It seemed like an unassuming file box until Arnie Goldstein opened it.
Goldstein, who was helping his friend in Redondo Beach clean out her garage for a yard sale, said he was in awe when he realized the file box was filled with letters dated during the years of World War II.
"The first thing I said was, 'Oh my God, this is history,'" Goldstein said. "I sat there and said, 'Do you know what you have here?' This is incredible stuff to find after all these years."
The letters were the back-and-forth correspondence of David Factor - son of renowned Hollywood makeup artist Max Factor - and his distant relatives in Poland.
But those letters were not the only notable items found in this Redondo Beach garage. Goldstein also found many other relics of old Hollywood dating back to the 1920s, many of them connected to Max Factor, including promotional materials, document negatives, signed letters and unpublished memoirs.
Goldstein, who is also the owner of mailbox rental company Postal Solutions in Torrance, said his friend in Redondo Beach was the daughter of a facilities manager at Max Factor's studio. When the Los Angeles studio closed down, the manager stored leftover items in his garage instead of throwing them away. The facilities manager died about five years ago, Goldstein said, and the items have been stored untouched in his garage for 27 years.
(The Redondo Beach resident requested she and her father not be named for
"The whole collection's a history of the company going back to the early days," Goldstein said.
Goldstein's friend Stephen Woo, a Torrance resident and president of Virtu-All Technologies Inc., volunteered to go through the items and identify them.
"They brought over this vanload of boxes," Woo said. "A lot of it was junk - they didn't throw anything away."
Woo and Goldstein say they are not yet sure what to do with the found items, but have been consulting with other people about the decision.
Woo said Max Factor coined the term "makeup," wording that didn't always have a glamorous reputation. Max Factor, who began making a name for himself in the cosmetology world around 1914, improved upon theatrical makeup that often cracked and dried by making products that were of higher quality. He later became the makeup artist of the stars, working with actresses such as Joan Crawford and Judy Garland.
"Makeup was only used by actors and prostitutes," Goldstein said. "He (Max Factor) introduced it to the public through drugstores and they had to teach women how to apply it. Hard to believe today, huh?"
One of the items discovered was a piece of Max Factor's signature invention, The Beauty Calibrator - a device that would be attached to a woman's head to measure her facial features. The rest of The Beauty Calibrator - the only one of its kind - is on display at The Hollywood Museum.
Goldstein said the facilities manager who stored these items in his garage probably took what was left over in the building after Proctor & Gamble bought the company and moved many items to their Kentucky location.
Max Factor was of Polish Jewish descent, and, as Woo looked through the letters his son David wrote to various family members in Poland during World War II, he realized that David Factor had probably never even met most of them before.
The letters began before the Holocaust. In some of them, David Factor gave advice about how his relatives could start their own businesses. Many of the letters were written in English, but some are in Polish or Yiddish.
Woo said that during the war the letters begin to take on a more serious tone.
In some of the letters, David Factor writes of sending his family money. As the correspondence went on, some letters were returned to David unopened, perhaps indicating that the recipients had died.
The letters were also commonly opened and read by censors.
Woo held up an envelope with a stamp on it labeled, "Examined by 4447." The letter had been returned, sealed, to its sender.
"During the war there was no talk about the extermination camps in the media or anywhere," Woo said. "Nobody supposedly knew about it. They knew about concentration camps but no extermination camps. They didn't get into details in the letter, they had to couch their words. They were afraid they would be censored."
They remain sealed. There are about 80 letters total.
"I bet this is probably the most extensive collection of personal letters during the Holocaust," Woo said. "I can't imagine anyone saving everything and collecting that much."