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Final curtain coming down on giant Hollywood junkyard

A shark made from the same mold used for Jaws guards Aadlen Brothers Auto Wrecking in Los Angeles. The family business is closing on New Year’s Eve, and its vast collection of movie leftovers scattered across 26 acres must go by then, too.
Published Dec. 23, 2015

LOS ANGELES

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, godforsaken-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 back lot 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.

"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.)

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.

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?"

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