Treasures revealed in a midtown Tucson backyard

2013-04-21T00:00:00Z 2014-07-01T16:48:32Z Treasures revealed in a midtown Tucson backyardGabrielle Fimbres Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Jack Klein was a beloved physician who opened South Tucson's first medical practice after moving to town in 1948.

For 30 years, the civic-minded eye, ear, nose and throat doctor served the square-mile city, providing free physical and eye exams and eyeglasses to thousands of children.

But there was another side to the good doctor. Shortly after he and his family moved into a charming 1930s adobe home on Lee Street in the Blenman-Elm neighborhood, Klein opened The Pottery Post at 716 E. Broadway.

The store opened during the California pottery boom and sold brightly colored and patterned dinnerware, vases, planters, figurines, knickknacks and tobacciana - ashtrays and cigarette boxes.

When he closed up shop in 1953, Klein moved his inventory - all 10,000 pieces of it - to his backyard shed and garage.

Pottery was carefully wrapped in pages from The Arizona Daily Star and Tucson Daily Citizen, creating a time capsule with headlines such as "Cure for Cancer Near" and reports on the world's first sex-change operation.

And there much of it sat - caked in dirt and mud - for 60 years.

Life went on in the neighborhood. Klein's children grew up. His wife died and he retired. Klein remarried, and in the late 1970s, he closed up the Lee Street house and moved to a new home, where he lived until his death in 2000 at age 83.

But much of the pottery remained in the backyard on Lee Street.

Today the pieces from the past are getting new life. After Klein moved out of the neighborhood but held on to the house, new neighbors Elissa Fazio and her husband, Eric Rhicard, moved next door in 1982. They got to know Klein's son, Dr. James Klein, and kept an eye on the place, which stood unoccupied.

Since no walls separate the backyards, Fazio and Rhicard, a local author and small-business contractor, could see the red-brick shed that housed much of the pottery. It had no door, and evident were stacks of dinnerware and planters on shelves that were collapsing because of termites and years of exposure.

"We had no idea what we were even looking at, caked in mud and dirt," said Fazio, a volunteer hummingbird bander with the Hummingbird Monitoring Network. "It was a treasure trove."

In February 2012, the couple contacted James Klein, and he allowed them access to the pottery. They struck an agreement in which the couple would clean up the pottery and sell it in exchange for a percentage of the proceeds.

For the past 14 months, Fazio and a handful of friends have scrubbed and polished.

"These have been sitting in the dirt for 60 years, and you can see how spectacular they are," Fazio said, standing among rows of planters in the garage. "They were so covered in dirt you couldn't even see the colors."

The vast majority of pieces come from California pottery companies. Others come from Japan and Italy. The most valuable is the Lei Lani collection, all hand-painted.

"The colors and patterns are just phenomenal," Fazio said. "They are so modern for that era."

There are hundreds of pieces of dinnerware made by Vernon Kilns, one of the "Big Five" California potteries from the 1930s to 1960s.

There are egg cups, tea sets, serving pieces, decorative boxes, planters, salt and pepper shakers, pink ceramic flamingos - "crazy little odd things," Fazio said.

Countless hours went into Internet research, and now Fazio and her team are selling the pieces over the Internet and at open houses.

Small planters are valued at $5, while a large Lei Lani pitcher sold for $250.

For Fazio and her friends, the process was like stepping back in time.

"It all brought back so many memories," she said. "It just seems so timeless and elegant."

Unwrapping newsprint from each piece of pottery was also a stroll back in time, Fazio said. "We would end up getting all caught up in reading the newspaper. And the ads were just fabulous."

Fazio's favorite pottery pieces, which she is keeping, are divided vegetable bowls that remind her of her childhood and a 1950s Kay Mallek bowl.

Klein's son said his father became very knowledgeable about pottery. "It was a second business, but it was important to him," he said.

He kept many of the pieces in his home, and James and his sister keep pieces in their homes, as well.

After the store closed, "he had to put it somewhere, and it was there all those years."

Klein said his father would be happy to know the pottery is finding new homes, "and my sister and I are equally as happy they will get a second life," he said.

If you go

• What: Sale of 1950s pottery.

• When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and next Sunday.

• Where: 2937 E. Lee St.

• How much: Prices start at $5

• Info: 326-0426 or pogonip@qwestoffice.net

Find out if your item has value

Discovering a cache of 10,000 pieces of vintage pottery is unusual, to say the least.

But every day, Tucsonans discover treasures from the past. How do you know whether an item is valuable?

Joan MacDonald, a volunteer at the Assistance League of Tucson Thrift Shop, said volunteers spend their days determining the value of donated treasures.

"Things come in boxes and brown paper bags and garbage bags, and you never know what's inside," MacDonald said.

The all-volunteer organization funds local philanthropic projects through proceeds from its thrift shop, 1307 N. Alvernon Way.

Thanks to the Internet, researching and selling these found treasures has never been easier. "It has changed everything for us," MacDonald said. "Before it was by guess and by golly. Now we have three ladies on iPads checking on prices in the back room."

"It's a treasure hunt," said volunteer Julia Strand.

They suggest doing research on the Internet, and if the item appears to be valuable, seek the advice of a respected appraiser.

"There are all kinds of wonderful ways to make yourself knowledgeable about something you know nothing about," MacDonald said. "And just because it's old doesn't mean it's valuable."

She said Craigslist and eBay make it easy to sell treasures online.

"Or give it to us and take the tax deduction," MacDonald said.

Contact local freelance writer Gabrielle Fimbres at gfimbres@comcast.net

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Activate

Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Deals, offers & events

View more...