Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, CA)
April 27, 2006 Thursday

Road to Sucess: L.V. couple admit life hasn't always been easy, but
it's been a good ride

IMANI TATE, STAFF WRITER


Cars and community have always been natural links for Charlie and
Elaine Tachdjian of La Verne.

The man who graduated from what his wife of 49 years calls "the
school of hard knocks" can now afford to indulge their favorite hob,
collecting classic cars. He recently sold nine restored hot rods,
roadsters and stylish sedans he and Elaine drive and enjoy, but they
still own more than 40 cars from bygone but memorable eras, including
a miniature school bus and a fully operational 1958 Seagraves fire
truck.

"We'll probably put the grandchildren and some community kids in the
little bus and on the fire truck for the La Verne Fourth of July
parade," said Charlie, the man who still gets excited every time he
gets another blast-from-the-past vehicle.

The Tachdjians displayed 10 cars at La Verne's Cool Cruise Classic
Car Show held April 15 in Old Town La Verne to promote community and
camaraderie among business owners, car collectors and auto
enthusiasts.

Cars have been the focus for Charlie Tachdjian, 69, since he dropped
out of Pasadena's Washington Junior High School to work with his
father, Matios Tachdjian, and help take care of the family that
included his mother, Izabel, and six younger siblings.

His father's small salvage yard was the incubator that nourished his
lifetime appreciation of cars. His father's philosophy about helping
others and having good character also rubbed off on him.

It's obvious from the spacious Spanish hacienda-style home, two acres
of beautifully landscaped grounds and the bevy of cars, trucks and
novelty vehicles that the Tachdjians are considerably more than
comfortable. But Charlie's and Elaine's modest attitudes, warm
hospitality, good humor and down-to-earth conversation reflect their
simple and genuine beginnings.

Elaine, 71, admitted she didn't agree to marry him for two years
because "I couldn't see myself marrying someone younger than me." But
love and admiration for his fortitude, faithfulness and hard work
overcame her misgivings about the younger man she has called husband
since 1957.

"It's been an experience married to this man. It's been a good ride,"
Elaine added, smiling tenderly.

Elaine, the L.A.-born, Pasadena-raised, oldest child of Mary and
Frank Cobos' six children, graduated from Pasadena City College when
it was both a high school and community college. Elaine turned the
conversation away from herself and to Charlie's remarkable family and
personal history.

His father survived the genocide against Armenians early in the 20th
century because his mother, Charlie's paternal grandmother, dressed
him as a girl and fooled the Young Turks. Charlie's grandmother and
great-aunts were forced to watch as their husbands and father were
beheaded.

The three women and their small children then struck out on their
own, fiercely determined to save what was left of their family. They
migrated to Cuba.

"What always amazed me was how three lonely women with six kids,
including a 6-month-old ba, got from Armenia to Cuba," Charlie said.
"They had no money. There were no airplanes in 1910. They just got on
a boat, this raft, and went. It took almost a year, but you've got to
give them credit for their courage and determination." His mother,
Izabel, was born in Spain. Her parents frequently vacationed in
Havana where she met and fell in love with Matios Tachdjian, a young
cab driver. Noting their different social status, Izabel's mother
disowned her only child after Izabel married the cabbie.

Charlie was born in Havana, the first of Izabel's and Matios' seven
children. One of the Armenian aunts married an older man who brought
all her family to the United States.

Charlie came to Pasadena at age 8. He was sworn in as an American
citizen with thousands of others during a bicentennial induction at
the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in 1976.

"We were the only white family in a black neighborhood, and we were
very poor," Charlie recalled. "Jackie Robinson (the pioneering
baseball player) lived on the street behind us. I used to go visit
him because the Robinsons had a TV and we didn't. Those were the days
when neighbors helped one another."

Nurtured in that environment, Charlie learned to value service and
family.

"He dropped out of school in 1952 because he had to help feed the
family," Elaine said. "They didn't have much of anything. We got
married in 1957."

People paid $5 to $10 for the father and son to haul off their old
cars. When his father closed the wrecking yard, Charlie picked up a
truckload of watermelons in Bakersfield and returned to Pasadena to
sell them for 50 cents each. Elaine worked part time as a
hairdresser. He then got a job as a used-car lot boy, washing and
cleaning vehicles.

