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Ward Service Celebrates 90 Years in the Automotive Service business

In November 2013, Ward Service will celebrate its 90th anniversary in the automotive repair business. It is the second oldest family-run auto businesses in California. To this day, five generations have contributed to its success. As a testament to its longevity and roots in the Pasadena community, this is a look back on where Ward Service started and how it has survived the changing times, economic recessions, gasoline wars, and other factors that have closed down many of its competitors. The history of the company comes from the reminiscences of brothers Mike and Tom Ward, grandsons of the original founder. (September 2013, Pat Kramer, writer).

Ward Service Starts as “Fair Oaks Garage”

Ward Service was founded under the name “Fair Oaks Garage” in 1923 by Stanley N. Ward, who moved to Southern California from Cripple Creek, Colorado where he had owned a movie theater. Mr. Ward, “Pops,” wanted to be in the auto business so he opened the original garage at

88 N. Fair Oaks in Pasadena (now an Indian restaurant) with a handful of employees. The business had a gas pump, an auto repair shop, and two tow trucks, one of which was a Stutz Bearcat with the back cut off. It had a hand-operated hoist with the proverbial hook at the end of it. Other than photos, there are only two references to the business’s early days: a 1923 written contract with AAA and a 1924 listing of Fair Oaks Garage in the Pasadena phone book.  At the time of the garage’s opening, “Pops,” his wife Josie, and sons Stanley E. and Harry J. lived at the Elks Club in Pasadena, which used to house boarders.

A Family Business

In the early 1930s, the business moved to the corner of No. Broadway (now Arroyo Parkway) and East Holly Street. Naturally they changed the name to “Broadway Garage.” The building was tri-level with a service station, a repair facility and a storage garage for the cars they towed in. This was a prime location for the automotive business with the Police and Fire Departments across the street. The police, in fact, were one of their best clients.

When son Stanley E. (the 2nd generation) joined “Pops” in the business, the name changed to S.N. Ward and Son. The business operated 24-hours a day with son, Stan, working the day shift, and “Pops” taking the night shift.  During this time, son Harry worked at Lockheed in support of the war. Harry would later join the family business as a tow truck driver.

A Second Location

In the late ’30s, during the War, the business added a second location at 733 So. Arroyo Parkway. They purchased the existing Gilmore Oil station which soon became a Mobile Gas, Auto Repair and Tow Service station. At the time, rubber, batteries and gas were being rationed, so to keep these items secure, an underground basement was constructed to safely store them. It was also during this time that the third generation was born. With the births of Mike, then Tom, and shortly thereafter, Billy, “Pops” had his successors for the family business.

Another Move

Between 1945 and 1950, the Wards sold the station on Broadway and all operations were consolidated at the South Arroyo Parkway location. The elder Ward, “Pops,” retired at this time. Sons Mike and Tom were then in junior high school when they joined their dad, Stan, in the business. They, along with the other employees, fondly referred to him as “Father.” At various points in time, both sons pumped gas, drove the service trucks, lubricated and cleaned cars, and helped the mechanics in the back. Since the business operated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year, the sons had to work nights and during school vacations when their friends were having fun.

Says Mike, “The key is that it was a 24-hour business. Most of the time, somebody named “Ward” had to be there.”

Tragedy Strikes

In March 1961, a terrible tragedy occurred while Mike, Tom, and Billy were away in military service. Their father, Stan, and mother, Marvella, were driving on the Salinas-Monterey Highway in northern California when another car crossed over the center line in the road and hit them.

50-year old Mrs. Ward was killed while Stan, who was 52, was laid up for six months as a result of his injuries. (Though he lived 15 more years, he was never able to return to the business full-time).

Stan’s brother, Harry, left Lockheed to help the family while son, Mike, secured his release from the U.S. Army with the help of a local congressman and began running the So. Arroyo garage.  Tom also joined the business as full-time manager of their newly-opened repair shop at 200 W. Holly Street (now the 210 interchange).

In 1969, the Holly Street location had to move when the City of Pasadena took the property by eminent domain to build the freeway. The new shop was built at the corner of Green Street and Fair Oaks Avenue under the name “Ward Service.” It was an auto repair shop and gas station while the Arroyo Parkway location still operated as a tow service, a gas station and an auto repair shop. Both businesses stayed in these locations for the next thirty years.

In January 2001, the Wards sold both their properties consolidating their businesses into one garage at 130 Railroad Avenue in Monrovia. Mike retired from the business at that time and in 2004, Tom followed, although he still remains part owner today. Tom’s oldest son, Jim, (4th generation) stepped up to the plate as owner and shop foreman. Today, he runs the company with his wife, Melanie Ward.

Cherished Memories

Mike Ward remembers that when it was hard to get a hold of some luxury items during the war-time period, his mother always seemed to have them. Her favorite acquisitions were nylons and chocolates. His father acquired these items by trading their precious commodities for the things his mother loved.

