More than two years after it was stolen from the Arlington Theatre’s entryway on Christmas Eve 2011, a one-of-a kind lamp — made with valuable Depression glass and crafted around the same time the theater was built in 1931 — has found its way home.
This Saturday, Michael Junk — who works at Antique Alley and often visits garage and yard sales looking for hidden gems — spotted the lantern at a sale hosted by a small home on La Patera Ranch property. He said he recognized it from the original Santa Barbara Independent report on the theft and from frequently walking his dogs through the Arlington’s breezeway, where four identical lamps still hang.
“I have a bit of a photographic memory, which comes in handy in the antique business,” Junk said. He explained that he and a friend — another “picker” named Tom Houghtaling — arrived at the yard sale at around 11 a.m. It was overseen by an elderly woman and a person Junk assumed was her granddaughter, and it appeared at first to hold little promise. But, Junk said, he lit up when he saw the lantern, not immediately recognizing it as Arlington property but intrigued by its uniqueness and clear value.
Sensing his interest, “The lady blurts out, ‘Five dollars,'” Junk said. “I couldn’t get my wallet out fast enough. I thought, ‘Heck, I got a good deal for a change!'” Junk said he didn’t press the woman on how she came by the lamp because he didn’t want to spook her and sour the deal. “I have a feeling they wanted it out,” he said. I didn’t ask questions. I usually don’t.”
On the drive back to town, Junk went on, he had the nagging suspicion the lamp indeed came from the theater, so he and Houghtaling headed over to take a look. Fighting against the tide of a sold-out crowd leaving a screening of Frozen, the two compared their find to the other four lamps and soon thereafter contacted Arlington management. Junk said he thought about calling the police first, but he figured he’d get the piece back to its rightful owners first.
Junk said theater manager Karen Killingsworth, surprised and appreciative, gave them a $100 award and a few coupons. “Who knows what would have happened if someone else found it,” Junk said, laughing. “I was hoping I was going to make some serious money! Sometimes when it’s too good to be true, it is.”
Killingsworth said the lamp is in pretty good shape. All the glass is intact, though one of the bottom pieces of metal has fallen off, and there are some structural integrity issues. She said she’ll soon have it restored. When Killingsworth was shopping around for a replacement two years ago, she explained, the quotes to fabricate a replica were in excess of $5,000. The spot has remained empty since that Christmas Eve, she went on, but the other lamps were more securely fastened to the ceiling to prevent another theft. Killingsworth said she filed a police report immediately after the incident and has notified the cops the missing item has been returned. A police spokesperson said he had no knowledge of the matter but would look into it.
“Our heartfelt thanks to those two guys,” Killingsworth said. “They were as excited as I was.” Certainly upset when the lamp was taken, Killingsworth said she never lost faith that it would one day be returned. “I kept thinking it would come back to me,” she said. “We never gave up hope.”