Names: Rock and Tracey Walton
Positions: Owners, El Cordova Garage
Overview: The El Cordova, with its art deco design and glowing neon logos, is an iconic spot at the corner of 10th Street and C Avenue. Rock and Tracey Walton have owned the garage – the only stand-alone garage in the city – for just four years, but Rock has been at the garage 21 years, first as a mechanic, manager and now owner.
The business, started in 1904, originally was located behind where the Brigantine restaurant is today, off Orange Avenue. It moved to its current spot – which had been a Dodge DeSoto dealership – sometime between the late 1920s and early 1940s.
“Nobody knows (the date) for sure,” says Rock. Their shop has nine employees. Rock and his mechanics work on all makes and models and also operate a towing service.
The “showroom”: The front of the garage looks just like an auto showroom – exactly what it was during its DeSoto dealership days. Today, vintage photos and auto artwork on the walls augment the shiny black-and-white tiles and floor-to-ceiling windows. Also, an old neon sign that spells out “La Avenida Café” (from a now-defunct eatery across the street) hangs over the double doors that lead into the garage. When the Waltons bought the place, they converted the showroom into their office, which is where Tracey works. “It’s very retro and vintage and we want to keep it that way,” she says.
The partnership: Rock, 48, and Tracey, 35, live in Coronado with their daughter, Cassandra. Rock also has four children from a previous marriage. They’ve been married five years. They met seven years ago at a wedding for a member of Tracey’s family, but their relationship didn’t catch fire until a while later when they met again – at her uncle’s funeral. He’s had a couple of his own auto shops before, and also worked on his own as a mobile mechanic before joining El Cordova.
Rock’s background: As he puts it, he’s “wrenched” for most of his life, and he grew up in San Diego with a father who was mechanically inclined. He tried to fight it in his early years, doing other jobs – electronics, installing phones, air conditioning -- but always came back to what he loves best, working on cars. He works six days a week, but even on the seventh day he doesn’t rest because he gets calls for towing.
Tracey’s background: She was born in San Diego and went to high school locally, but has lived up and down the state. For years she worked as a waitress, but then received a degree in English from SDSU and worked for a time as an editor before helping take over El Cordova. She handles the administrative side of the business.
Mr. Friendly: The most popular employee at El Cordova is without a doubt Alakai, the Waltons’ very large, very friendly Alaskan malamute. Alakai hangs out in the showroom or naps in the back. Often, employees at nearby businesses drop in just to say hi and pet him. Alakai means “leader” in Inuit, but he’s probably too laid back to fit his name, Tracey says.
Testimonial: Jim Sabins, a retired Marine and former Coronado resident, now lives in University City but continues to bring his car to Rock. “These people are honest and straightforward,” he says, adding that one look at the types of cars in the garage on any given day – Maseratis, Lamborghinis and Lotuses, alongside Fords, Chevys and Hondas – “gives you an idea about his (Rock’s) skills.”
Quotable: “I quit fighting it,” Rock says about being a mechanic. “I always thought I had to do something else. I quit trying to grab the brass ring, and now do what I love.”
Quotable II: “I love talking to people,” says Tracey, who admits she’s the talkative half of the twosome. “Sometimes you can be having one of those (bad) days, but once you start talking to people you get new insights, new stories and new perspectives on things.”