By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Sitting two doors down in the cool dark of Southern California Truck, Van & 4x4 Parts, old Abe Cohen traces the migration of Jews from one L.A. neighborhood to the next, from Temple-Beaudry to Central Avenue to Adams to Boyle Heights. ”We‘re the oldest yard in Los Angeles,“ he says, ”and we’re the oldest yard on Alameda.“
”Longest established -- that‘s a funny word, isn’t it?“ muses his nephew, Marty, a third-generation operator who‘s worked here a mere 25 years. Marty’s grandfather came to L.A. in 1913 and first worked the corridor as a fruit peddler until he rented a yard in 1929 -- legend has it that he was the first peddler in L.A. to use a truck instead of a horse cart; when the rent went up in 1941, he moved the business to its present location.
”Victory!“ proclaims Lloyd Weinstein into a telephone, a greeting that‘s half affirmation, half announcement -- Weinstein owns Victory Salvage, located between the Cohens and Adlen, an establishment marked by a mockup of a red glider that is permanently poised to take off. His spread is four and a half acres of government-surplus equipment, which he sells, as-is or rebuilt by his mechanics.
”We get a lot of stuff from Uncle Sam -- Hummers, LARKs,“ he says, referring to the amphibious vehicles that look like boats with wheels. ”Mexican fishermen buy them, operators who run casinos on the Mississippi buy them.“
Weinstein is a man who enjoys a good cigar and, in keeping with a strict personal code, drives a Lincoln SUV. ”I only buy American,“ he says. ”When you stop buying American you start losing your country.“
When Weinstein roams his yards, he seems like a rancher inspecting his animals on the range as he picks his way among Humvees, aircraft water carts and hydraulic ”mules“ and the odd military tank.
”Victory Salvage is an old name,“ he says. ”We’ve been here 61 years, and our family‘s been in L.A. 81 years.“ Plaques, charity testimonials and old photographs of what Alameda looked like over those past six decades fill his office, and even here one must speak loudly to be heard over the trucks that are busy tearing up the street outside.
The gripes of men along the corridor are the gripes of guys who recycle society’s waste but are considered its ”junk men“ and pariahs, men who must contend with strict environmental rules, grandstanding politicians, and the deindustrialization of the corridor thanks to free-trade treaties that have sent corporations to Mexico and other countries. They remember how a once-booming furniture industry vanished from here as soon as California banned lacquer finishes, and will tell you about the Sisyphean chore of replacing city-mandated shrubbery that is forever being stolen by desperate people in need of drug money.
Theft, in fact, plagues this iron belt as much as anywhere in the city. Marty Cohen explains how stealing is a seasonal thing along Alameda: ”More air-conditioner parts will be stolen in summer and windshield wipers in winter.“
Like many other business owners along the corridor, Weinstein can point to a hole where robbers tried to squeeze through. ”We once brought in some copper cable and put it in the yard over New Year‘s,“ he recalls. ”We came back after the holiday and found they had sawed it up into small pieces and took it out. We didn’t have dogs then -- we have them now.“
”You have a couple of classifications of thieves,“ says Marty. ”You have guys who are well-organized and steal bigger products, and then you have drug addicts who jump fences to get some metal to pay for their next fix. Some yards have dogs, some don‘t.“ He lists the drawbacks of a owning canine guards: ”People will shoot dogs, and insurance companies won’t carry yards with dogs -- they‘re more concerned with liability of bites than theft.“
”You can’t stop a thief,“ Abe sighs philosophically. Later, he remembers a lighter moment in the business‘s history. ”We had a drunk come down Alameda and drive his pickup truck right into the side of our building, where our office is. It was here when we came to work.“
Considering the fact that the street in front of their businesses was in the process of being stripped to the dirt, the men seemed guardedly optimistic about the corridor project.
”This is a mess,“ says Weinstein, ”but once it’s done it will be an improvement.“
”Aesthetically it will be beautiful,“ says Adlen. ”The street always used to be horrendous with potholes and bumps.“
At one point Abe, who is standing outside next to a wall of truck axles, comments on the area‘s supposedly tainted dirt, although he may well be talking of the resiliency of the corridor’s people: ”This all used to be farmland. The soil under here is so rich that we still have tomato plants come up.“
The Alameda Corridor is about more than two pairs of track discreetly running past the churches of Compton and the swap meets of Vernon. The thing is big -- think of the new five-story train bridge near Washington Boulevard eight football fields long that now carries the Metrolink and Amtrak passenger cars that once shared track with freight trains. Better yet, instead of picturing the whole project as a model-train set, imagine a densely packed transistor board because of all the infrastructural changes occurring in Wilmington and Long Beach -- the two port areas to which the corridor splits to form a small fork -- but which aren‘t officially part of the corridor project. Most of the sprawling Long Beach Naval Base, for example, has been leveled and graded to make way for the 375-acre Hanjin container terminal; on Henry Ford Avenue, the 56-year-old Commodore Schuyler F. Heim lift bridge, a venerable symbol of muscular L.A., will be torn down by Caltrans; part of Pacific Coast Highway will become an overpass arching over the corridor just before it forks. And this isn’t to mention the almost uncountable new rail trestles that have been built to link port-area terminals to the corridor.
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