Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Last Auto Repair Shop Closes in the Alley

For almost 20 years Abate, a gentle and kind man, has worked in Naylor Court NW servicing the neighborhood cars and repairing damaged fenders. He learned his bodywork craft in Ethiopia where he worked for Ethiopian Airlines doing metal work in aluminum.

The alley in Naylor Court had been the home for many auto repair shops as it made the transition from stables for horses. Repairing the leaf springs and wheels of coaches was not too different from repairing the leaf springs and wheels from model T Fords. Over the past 70 years in Washington, the car sales corridor of 14th Street gradually disappeared to the point that today there is only one new car dealership in Washington. Many former car dealerships are now lofts. The alley auto shops provided a service for an impoverished community, whose cheap cars were in need of frequent repair. For years, the alley was "log jammed" with cars - three deep - which served as homes for cats, business offices for drug deals, bedrooms for prostitutes and sources of income for rogue illegal towing companies who were paid by weight for scrap metal and stolen cars. Even the DC Archives (1300 Naylor Court) across the alley from Abate's had an auto repair shop for the street cleaning trucks even as it maintained part of its structure as a huge stable.

Abate's shop (Blue Ridge Leasing - formerly Venus Motors) closed this week, marking the end of a chapter in the lives of the modern alley. He had a unique business model for selling cars since he had very little space. Being well known in the community, he would always have a list of cars that people were seeking. They knew the make, the model and the year. As long as the car was solid and reasonable in price and mileage it was a deal. The color did not mater. So, every car he bought was already sold!

Abate's presence in the alley ensured the safety of the alley dwellers, for he worked late hours and he and his men always kept an eye out for trouble. He will be missed by those who knew him well. The breadth of his connections and the depth of the love and respect for him within his community will ensure that he will be able to evolve into a new and better life. The Naylor Court Alley will continue to evolve as it has since its original drawings of 1797. With intelligent planning and sensitivity it can become a very special place in the heart of Washington. Designation of Naylor Court as an Historic Landmark in 1990 showed great foresight that is being rewarded today and will be for the years ahead.

1 comment:

Arijit said...

Thanks for writing about Mr. Abate! He was a great neighbor and really will be missed. He looked out for the neighborhood, the people and the cats. I hope he finds a great new location and does even better!

I've lived next to Naylor Court for a decade now and have seen all the business slowly disappear: Bill' auto shop at the other end of Naylor, Charles' auto shop. I'm glad Mr. Orlando and Sheba were able to find a new space within the alley.

Change is inevitable, but I hope the alley and the neighborhood can continue to be a home for small independent businesses and not get steamrolled by the developers...