They lived frugally to save money. After a year, he bought the
used-car lot from "a little old lady from Pasadena who let him buy
the property on time," Elaine said.

The 1962 purchase of that used-car lot, renamed Park Motors because
it was on Parkwood Street, set in motion five decades of selling cars
in Glendale and Pasadena. He bought his first new-car dealership in
Glendale in 1967. He subsequently owned Pasadena Datsun, Crown
Oldsmobile, Pasadena Mazda and Pasadena Dodge.

"I've always liked cars," said Charlie.

He built a business around cars to provide for Elaine and their
children, Carol, David, Brenda, Marilyn and Charles G.

Elaine said Charlie never selfishly coveted success. He remembered
the poverty of his youth and the fact others were willing to share,
even if they didn't have much themselves.

He towed Tournament of Roses floats to the Colorado Boulevard route
from a pavilion near his used-car lot. This sparked his interest in
doing more, so he began 34 years as a Tournament of Roses board
member. He worked wherever he was assigned, helping with music, food
services, transportation, equestrians, guests' and kickoff luncheons,
post-parade cleanup, security and float construction.

"There were many New Year's Eve nights spent visiting him at the
barricades leading to Colorado Boulevard," said Elaine, who
remembered bundling herself and their children up to keep them warm
and keep him company throughout long, chilly nights.

"I'm still a committee member, but they retire you at age 65,"
Charlie said. "Now I can pick where I volunteer."

Charlie remembered childhood hardships, so every year he gave a new
car to a student from a poor family so that young person could drive
to college.

"That was my scholarship," he said. "The families picked the car, not
me. They could have anything on the lot."

During the Vietnam War era, he gave returning veterans a car for six
months until they got on their feet and readjusted to civilian life.
One goodwill project -- planting pine trees in the national forest
each time someone bought a car at his Datsun dealership -- got
unexpected opposition.

"The tree planting stopped when we got a letter from a Sierra Club
attorney telling us to cease and desist. It said you're selling a
Japanese car and planting trees in a U.S. forest. That reasoning
sounded ridiculous since the forest was getting trees for free," he
said, shaking his head.

Elaine's first car was a used 1955 Chevrolet, so Charlie bought her a
now-classic '55 Chevy, restoring it with all stock parts and painting
it gypsum red and Indian ivory.

"It's original, just like me," Elaine said, smiling.

Alarmed others' horror stories about building cars from scratch and
wanting workmanship worthy of their time and money, they began
collecting cars in 1974. Their first was a little black, 4-speed
turbo coupe 1965 Corvair they bought just because it was cute.
Charlie scoured auto auctions, searching for originally restored,
stock classic cars as well as classic cars beefed up with modern
conveniences ranging from more powerful engines to automatic
transmissions, brakes and steering. They love hot rods, convertibles,
muscle cars that were called clones before they evolved into the
trendy "re-creations" moniker and cars of every era from the early
1930s to the 1970s.

The cars come in many colors, but many are red, Charlie's favorite
color.

"We call it re-sell red," Elaine interjected.

He earned the nickname Checkbook Charlie when he was a used-car
dealer buying cars from the L.A. Auto Auction, paying check and
building a dealership reputation for trustworthiness. The nickname
even followed him cross country. "We were in New York going through
Central Park in one of those carriages and all of a sudden somebody
yelled, `Checkbook Charlie!' It was the guy who did the pricing for
Kelly's Blue Book," Charlie said, laughing.

They've collected approximately 125 classic cars in 32 years. Their
cars are expensive and in pristine condition, but are not just for
show.

"We enjoy taking them to local shows," Charlie said. "Some owners
don't want you to get within five feet of their cars and if you touch
'em, they go ballistic. I don't want anyone damaging them, but they
can look. The car shows are a social event for us. We talk to other
hot-rodders and spectators and have a great time."

Their eight grandchildren have varying levels of interest in their
grandparents' old cars, but they each have dibs on a favorite one.

Charlie now owns American Vans, a vehicle accessory firm, and Orange
County Choppers, which builds custom Harley-Davidson motorcycles. -
Imani Tate can be reached by e-mail at [email protected] or by
phone at (909) 483-8544.