John Luke—a fast-talking New Yorker’s New Yorker known for his “tough, old-schooled charm”—recalls the most valuable “room” he auctioned off on Storage Wars: New York.
“The best room that we sold was when Joe P bought a room valued at $160,000 because it was an art room,” John says. “And when I opened the door, as we were filming, I knew it was worth a lot of money. [Joe P] paid $5,600 and it was worth $160,000.
“It contained artwork from a famous Brazilian artist and there were photographs in there, but the one thing that wasn’t there that broke his heart was a frame that said Andy Warhol on it. What happened is it was from a gallery and I guess whoever was in the gallery took the Andy Warhol (painting) because that could be worth hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.”
While he didn’t curate priceless artwork during his run on the popular A&E Network show from 2013 to 2014, the former Storage Wars auctioneer and vice president at David Strauss & Co., Inc. has several decades of scoring “auction gold” in the storage business under his belt.
A Tough Neighborhood
Born and raised in North Harlem, John spent his early years playing sports—a good training ground for his role later in life as an auctioneer.
“Everybody says Harlem is great now,” John says. “When I grew up, it was a pretty tough area to grow up in.”
His mother was an assistant principal at a high school in Manhattan, and his father was a colonel in the U.S. Air Force. Growing up, he played baseball, football, soccer, roller hockey and ice hockey—his favorite sport.
In the early 1980s following high school, he landed his first job at St. Martin’s Press, one of the world’s largest book publishing companies.
Shortly after getting the job, the company laid off everyone but John and another worker. Suddenly, he was promoted to assistant supervisor and began working a lot of overtime making copies of book manuscripts on Photostat machines for about two dozen editors.
“Within a year, I was making more money than an editor in the publishing company,” John says.
A few years later, a headhunter called him to see if he would be interested in interviewing for a job at Home Box Office. HBO hired him as the supervisor of distribution services.
David Strauss & Co. Auctioneer
In the mid-1980s, John became bored with the job. Also, he didn’t enjoy riding the often “100-degree” subways to and from work, leaving him “soaked” in his suit and tie. Not long afterward, his girlfriend introduced him to the owner of David Strauss & Co., Inc.
“He said to me, ‘John, you want to come work with me? You don’t have to wear a suit and tie,” John recalls.
He took the job, did bankruptcy work and helped sell the largest law firm in the nation. The job involved a great deal of travel and long hours.
“I felt like I had joined the Navy,” John says. “I didn’t have a home. I have worked in 48 states. We sold every kind of company you could imagine.”
It was during this time that his life became a part of the story that would later be turned into the film The Wolf of Wall Street starring Leonardo DiCaprio. John worked as the auctioneer selling the assets of Stratton Oakmont.
“I was on location when they were listening to the compliance tapes,” John says. “That’s why they got shut down because … the young guys and girls that were brokers were promising, ‘Yeah, buy this stock and you’ll make 1000 percent profit.’ But anyway, they went bankrupt and we ended up selling the company.”
After an auctioneer who was a friend of his company retired, the man asked John to take over performing storage auctions for him.
— John Luke (@JohnLukeNYC) June 8, 2016
Storage Wars: New York
It wasn’t until several years ago, though, that he first encountered Storage Wars while doing an auction.
“I was doing an auction in one of the facilities and they gave me a piece of paper,” John says. “They asked, ‘Can you give this out to the buyers because they are going to be doing a show. So, I said, ‘Everybody pick up your paper. They’re doing Storage Wars: New York. If you want to be on it, pick up the paper and do auditions.’”
A year and a half later, Storage Wars’ Joe P asked him if he’d like to try out for the auctioneer position. Not long afterward, Joe P told John that the producers wanted to meet with him. But he turned down the offer initially. But Joe P persisted, saying the producers were having trouble finding the right person.
“So, I talked to my ex-wife who is a pretty smart woman with an IQ in the 160s,” John says. “She said, ‘John, if you don’t try you will always regret that you didn’t try.’ So, I made an appointment.”
He met with the Storage Wars producers and performed an auction for them. A couple of months later he got an offer to join the show.
“I was excited, I was scared, I was like—everything you could imagine was going in my head.”
“The problem was Storage Wars at the time was probably the number one reality show on TV,” John says. “I think they were [getting] five million viewers an episode. So, it was like the top franchise. For me, I considered it like being in the minor leagues and the Yankee are in a World Series and they need a third baseman to come up. So, here they called me up to play in the World Series in front of everybody.”
On September 11, 2013, the cast and crew began taping the show in New York.
“I’ll never forget that because I gave a moment of silence on the day of the film, of course, on our first episode,” John says.
Keeping it Cool
At first, without being given much in terms of instructions, John says he flubbed his first auction. But afterward, it started rolling as usual.
“I was humbled and honored that I got it, and to do my thing, and like what I said to the producer Dolph Scott: ‘I don’t think you want me because unlike most of these auctioneers, I don’t sound like the typical auctioneer. I don’t do that. I just do the numbers very fast – that’s what I do.’ That’s New York style.”
While filming the episodes, John says he mostly a “total positive feedback” from friends and fans.
“What I’d say is, ‘Listen, all I’m doing is getting paid to be me. The person you see on TV is the same person who is off TV. What’s hard about that?’ No one told me what to say and when to say it. Whatever came out of my mouth just came out of my mouth,” John says.
Storage Wars: New York aired just two seasons in 2013, a total of 26 episodes
Today, John still works at David Strauss and spends a good deal of time doing charity auctions. He donates his services.
“I do work for the president of Home Depot,” John says. “I did the Joe Namath event in New York. One of the coolest things about being on TV is meeting other celebrities or athletes that I idolized growing up.”
John also became friends with former Harlem Globetrotters “Clown Prince” and minister Meadowlark Lemon before his recent death.
“I got a phone call from his wife and she said, ‘I know Meadowlark loved you. He really liked you and enjoyed your company.’ She asked me to be an advisor on his board and to be involved with his charity.”
“So, I’m just getting involved with that. I do a lot of charity work now. That’s my thing. I enjoy it. I love giving back. It’s very important to me, and it doesn’t put a dollar in my pocket, but I get a huge satisfaction from helping.”