille, which featured museum quality Italian Renaissance furniture and rare books.
    Behind-the-scenes Classic Hollywood

Take a look on set during the making of classic movies and TV shows.

  • The furnishings of Barbara Stanwyck’s estate.
  • The Steinway grand piano Gene Autry used when composing “Here Comes Santa Claus.”
  • A Yamaha grand piano owned by Gene Kelly.

“We have had a lot of estates over the years of major and minor stars,” Zellman said. “I think the major reason we get them is that we are very discreet. Not everyone wants it plastered all over that this was their linen hamper.”

On a recent hot morning, workers were loading furniture and other items that had just been purchased into cars, trucks and SUVs. And inside, the weekly Thursday auction was in full swing with a nice crowd sitting in folding chairs bidding on items while other regulars perused the sofas, pottery, dishes, jewelry, tables, art work and even a Steinway piano that were being sold that day.

“We sell about 900 to 1,000 pieces each week,” Schireson said.

Most of the buyers come to the auction house in Commerce every Thursday to buy items for resale, EBay or to use in staging homes and condos that are for sale.

“There is one guy who is here every week and buys for someone in Pennsylvania,” Schireson said.

Abell’s quarterly auction is on Sunday and highlights items from the estates of Oscar-winning actor David Niven and Emmy Award-winning Sam Simon, the writer-producer-director and co-creator of “The Simpsons.” Simon, a prominent animal rights activist, died last year at age 59. Proceeds from auction will go to the Sam Simon Charitable Giving Foundation.

“The items in the weekly auction appeal to people who come in week in and week out,” Schireson said. “We have things here that might appeal to someone in France and someone in China or someone in New York.”

Interested parties can also bid online.

“There’s a different mindset back East,” Schireson noted. “People can sell things back East we can’t sell here. We can sell midcentury modern and contemporary here, but a lot of antiques sell better in New York and Europe.”

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Select items from the Sam Simon estate and their estimated worth:

  • Dale Chihuly blown glass chandelier — estimate: $100,000-$150,000
  • Auguste Rodin: “Le Grand Penseur” — estimate: $80,000-$100,000
  • Cecil Beaton photograph: “Untitled” — estimate: $1,000-$1,5000
  • “Revelations (from End Times)” — estimate: $3,000-$4,000