<Last Man in Paradise>



a documentary about one man's quest to save a slice of history.




Car & Driver Magazine
"Midnight in the Garden of Eldorados and E-types"

"The Un-Restored Obsession"

"Last man in Paradise"

Tom Merkel's Paradise Cabin Crushed

about the filmmakers
film festivals
Produced/Directed by Michael Love and Tina Love
2010, 58min

Tom Merkel, an eccentric collector and champion of the historical value of humble things, is fighting for his hundred year old folk art cabin on leased land in the National Forest. His lease is up and, despite eviction notes posted on his and 27 other cabins, he is the only one who refuses to leave.  Convinced his cabin is historical and emblematic of the vanishing Santa Barbara bohemian period, he engages in a mission to save the structure.  He posts a “Museum Open” sign on Paradise Road and invites the public to see what he calls the magic museum for themselves.  We soon learn this is not Tom's only museum.

He has collected old used cars that embody America's most exuberant designs for over forty years. In fact he has amassed 1,200 of them on his eighty acre Car Garden, his life work.  The vehicles have been well-used and bear the imprints of their former owners, and Tom remembers all the colorful stories that go with them: Brandon Lee's hearse, Charles Manson's van, Bugsy Siegel's car parked alongside a Santa Barbara’s preacher’s Buick, Mae West’s mobile dressing room, the entire Santa Ynez airport rental fleet of the 1970s, old Santa Barbara municipal buses, a peanut wagon, milk trucks, old gas pumps at 35cents, and overlooking all them a rickety 100 ft. frosty the snowman, a transplant from a rooftop on Carpinteria’s Santa Claus Lane.  Arranged into tableaux, the vehicles slowly decompose, while the chaparral grows up around them.  In Merkel’s words, “I created a haunted highway, it’s like a ghost town, a deliberate ruin, controlled decay.”

Back at Tom's folk art cabin, the “magic museum” time is running out.  Despite imminent demolition, Tom continues to hold fast, summoning politicians, the media, and a man claiming to be from City Counsel who promises him a life estate.  Hoping against hope and trying everything to secure its historical status Tom finally comes face to face with the federal bulldozers.