Stained glass maker reflects on colorful 50-year career

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com
For nearly 50 years, carpenter George Dekterov, founder of Art of Stained Glass, has been hard at work designing and bringing to life hundreds, if not thousands, of dream windows and doorways for Foothill area residents and their homes.

Having taken on countless projects, including intricate doorways and glass work in numerous Arts and Crafts-style homes in Claremont; Southern California church windows; and even the wooden framework of a cross that would sit behind a Sam Maloof crucifix on an Ontario church window; the Upland native is now, sadly, closing the narrative on his five-decade long carpentry career.

George explained that he is hanging up his gloves at the end of 2021 simply because he’s ready to retire.

“I need to. You know I’ve put in my time; I should have done it about 10 years ago but I just didn’t figure on getting it up so quickly,” he said. “I really enjoy the work, and enjoy the people, a lot of the customers, we have actually turned out to be really good friends.”

Long before Mr. Dekterov became the go-to man for carpentry among friends and neighbors, it was in high school — some 69 years ago — when he got the idea to actually began glass smithing.

“It was a hobby [when] I just started,” he said. “I started working in the Montclair Plaza and I was doing some shopping at the department store, The Broadway. They had gift items, furniture, things of that sort. I was looking for a lamp … and I saw a stained-glass lamp there. I looked at it and it was 125 dollars for the lamp. That was a lot of money,” he said.

He wanted the lamp for his bedroom at the time, but like many teenagers in the early 1950s, he was low on cash, making just “a buck sixty-five an hour” working at the plaza he said. Dekterov instead took a mental image of the lamp and took his money to the local stained glass shop, where he was able to afford supplies such as wood and glass to create his own lamp.

Once home, he took his materials into the garage and said the project “didn’t take me too long to make, and it was enjoyable.” Unknown to him, that first lamp would be the first step he took into a lifelong career.

Realizing his hobby might be a gift, Dekterov said he started making small items and trinkets, including more lamps, to sell at flea markets around the Foothills area. Throughout the 1950s and early ‘60s, Griswolds — a popular weekend flea market that once inhabited the parking lots of today’s Buca di Beppo restaurant and Trader Joe’s market — became his main stomping grounds for setting up shop and selling his wares.

“That’s where I started. I quit the clothing business — I was a store manager — so I quit that and pursued stained-glass windows and doors,” he said. “Everything I made, I sold, so that was kind of nice.”

“It was something that I could control, have my own hours, of course it was like eight days a week, 50 hours a week, 50 hours a day,” Dekterov continued, “just a lot of work and time involved but everything I made, I sold.”

As he earned more money, he began selling bigger items such as doors and intricate stained-glass windows. His name and craftsmanship began to catch on with the locals who began to offer him work designing and installing doorways and windows.

After refining his trade and graduating from college in 1969, he opened his first stained-glass workshop called Art of Stained Glass. His first location, opened in 1974, was in Ontario on B Street, next to what still remains Logan’s Candies.

His storefront was more than just a place customers could buy high quality windows. The store was also an opportunity for customers to meet Dekterov and special order what they needed for their homes and businesses.

While he’s been all over Southern California constructing and installing his work, his Art of Stained Glass stores have also traveled, moving five times in 50 years.

After five years on B Street, he moved one block over toward the Euclid side of B Street, next to the horse buggy known as Drew Carriage. Five years after that shop, however, he made his way back to B Street. He then moved the shop off Arrow Highway in Montclair in 1989, but following a dispute with the city over who owned the property, he moved it to Upland, where the shop has remained for the last 20 years.

He’s enjoyed numerous business successes, one of which involved a contract worth $35,000 with Oles, a department store similar to Home Depot, for hummingbird door panels about 35 years ago. He’s also had a few lows, one in particular when, at his Montclair shop, someone backed up their truck all the way into his showroom, shattering numerous windows in the process.

“It looks really funny because here’s this white car inside this showroom of stained-glass windows all on the floor, and right next to it, on the other part of the shop, it says ‘open,’” he said.

Since his start, Dekterov’s formula for approaching a project has not changed. He draws all of his designs by hand in one of his sketchbooks, taking note of all the final measurements of cabinet doors, doorways, and windows — anything a client wants him to build. At his Upland shop, high up on a shelf next to his sketching table, Dekterov has boxes upon boxes containing hundreds of past sketches and designs, adding up to thousands of former projects.

“It’s real old school, this is what he would do if you wanted a kitchen or door today,” his wife Debbie said. “He’s not just going to just flip it out off of a computer.”

To say Mr. Dektorov has been busy over the last five decades would be an understatement. He only grants himself Sundays off in addition to Thanksgiving and Christmas. But for the most part, Dekterov has been either in his workshop sculpting glass, or putting said glass in place for a client.

“Customer satisfaction to the job, that was very important to me,” he said. “Sometimes you can’t please everybody, which is hard because I do take my time. But 99.99% of the time they’re happy.”

Though he is officially done fulfilling customer requests and building their windows, his current works are still on display in numerous homes, churches, restaurants and structures all across Southern California.

While he has no extravagant plans after retiring, other than re-landscaping the yard and traveling, he is still set to be his family’s handyman.

Before his Art of Stained Glass shop officially closes, the community is invited to stop by the shop at 1128 W 9th St., Upland Fridays and Saturdays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to offer well wishes to George and his wife Debbie Dekterov. Customers can still make an appointment by calling to see George on off days. The community can also help George clear out his inventory of intricate stained-glass windows that line the south end of the store.

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