Inside a garage on San Pablo Avenue, cars sit raised on hydraulic lifts and model airplanes with up to ten-foot wingspans are suspended from the ceiling.
You probably recognize the outside of the garage – Precision Peoples Car Repair on the northwest corner of Camelia and San Pablo.
For 45 years, Ken Shapiro has been running the garage. That means he opened it in 1972.
Shapiro grew up in and around Boston. After high school, he earned a FAA airline and powerplant mechanic certification, but a quick comparison between a union job at the Boston Volkswagen dealership and a non-union job doing airline work led him to work in the Boston Volkswagen dealership for several years.
In early 1972, Shapiro left Boston in a 1958 VW. Via lots of places – including Oaxaca – one of those young and wild all-night drives across the continent that some of us knew in the 1960s and 1970s – Shapiro and friends made it to Berkeley.
He opened a garage in Berkeley in April 1972. A short time later, he was working with his friend Ron Blinn when a photographer stopped in and shot photos of Shapiro and Blinn.
The photographer came back for a model release. The photo was used on the cover of a book of photographs copyrighted by the Associated Students of the University of California at Berkeley in 1973. David Flores was the editor, Mike Mokotoff was the associate editor.
What about the airplanes?
Shapiro flew his first remote control model plan in the late 1970s. It was a SIG Cadet. For years, Shapiro flew his planes at a designated park in Richmond. Recently, the City of Richmond determined that model airplanes are not a viable hobby and repurposed the park. This means that Shapiro must travel 73 miles to Woodland to fly.
He has many planes.
The air above the floor of the garage at his Precision Peoples Car Repair is filled with planes. As is the parts room. As is the upstairs storage space – lots of airplanes.
In this photo, we see a Beechcraft Stutterwing. Shapiro hopes to augment the murals on the south side of his building, adding a Beechcraft Model 17 Staggerwing biplane. It has an atypical negative wing stagger, meaning that the lower wing is further forward than the upper wing. Shapiro is all about the Staggerwing.
Shapiro is a reminder of a Berkeley that is slipping away, when the young and struggling could come here, start a business, buy a house, make a life with room in the margins for quirky things.
Tom Dalzell, a labor lawyer, created a website, Quirky Berkeley, to share all the whimsical objects he has captured with his iPhone. The site now has more than 8,000 photographs of quirky objects around town as well as posts where the 30-year resident muses on what it all means.
For a fuller version of this post, see Quirky Berkeley.