Herman: New home for an old icon

Alas, another little piece of old Austin is gone. But I think this one’s gone on to a better place.

(Quick primer on Austin and old things: If you like it, it’s an icon. If you don’t, it’s an eyesore.)

Last July, I told you about the uncertain fate of the old Don-Mar Motor Court sign that stood on the South Congress Avenue site of the iconic (or eyesoric) motor court that was leveled in 2008. The Don-Mar, just south of Fulmore Middle School, was built in 1935 and its sign was something of a South Austin landmark for many years.

But time marches on and the site now will be home to the new location of Ben’s Workshop, which specializes in repairing German cars. Owner Bill Morey says completion is scheduled for July.

When he bought the land Morey knew he’d have to be careful about what to do with the well-known sign. He thought about incorporating it into his new location. And he thought about selling it. Both plans hit roadblocks.

“I got no offers from anybody,” he said. “I got a lot of advice, but nobody was willing to stand up for it.”

Is there anything Austinites do better than give advice, solicited or otherwise, especially about what other people should or should not do with their property?

The sign’s future began to come into focus when Don Lougheed brought his Mercedes to Ben’s Workshop, at its current location in Presser Street just south of West Fifth Street, for service. While there, Lougheed saw a notice about the new location. The two men talked and, as Lougheed zeroed in on the location, he immediately thought about the sign. Like lots of Austinites, he knew the sign. Morey said Lougheed had two questions: “What are you going to do with it? How much do you want for it?”

On Feb. 27, four days after Lougheed’s 80th birthday (and three days after his wife Kathy celebrated her birthday), a truck pulled up to where the Don-Mar Motor Court used to be and the sign was loaded up. Lougheed, who’ll only say the purchase price was “very reasonable,” had himself a little piece of Austin history.

And he had a great place to put it.

“What would go better with antique cars than a motor court sign?” he said.

Lougheed, wh0 moved to Austin in 1978, started Crestview RV in 1983. At about that time, he began collecting old cars, now displayed at the RV business location off I-35 in Buda. It’s a free museum and Lougheed would love to have you drop by, even if you’re not looking to buy an RV.

If you’re a car aficionado, the names of some of the vehicles in Lougheed’s collection will mean something to you: Model T, Model A, Kaiser, Studebaker, DeLorean, Bricklin, Nash Metropolitan, Isetta, Citroen 2CV (better-known to some as the “deux chevaux.”)

For a real treat, drop by when Lougheed is around. I don’t think it’d be hard to get him to give you a guided tour.

“Every car in here represents some part of my life,” Lougheed said as I got the tour. “High school was my Model A Ford era. College was my ’36 Ford era. I was good, close friends with a Kaiser dealer in 1953. My wife and I went out on our honeymoon in a ’47 Chrysler convertible.”

The sign sat on its side on a trailer on the Crestview RV lot while plans were being made for exactly where to put it. Last Thursday, after a good deal of jockeying of some of the old cars, it was installed. Some minor repairs were made and the vintage sign now looks at home amid the vintage vehicles. At almost 17 feet high, the sign, up close, is bigger than it looked on its pole on South Congress. You should go take a look.

“I just love old things,” Lougheed said. “The new things in this world are not of the same quality and (don’t) represent as much as the old things do. The older I get the more I realize how inventive and creative people were back in the ’30s and

’40s and even the ’50s.”

Morey told me the taking down of the sign did not go unnoticed on South Congress.

“We were accosted three times. ‘Where y’all going with that sign?’” Morey said he heard from folks.

Now we know where it went and I’m confident Lougheed will treat it with the respect due an icon.

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