Above: Big Bill as painted by Barbara
Mastej. Her work is currently on view at the
Cadillac Hotel on Dudley and OFW.
By Greta Cobar
Abbot Kinney would be unhappy with the current state of affairs on Abbot Kinney Blvd. Chain stores selling things for ten times their worth are a clear sign of the hyper-gentrification overtaking our bohemian
town by the sea. The latest victim, for the first time on the South side of Venice Blvd., is Big Bill’s Auto Shop at 1715 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
Having been there for the past 32 years, Bill does not want to close shop and go. Both he and I got a little teary-eyed just contemplating the idea.
Yes, he has been paying the same amount of rent for the past 32 years. But the lady who owns the building lives in the canals and owns several other properties in Venice. And they’ve been friends for the past 40-some years. Bill was there for her when her husband passed away, when her boys needed him, and of course whenever her car broke down.
“She’s been such a nice lady for all these years, I don’t know what happened,” William Welchhance, known around Venice as Big Bill, said of his landlord. “I was in the Veterans Affairs hospital for two months and missed paying rent, but I’ve been late in the past, and it’s been OK. I try to help people, and sometimes they pay later, or in installments. I don’t get to take home a lot of money”
What I found in Big Bill is a real old-time, smalltown kind of guy. His candor and simplicity, his aim to help people as opposed to just being out there to make money, his integrity and high regards for his old-time friend who is now pushing him out made a mark on me.
“What it comes down to is, you can’t be a nice guy anymore,” Big Bill told me. “I always made sure people got good work and a good deal. When I go home, I can lay down on that pillow and sleep, because I know I didn’t cheat anyone. My dad taught me that.”
Those old-time values, together with the old-time feel of his shop, are being eradicated by the newcomers busy cheating the next person out of a dollar. Although Big Bill guessed he is getting kicked out because his shop is an “open sore in the new downtown Venice,” I see his shop as a gem instead.
Just as we were talking a young man stopped by. He goes to school to learn to be a mechanic, and spends time at the shop watching Big Bill work. “I’m trying to pass on what was at one time passed on to me,” Big Bill said.
“She must have something else planned for this property, but I don’t know what,” Big Bill said of his landlord. “When I got out of the hospital, I got the money to pay all of the back rent I owned, but she came up screaming ‘You keep the money – you’ll need it for moving – I’ll get you evicted. I want you out!’”
A court date has been set for July 15, but all Bill is hoping for now is to be able to stay in the shop for another four to six months. He says he needs to pack up and clean up, but it’s more than that. “I’ve been here so long, it is home,” Big Bill told me.
“I don’t want to quit working on cars, that is my hobby. I plan to continue by going to people’s houses,” Big Bill said. When I asked him if he’s going to take some of the parts from the shop to his house, he answered: “A man has to have a few toys of his own.”
If money did not rule the land we would not be kicking out an honest person who has been fixing our cars for the past 32 years, somebody whose job is also his hobby. It is sad to see him go, and it will be even sadder to see his replacement.
“It’s not like her, it’s like there’s someone else behind her,” Big Bill said of his landlord.
Venice drivers don’t want to see Big Bill’s Auto Shop gone, and tons of people are ready to help Big Bill stay. However, Bill’s outlook is not too positive now: “I got a lot going against me right now – the big increase in rent on Abbot Kinney and the high cost of liability insurance for the shop.”
Trying to hang on to the shop for as long as the judge allows him, Big Bill is planning to sell most of his parts directly out of the shop and through cragslist. So if you’re into that kind of stuff, stop by and ask a few questions. He might have that old piece you’ve been looking for. Either that, or you might just want a souvenir from one of the last old-school Venice institutions.