“During that time, a lot of transactions were done as trades,” says Mike, “unlike today. In fact, my father once borrowed money from a bank on a handshake.”

Another cherished memory, both Mike and Tom recall of earlier days, was the S&H green stamps and Blue Chip stamps they gave out with every gas purchase. When customers completed pasting the stamps in their books, they could turn it in at a redemption center for useful items such as appliances during the ’50s and ’60s.

Many people will remember the “Wreck of the Week” that Mike made famous by displaying badly wrecked cars at the corner of Arroyo Parkway and Fillmore Street.

“It was effective in slowing people down a little,” recalls Mike. “There were a lot of wrecks on the Arroyo-Seco freeway at that time. which was the first freeway in the state of CA.”

Service in the Pasadena Community

From the 1970s to the 1990s, both Tom and Mike built awareness in the Pasadena community for Ward Service through their active involvement in community organizations: Mike was in the Tournament of Roses and served as its president in both 1994 and 1995. He was also president of the Pasadena Optimists Club, president of the Pasadena Junior Chamber, and the California Tow Truck Association in the 1980s.

Tom was active in the Pasadena Lions Club and served as its president in 1984 and 1994. He was also president of the Pasadena Quarterbacks Club, and president of the local chapter of the Automotive Service Council in the 1990s. He is still active in these clubs today.

Memorable Employees

 One of the more endearing aspects of this company is its family atmosphere. Not only has it been handed down from generation to generation, there is a long list of employees who found a life-long home.

Tom’s wife, Carolyn, worked part-time as a bookkeeper from 1963 to 1983. Their sons, Jim and Matt, and daughter, Shawn, followed along as well. Jim joined in 1978 while in high school as a tow truck driver and gas station attendant. Matt joined as a tow truck dispatcher in 1980, staying on until the tow service closed in 2001. At that time, Matt and his wife Jenny moved to Texas with their daughters Olivia and Elizabeth to pursue his dream job at the Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute.  Shawn came aboard in 2005 as the company’s bookkeeper and customer service advisor. She lives locally with her husband, Glen, and their four children: Carlie, Shane, Sidney, and Kelly.

Jim and Melanie spearheaded the move to Monrovia where they also currently live. Their children, son, Turner, and daughter, Riley, (fifth generation) work at the shop during their college summer breaks. Jim is very active in the community, having served as president of the Monrovia chapter of Rotary club, president of ASCCA and a board Member of the Santa Anita Family YMCA.

Beyond the family, there are the employees.  Many have long and notable careers with Ward Service:

First, there is John Palmer, a mechanic, who came to California for his military basic training. His base camp was staged at the Rose Bowl, while his training took place in the San Gabriel Mountains. John served in WWII and had the unfortunate distinction of being a two-time POW. Upon his discharge in 1945, he returned to Pasadena where the government placed him in a job with Wards. He worked here his whole career – right up until his retirement in 2005 – for 60 years!  Johnny will hopefully attend the celebration.

Tom Bandas was lured away from a competitor gas station on Arroyo Blvd. in the early 50’s. He was the “Lube Man” and tow truck driver. Wards was the only shop in the area that had a rack large enough to support commercial trucks so it was important that it not malfunction. Tom made sure it was well oiled and working properly. He retired, after 50 years, in 2003.

Hank Houk, a tow truck driver at the Arroyo location, came into the business in the footsteps of his father, Hank Sr., who was the night man working alongside “Pops.”  Hank Jr. followed suit working for “Father.”  He retired 40 years later.

Frank Perez retired as a mechanic after 25 years of service with the Wards.

Larry Holloway, everyone’s favorite Shuttle driver and Parts man, joined in 1978. He is still going strong at Wards 35 years later.  Terry Prince is a 25-year veteran at Wards. She came on board in 1991 and manages the service writers. Joining Terry and Larry is Gary, a service writer, and five mechanics: Don, Chris, Brendan, Jeff and Rick.

Classic Cars

The Wards opened for business when automobiles first hit the road so it’s no surprise that they have a fondness for classic cars. Through the years, they have employed mechanics who are experts on classic and old cars (cars that didn’t operate on computers). This created a specialty with the Classic Cars market.  Ward Service is known as a “preferred auto repair facility” for those who love their classic cars.

As a testament to this specialty – and because many of their customers own classic cars – the 90th Anniversary Party for Ward Service will feature a display of some of the most beautiful, well cared-for classic cars in the area. The festivities will occur at their Monrovia location on November 2.

From 1923 – 2013, Ward Service has survived the economic ups and downs, changes in technology, the gasoline wars, and multiple relocations. Through it all, they have kept the business family-owned and operated, while maintaining their integrity and a tradition of great, personalized service.

With the fifth generation waiting in the wings, Ward Service looks forward to many more good years of serving the surrounding communities in the automotive business.