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Warren Boomerang Curates Pop Culture

WARREN, Ohio – Inside Curated Vintage Goods in Warren is a tall, glass case set off in a corner, containing several pieces of pottery. Among them is an item that, by the owner’s own admission, should not be there.

“I think NASA should have that,” says Mark Martof with a chuckle. Martof is the creative director of the shop on Elm Street.

The item, a plaster casting of the NASA logo, is easily recognizable, although its significance is not. In 1958, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics was absorbed into a new space agency to be called NASA. 

“When NASA was created, they invited three of their graphic designers to submit presentations on the NASA logo,” Martof says.

One of those designers was James Modarelli, a 1949 graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art.

Modarelli’s design, which featured symbols that represented the NASA mission, was accepted, becoming official in 1959. The item inside the case is the original plaster casting used to make the logo.

“As well as another design that was never submitted,” Martof says, pointing to a small card depicting a NASA logo that never saw the light of day. “I think NASA might want to see that,” he says, laughing.

A plaster mold of the original NASA logo, designed by James Modarelli, is on display at Curated Vintage Goods. 

Martof bought the items from Modarelli’s son, Jimmy, at his home in Cleveland around “two in the morning,” he says. Because of the significance of the items, they’re among the few in Martof’s shop that aren’t for sale, although they are by no means unique among his collection.

The 4,000-square-foot shop is full of truly one-of-a-kind objects that tell the story of America from the 1950s through the 1970s. “Everything pop culture,” Martof says.

On a wall as you walk in hang the original FBI wanted posters for Leroy Eldridge Cleaver and Hubert Gerold Brown, two of the early leaders of the Black Panther Party. Martof is asking $750 for each poster. 

Walk a little further and you’ll find a significant piece of rock ‘n’ roll history. In 1952, Alan Freed, a Cleveland disc jockey credited with coining the term “rock ’n’ roll,” held the Moondog Coronation Ball at the Cleveland Arena.

Promoters accidentally printed more tickets than seats available, which resulted in police shutting down the concert for fear of a riot.The event is considered the first rock ’n’ roll concert.

In a binder a few feet away from the Black Panther posters sits Alan Freed’s handwritten apology he would give to the public. Martof says he purchased the letter from the estate of Jane Scott, a Cleveland area music journalist.

“Most of her stuff went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but she had a secondary auction and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame decided not to go.”

Like the posters and the letter, every object in Martof’s shop has a story.

What appear to be brass vases are actually spent shell casings from World War I. Bored soldiers would bend and mold the shells into various designs, often discarding them once battle resumed.

“It’s hard to find them in pairs.”

Martof has four.

Mark and Rachel Martof own Curated Vintage Goods in Warren. 

Just below the casings is a collection of nearly 400 belt buckles. One in particular caught the eye of Molly Kostelic of Canfield.

“I’m a ‘Dazed and Confused’ fan,” she says.

About halfway through the 1993 movie, the lead character, Randall “Pink” Floyd, is standing in front of the local pool hall. While listening to a story, he removes his belt buckle, holds it to his mouth, lights it and takes a hit of what appears to be an illegal substance.

The subtle action didn’t go unnoticed by Kostelic, so when she saw the same belt buckle in Martof’s store, she knew she had to have it for an old belt that used to belong to her father.

“I just thought the belt buckle would complement it,” she says.

Kostelic, who works as a hairdresser in Howland, met Martof when he came in for a haircut. “He told me about his store,” she recalls.“My first impression when I walked in was, ‘Wow!’ ”

Since then she’s been to the store a few times. On one trip she purchased a rare Lynyrd Skynyrd album. “It’s the one that they pulled from shelves,” Kostelic says. Three days after the band released its 1977 album, “Street Survivors,” band members Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins and Steve Gaines were killed in a plane crash. 

Because the cover featured a group photo of the band, particularly Gaines, covered in flames, it was pulled and replaced with a new cover.

“There’s just so much stuff in there and then once you start talking to [Martof], he’s got a story for literally everything,” Kostelic says.

How Martof and his collection wound up in Warren is a journey 40 years in the making. As a young boy he visited the 1964 New York World’s Fair. “It was all about modernism, mid-century design, space exploration, so that changed my life forever.”

He graduated from Warren Western Reserve High School in 1977 and enlisted in the Air Force, which sent him to San Antonio, where he met his wife, Rachel. After several years of traveling and collecting, Martof went back to school and became an architect.

He moved to Youngstown and  took a job with K. Anthony Hayek, “always working on the design side,” he says.One of the projects he helped design is the Mahoning County Justice Center.

“Then I came back to Jesus through mission work. I did mission work in Nicaragua that was unbelievably fulfilling,” he says.

Martof settled in Houston, where he worked on arenas. He also helped convert the Compaq Center into Pastor Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church.

“The real big challenge was, how do you take a 16,500-seat facility and create intimacy? We did that by revising the slope of the floor from a flat floor to a sloped floor to create better sightlines,” Martof told the Houston Chronicle in a 2007 interview.

His last project was a glass pyramid aquarium at Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas. Because the tourist destination wanted to remain open during construction, the project had to be done in phases and took seven years to complete.

“After that I said, ‘I’m done.’ ”

This replica of the Batmobile is truly one-of-a-kind, and is carved from wood. 

So Martof moved back to Warren with the idea of running a collectible shop full-time. While looking around for a space, a plumber told the Martofs about an old service station on Elm Street, and offered to get it ready for free if they bought it.

“He did everything for this store free-of-charge, except we had to buy the materials,” says Rachel.

“We have met a lot of good people in Ohio. They are so friendly,” Rachel says of her adopted home.

In September 2018, the Martofs opened Curated Vintage Goods, which consists of five rooms, each with its own theme.

The first room is the “Showroom,” which is “kind of a representation of what we have in the other spaces,” Martof says. “It’s our high-end space too.” Two of Martof’s favorite items are a Paul McCobb chair and a Florence Knoll credenza. “These guys were the furniture makers in the golden age of furniture,” Martof says.

He’s selling them for $3,200 and $6,000, respectively.

The second room is the “Collectible” room. In it you’ll find hundreds of toys and action figures, including Star Wars, Star Trek and over 350 G.I. Joe figures. All are in good condition and mostly everything has the original box.

Next is the “Pop Up,” room, currently full of sports memorabilia. Some of the notable items include a football helmet autographed by Jim Brown and an old Browns helmet featuring the never-used “CB” logo.

The next room is the “Garage,” where Martof keeps vintage motorcycles, robots and racing items. 

The final space is the “Furniture” room, which is full of furniture, glassware and artwork.

Although almost everything in the store is for sale, Martof admits selling his items isn’t a huge priority. For one: He doesn’t have an online presence.

“I have to be honest with myself. If I really wanted to sell it, I’d put it on Etsy or eBay,” he says.

Two: He closes the shop during the winter when he and Rachel go back to Texas where they maintain a residence.

“Whenever [Rachel] says it’s too cold” is when they go, Martof says.“So it’s not set in stone, which once again is not good for retail.”

“I think at some point,” he says, “we’re going to have a big auction. I can’t stay around to sell all this. It would take me 400 years.”

Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.