By Maxwell Williams
Portrait by Tony Byrd
Behind Jim Heimann’s house on a quiet street in West Los Angeles, file drawers threaten to burst, dioramas are stacked on one another, and walls are covered in shelves upon shelves of books. He is a collector of objects, memorabilia and oddities related to a number of topics, mostly about L.A.’s nightlife history, but also about surfing. Serving as the executive editor of Taschen America, Heimann's latest—and biggest—work for the book publisher tackles the Polynesian-born boardsport, from 1778 through today.
A lifelong Angeleno who grew up in the Westchester neighborhood near the iconic Randy’s Donuts, Heimann has published books since 1980—first as a graphic designer, and then as an editor, writer and researcher. He has dozens of publications to his name, covering image-driven subjects like menu design and fashion advertising. But he is acutely professorial in surf culture, having already produced several books on the subject, including the successful monograph of LeRoy Grannis’ classic surf photos, which spurred “Surfing,” a 592-page tome on the subject.
“You can’t write the history of surfing in one volume, so what we’re trying to do is cover all aspects—from music and clothes to art, posters and language,” Heimann says. “It’s a pretty wide spectrum that covers more than any other sport. You don’t find this in golf—there’s no golf craze of dancing and 20 or 30 bands playing golf music.”
“This is all the meat that goes into all the books,” Heimann says, digging through a file to show pictures of L.A. bars and nightclubs. It’s a whole treasure trove—the informational equivalent of magma waiting to burst from underneath the surface onto the pages of a book, one that will come together in the next few years. In all, it’s a legendary collection—his backyard houses two structures full of material that Heimann has hunted down, and there are two more off-site buildings full of his archives, including 6,000 restaurant menus.
“My wife is very tolerant,” he says with a laugh.
As for the fate of the collections, Heimann has his own plans. “There are several strategies that I already have in place for it to ultimately end up somewhere,” he says. “Because my daughter is not that interested. She understands, and my wife understands, but they have been overwhelmed with all this stuff for years, and they know that it’s going to go. There seems to be high interest, because there’s a lot of depth in a lot of areas. It’s a unique 40-year collection of stuff that you can’t find anywhere else.”
He reveals a flat file full of psychedelic posters from the 1960s that he collected himself. They are priceless artifacts—an impossibly rare Jimi Hendrix poster among them—as are many of the items tucked into every corner of the archive. One could spend hours just poking around in there, picking through the history of L.A., absorbing the memories deeply embedded in the ephemera. Luckily, Heimann does—churning out authoritative and beautiful books for the world to see.