Samford University The BelltowerAugust 2003

Business Prof's Collection Rocks and Rolls Back the Decades

Beneath the old-world first floor lies the house's legendary main attraction--a 1950s-60s-themed entertainment level worthy of its own virtual wing on Ebay

The home of Associate Professor of Management Bill Service and wife Jan is as elegant as one might expect of a Tudor-style house near Vestavia Country Club. The picture windows in the wood-paneled living room overlook rolling forested hills that stretch to the horizon. High on the walls of the two-story room, mounted posters recall London theatre excursions. But beneath the old-world first floor lies the house's legendary main attraction– a 1950s-60s-themed entertainment level worthy of its own virtual wing on Ebay.

The theme of the Services' finished basement began to take shape at a 1997 New Year's Eve party that included a few period decorations. The collection now includes approximately one object per square foot in the 2,000 square foot space, not counting the baby blue '65 Mustang convertible parked in the garage. By casual estimate, it seems there literally is not more than one square foot of wall space not occupied by vintage album covers, sports memorabilia, or one of over 100 musical instruments, including approximately 60 guitars, assorted mandolins, ukuleles, at least one banjo and enough brass instruments to equip a modest pep band. Many items come to the collection from pawnshops and estate sales, but some are donated by enthusiastic visitors. Bill Service applies his handcraft skills to create a perfect backdrop for the massive display.

It's difficult to identify a centerpiece of the collection, but the guitar-shaped Bill Rock Café neon sign mounted over the 1956 Rockola Jukebox is certainly in the running. This seems to be where the tour begins, anyway, with Buddy Holly's That'll Be the Day to set the mood. Leaving the black and white checkered dance floor, visitors enter a meticulously replicated diner, complete with handmade vinyl booths. Next comes the Route 66 room, complete with a floor lamp made from vintage working drive-in cinema speakers (Jan Service testifies that their rotten sound quality is period, too). Here, partygoers can watch taped Elvis Presley movies and meet Billvis–a life-size cutout of Vegas-era Elvis with Service's face pasted over The King's. Moving on through the "Pink Ladies" bathroom (featuring a life-size James Dean figure), the sports-themed recreation room and past the "T-Birds" bathroom (with life-size Marilyn Monroe figure) brings visitors back to the black and white checkered dance floor and the Rockola, which has switched to the Beatles.

"Everything I have makes noise", said Service, and it's true that the multiple musical machines give the aural impression of a party even with only a few people in the room. Still, some artifacts that should make noise merely light up–witness the brightly lit but otherwise non-functional 1955 pinball machine (The Twist) and the electrified, eight foot long, 70 lb model Fender Stratocaster Service crafted out of a fencepost and scrap wood (complete with a real Fender pick the size of Service's head).

Against all expectation, the Services have blown the electricity only once, at a Y2K party. Their almost perfect record of power supply is as surprising an accomplishment as their basement's decor, which could easily make visitors forget that they're on a quiet street in Vestavia. But as dedicated as they are to their built-in Wayback Machine, the Services aren't completely consumed by the pursuit. As Bill Service told visitors at the end of a recent tour, "We have a huge Santa collection."

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