End of an Era
“It’s the end of personal era,” Bax and Velvet Walker tell me, as we sit in the middle of “The Warehouse,” the Red Bank home turned theme party house. There are human-sized Alvin and the Chipmunk figurines to our right and a fully decorated and functional soda fountain in an annex to the left. There is a giant, old-school movie marquee over a stage and a functioning barbershop. Every inch of the 25-foot ceilings are covered with old Texaco signs, Coca-Cola advertisements and other decorative signage dominating the wall space. For an immediate visual context, it looks like something that Cracker Barrel’s interior decorators fantasize about. It’s a collection of Americana ranging from cowboys to Indian motorcycles and pretty much everything in between, and for the past few decades, The Warehouse collection of odds and ends off of Dayton Boulevard has served as Bax and Velvet Walker’s home.
“Years ago, we were gonna build a house, but we figured if we did that, we’d have to build a whole warehouse to hold everything that we have,” Bax said
So that’s what they did. And now I’m sitting in the middle of a lifetime of collecting hanging on walls and sitting in boxes and everything about it seems very unique to me. Bax sees it differently, “The most unique thing about Velvet and I is simple—when we get something in our head, we just do it.”
And that’s how the parties started. About 14 years ago, a friend put the idea into their heads that they should start entertaining and share their collection with other people. Bax and Velvet built a stage in their home and put it under their homemade illuminated marquee and Bax became the emcee. Then they bolted the cab of an old yellow International semi to the wall and replaced the dashboard with sound and light controls and Velvet became the show’s producer.
“You know some places around town, you pay them $700 or $800 dollars to throw a party and what do you get? An empty room. Maybe some tables and chairs, but an empty room,” Bax said. “We had an experience here that people really, really enjoyed. We set it up, we had the Elvis costumes and the music, but the entertainment always came from the crowd.”
They hooked up five TVs to display karaoke lyrics and always recruited at least one Elvis and few Soggy Bottom Boys, who you could swear had been sitting right next to you in the audience.
For the past decade and a half, the Walkers have thrown more than 600 parties in The Warehouse so they could show people a good time and share their collection. According to Velvet, they “never advertised. Not in the newspapers, or ads or even listed it in the phonebook.” The business grew strictly by word of mouth.
A natural storyteller and performer, it’s not hard to imagine Bax up there on stage with the multi-colored lights shining, microphone in hand, beckoning to the crowd and calling people up with him underneath his framed “Casablanca” movie posters and autographed guitars. But as I sit and talk to Bax, Velvet glides around the warehouse cleaning and sorting (and occasionally correcting the details of Bax’s stories) as the two get ready for the next stage of their life.
I could have imagined a rare hesitation in his answer when I asked if he was going to miss the parties, not to mention the collection. “No,” he said as he gazed up at the Hollywood sign next to the marquee. “No big deal. It’s just another page in our life. We just move from one happy thing to another one.”
So far they’ve had one auction where they put up only their musical instruments for sale, many of which were autographed. They sold more than 200. The Warehouse is still packed to the brim. When I asked Bax what he thought all this stuff was worth he simply shook his head. “It doesn’t matter” he said, “They gave me a spreadsheet for all the instruments we sold, but it doesn’t really matter. That’s not what we’re all about. We never bought one piece of this collection thinking about what we could get for it.”
They’re going to keep all the old photographs and the “cowboy stuff” (Bax’s favorite) but other than that, everything must go. “Someone informed me I was in the autumn of my life so if we wanted to travel, we better get on it,” he said. “So we’re gonna get on it.”
And that’s the thing about Bax and Velvet, when they get something in their heads, they do it.