It’s not just a junkyard or even a really big junkyard but a living, breathing monument to Los Angeles pop culture. And now it’s headed for the dustbin of history itself.
For 54 years, Aadlen Brothers Auto Wrecking, in a moonscaped, god-forsaken-looking section of the San Fernando Valley, has collected far more than thousands of burned-out, smashed-up, rusted automobiles on its sprawling dirt and asphalt lot.
It’s also taken in just about every type of movie and TV prop imaginable while serving as the site of more than 200 Hollywood film shoots.
The last surviving “Bruce” the shark, made from the mold for the 1975 Steven Spielberg film “Jaws,” resides there, swimming ominously near an entrance. With its huge mouth agape, it appears ready to devour anyone foolish enough to try to sneak off the lot with, say, a pilfered power train from a ’32 Ford.
Nearby is the giant boom box Usher danced on for the 1997 video “My Way.” It’s actually a 53-foot-long big-rig trailer painted to look like the ’80s-era music machine. But viewed from a nearby freeway, it appears eerily authentic.
Now everything must go, says Nathan Adlen, owner of this hybrid junkyard-Hollywood backlot that’s been in his family since 1961, when this part of the valley was mainly a warren of sand-and-gravel quarries and garbage dumps.
By New Year’s Eve, he promises, it will be 26 acres of bare land surrounded largely by warehouses and car-repair places as he contemplates what to do next with the property.
“You need to make money to survive, and it’s gotten harder to make money in the junk business,” the affable 60-year-old says as he walks past thousands of automobiles piled four and five high, each destined for the giant car-crushing machine that will noisily squash them into scrap metal.
The Chinese aren’t buying that scrap like they once did, he explains, causing the price to plummet while his minimum-wage and insurance costs continue to rise.
More than 200 movies, TV shows, commercials, video games and music videos have been filmed at Aadlen Brothers over the years.
But Adlen says that Hollywood cash isn’t enough these days to subsidize a business that for decades was also the go-to place for seemingly every shade-tree mechanic in the San Fernando Valley looking to dress up his ride with a cheap turbocharger, a shiny grill or chrome wheels pulled off everything from wrecked Rolls-Royces to VW bugs.
“My father and I, we would roam around that place forever,” recalls Tommy Gelinas, curator of the San Fernando Valley Relics Museum, who customized his first car, a 1968 Dodge Dart, with used parts from Aadlen Brothers.
“But it wasn’t just a junkyard,” Gelinas continues. “It was an adventure because there was so much stuff, old cars, movie memorabilia.”
The yard began showing up in films in 1967, when a scene shot at its trailer office made it into the movie “In Cold Blood.”
“It’s only six seconds in the movie,” Adlen recalls with a chuckle, but those seconds were enough to make the company’s founding Adlen brothers realize they had a future in show business. (After starting the business, Adlen’s father and uncle added the extra A to the name to get it listed first in the phone book.)
Over the years, the lot has appeared briefly in “The Hangover,” ”The Fall Guy,” ”The A-Team,” ”Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and countless other shows. Just last month a “Supergirl” episode had the Girl of Steel battling the villain Reactron near the car-crushing machine.
Soon there will be nothing left to film.
The “RoboCop 3” car has already headed out the door, followed by two of the armored vehicles from the film “Universal Soldier.” (Up close, they look more like giant trash trucks.)
Adlen, who is selling most pieces and offering some to museums, isn’t sure what he’ll do with the shark, with its famous pedigree.
For years it was known in Hollywood that there were three sharks built for the film, all destroyed afterward. But there was a persistent rumor, apocryphal some thought, that a fourth one made from the same mold resided in a junkyard somewhere. It never appeared in the movie but had been the star of the Universal Studios theme park tour.
Five years ago, National Public Radio senior editor Cory Turner, a “Jaws” fan, dragged the shark’s builder and designer out to Aadlen Brothers, where they confirmed that shark was the real deal.
Adlen still remembers the day it arrived. His late father was buying old cars from Universal Studios to strip for parts when he was asked: “By the way, you interested in this?”