The hosts of American Pickers struck gold this spring when they visited Jim O’Mahoney’s weirdly wonderful Santa Barbara Museum, a labyrinth of rooms in the heart of the Funk Zone packed with items he’s spent more than three decades collecting. Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, the faces of the History Channel’s popular reality TV show, walked away with a mounted leopard head, artist Channing Peake’s chaps and cowboy hat, and 1940s Fiesta posters, among armfuls of other objects. O’Mahoney ended up $20,000 richer. “It was a fun day,” he said.
The crew filmed from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. with a small army of producers sifting through shelves and boxes and loading up a big van parked on Helena Avenue. Wolfe favored the historical display items, like photographs of the Rancheros Vistadores, a silk poster of actor Errol Flynn, and a classic Heidelberg beer sign. Fritz gravitated toward the cars and toys, including a model Japanese motorcycle, a fish-shaped cigarette lighter, and old copies of Hot Rod magazine. He also picked up a pair of Frank Sinatra’s shoes. The episode is scheduled to air sometime in July.
Despite the shopping spree, O’Mahoney’s collection is far from depleted. He still has an incredible array of artifacts, many steeped in Santa Barbara history. But with the rapid development of what used to be an edgier corner of town, O’Mahoney fears the museum’s days are numbered. His building was sold a few years ago, and rent has gone up. All around are new wineries and hotels that cater to the wealthy, not the artists and tradespeople that used to populate the Funk Zone.
O’Mahoney is ready to keep selling but hopes his collection isn’t completely scattered to the wind. “I want some of this stuff to stay in Santa Barbara,” he said, waving his arm over a signal bell from the trolley that used to coast up and down State Street, which sits near a hand-drawn map of Anacapa Island from the 1800s. “These are some neat things.” It’s hard to put a price on some ― what’s Potter Hotel silver or a Chumash hunting bow worth? ― but there’s always room for negotiation.
To make an appointment with O’Mahoney, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Serious buyers only, please.