Mount Washington’s Fan Man restores refreshing reminders of the past

A Fan of the Past: Osvaldo Garcia | Brenda Rees

By BRENDA REES

MOUNT WASHINGTON — In a tiny workspace, Osvaldo Garcia gives a mini-tour of his prized antiques. They gleam with bright silver chrome, intricate patterned grills and artistically designed blades, and their names invoke coolness: Polar Cub, Cool Spot and Freshened Air. “Everyone knows me as the Fan Man,” he says with a friendly laugh.

For more than eight years, Garcia, a 28-year-old landscape architecture student at L.A. City College, has researched, repaired and restored antique fans. Not only are they cool to look at,  the machines serve as a historical timeline to American ingenuity and encourage us to view possessions with more longevity, Garcia says.

“If someone has a vintage fan, I will restore it because it makes more sense to keep using that appliance rather than throwing it away,” he said. “Why not reuse something that has served its purpose for more than 60 years versus a $25 box fan that breaks when it falls over? Nowadays, things are built to break, and that’s so wasteful.”

As a kid, Garcia enjoyed taking apart machines to see how they worked. He found his first fan at a swap meet. “It was $3 and it looked like a toy. I took it apart and made it work,” he said. “I shocked myself, and then I was shocked that it worked.”

Garcia is one of the youngest members of the Antique Fan Collectors Association, a group of mainly retired electrical and civil engineers who remember when these whirlers were the only way to keep cool.

Back in the day, folks who wanted to purchase a fan (average cost $32.50 which translates to $340 in today’s dollars) would have to go to a dealership, much like shopping for a car. “If you couldn’t afford to buy one, you could rent it for the season,” says Garcia.

Garcia’s fans are heavy, crafted out of cast iron and steel, many are chrome-plated and some contain brass. “Materials of the day,” he says, adding that when the World Wars broke out, brass went to military efforts and chrome became more common place for appliances. Once aluminum arrived on the scene, fan manufacturers opted for the lighter weight material, “which changed the fan’s appearance drastically,” he said.

In the 1960s, with the advent of air conditioning, fan sales faded. But fans still serve a purpose, contends Garcia. “Fans spread that air all around the room.” Plus: the white noise provides a comfort factor. “I sleep with a fan on, and that little breeze is great. I can’t sleep with a new fan, the new ones are noisier.”

Garcia rattles off the types of fans on his shelves: Emerson, General Electric, Western Electric, Westinghouse and Gilbert, a 1920s toy company. The Holy Grail of fans is any model older than 1905, when pre-electrical fans were powered by hot air, kerosene and water. Garcia displays his 1915 cast-iron nickel-plate DC fan, his oldest. “It has a different sound than an alternating-current fan.”

Garcia often gives fans as gifts and birthday presents to friends who not only enjoy the classic windspin look, but realize the value of a long-lasting appliance.

“They use it and say to me, ‘Man, it’s been 6 years and your fan is still going!,’” he said. “My mom dropped and broke her fan and she went into my room and got my fan. I think that’s pretty cool.”

Garcia can be reached at osvaldo6932@yahoo.com.

Brenda Rees is a writer and resident of Eagle Rock.

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