I walk by 1711 Abbot Kinney Blvd. all the time and peek in wonderment as to how the clutter never seems to go away. That is my feminine observation.
Guys, on the other hand, I’m sure, think differently.
Over the years, Elco Welding has become a museum of sorts, a vast assortment of collectibles — junk to some, treasures to most.
Brothers Mark and Bob Libow inherited the business from their father, Seymour, who worked many years for the previous owner of the building that was constructed in 1928.
Apparently one of its earlier uses was that of a place to make illegal alcohol during the prohibition. How do we know this? “That was told to us by an old friend of Dad’s,” says Mark.
There is still a slight image of a bathing beauty on the exterior wall along with “Kick” soda pop.
“That was the bottling company,” says Mark, who says legend has it that the bottling company was just a front for a booze operation.
I was asked to identify the first item that was shown to me.
It’s a good thing I wasn’t on one of those game shows. It was a black metal object about twelve inches long and three inches high, connected by a lot of nuts and bolts with a little apparatus extension. It was a German pencil sharpener with a chip holder.
“A man was cleaning up a house and found it in the attic and brought it in to trade for a job” says Bob.
“Dad actually started collecting years and years and years ago,” says Mark.
“Back then it probably was junk. Today it’s collectible junk.” They have been offered $600 for each can of unopened Lion Head motor oil from the Gilmore Oil Company. There is a sign promoting Philip Morris cigarettes at 15 cents a pack.
Not only do they have a bunch of unopened packs of Philip Morris cigarettes, there is a vintage cigarette machine to put them in. “There were Indian head nickels in it when we opened it up,” says Bob.
There is a porcelain sign promoting a business with a three-digit telephone number. How old can that be with a number of only three digits. There are California license plates from during World War II.
“Metal was hard to get during the war so they put an overlay on the license instead of issuing a new one because it was cheaper,” says Mark.
The space is filled — drawers, cabinets, boxes, stacks piled high plus walls, ceiling and floor covered. The outdoor area is packed, too. This is where you will find a 1934 Hudson, one of a dozen antique cars in the brothers’ collection.
“We should organize this stuff because some of it might be pretty valuable,” says Bob. I bet there are many more vintage treasures that would be found in addition to what can already be seen now. It truly would be a museum of memorabilia from the first half of the 20th Century.
Another bit of interesting history: Irving Tabor used to work at Elco Welding when he wasn’t busy driving Abbot Kinney around town.
Bob and Mark were destined to grow up in Venice. Seymour was raised in Echo Park and his
parents would rent a beach house in Venice during the summer. His father had a concession on the pier. As a youth, Seymour was a lifeguard in Venice. Mark pulled out a photograph from one of the numerous file cabinets.
“Now this is the main reason dad was a lifeguard,” he says. “He got pretty damn good pay and he was surrounded by beautiful girls. He was handsome, just like Clark Gable.”
Mark and Bob have great memories of Venice from when they grew up on Ocean Front Walk. Mark remembers a couple of beach characters. “One of the greatest guys on the ocean front,” he says, “was a crippled man in a wheel chair.”
“His name was Lyman and he sold pencils. Grandpa used to give us nickels to put in Lyman’s cup to do everybody well, except that Lyman also had another job. He ran all the money for the bookies in Ocean Park in his wheel chair.”
Then there was Tony, the organ grinder and his monkey. “Tony would crank out music and the monkey would dance,” says Mark. “He was a smart monkey, too. He wouldn’t take pennies. Tony trained him to take only nickels, dimes and quarters.”
Bob remembers going to the oil wells in his father’s old car.
“It was so muddy it was like clay,” he says. “We would slide and come back just covered in mud.” Mark remembers the burning pits. “24/7 they were always glowing with fire,” he says. “And there were no fences around them.”
Bob also remembers how people would drive there and drain oil from their car and then put new oil in and drive away. It was quite an undesirable area and was treated that way.
“You know, the further you went down the peninsula, the cheaper it was because no one wanted to live there.” Oil field bosses were the ones who lived in the flimsy clapboard cottages. How times have changed.
Another area that people tended to keep away from was the canals.
“In the ’60s, the canals were full of bikers and drug dealers and hippie wackos,” says Mark.
“Venice was the largest open air asylum in the world. In the old days when people would ask you where you lived and you told them ‘Venice,’ they would ask, ‘What are you doing with all those low-lifes?'”
After the Libows sold their Ocean Front Walk home, Seymour wanted to buy the firehouse on Rose and Main for $12,000, but Mrs. Libow didn’t want to live there.
Bob and Mark were quite familiar with the area. They used to wait on the corner for their uncle, who took the bus from Fairfax. They remember a working fire station with “the Dalmation dogs, the bell going off and the doors flying open.”
They also remember the 76 gas station and the gas company office where the Rose CafÈ is now. “There was a big tower there, which was great because when you went out on the ocean you could always spot the tower a mile down,” says Bob. “That was your landmark to get back.”
It’s hard to tell you exactly what Bob and Mark do at the shop. They work on many different projects from repairing artificial limbs to auto repairs to modifying stairs for a church on Abbot Kinney.
Bob has artistic projects that he has been asked to do. A friend who lives in Mexico wanted a miniature lighthouse so Bob built one out of copper with spaces for beveled glass windows.
“He says it works,” reports Bob.
Artists bring in designs in cardboard or wood for Bob to duplicate in metal and then they put them in their studio as their own creations. “It doesn’t bother me,” he says. “I don’t know what the final price is and I’m sure they do quite well on my finished product.”
I asked him how he knows this happens, and he replied that the artists tell him. Bob and Mark will do jobs for free. A homeless man in a wheel chair needed the back of the chair fixed. No charge. They do a lot of jobs in trade for coffee and muffins. “The favors all work out in the end,” says Bob.
“It’s our own little world here,” says Bob. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to get a glimpse of it.