Custom Car Chronicle
Larry WatsonLarry Watson Personal Collection

Parking at Watsons


Ever since Larry Watson started pin-striping cars and later paint whole car, his work space was surrounded with parked wonderful Custom Cars.

It started in 1956 when Larry was still working out of his parents drive way, striping cars after school. There were always friends with Custom Cars, bikes or Hot Rods that loved to hang out with him. They all parked their cars at the premises. Luckily for us Larry and some of his friends had camera’s with them most of the time. And apparently Larry realised the importance of what he was doing and wanted to capture this all in photos. Larry kept all these photos the rest of his live so that they can now be shared with Custom Enthusiasts around world.
These parking scenes – on which we concentrate in this article – where most of the time spontaneous. However the most famous of them all, taken at Larry’s Rosecrans blvd shop were organised by photographer James Potter. James Potter did photograph and publish a lot of Larry Watson’s Custom Cars. He hung out at Larry’s shops a lot. Most likely he got the idea to make these Custom Car gathering photos when some of the custom cars – just finished by Larry – where parked in front of his famous Watson sign shop wall. Perhaps some more friends came by and parked there as well. James, Larry and some friends went up to the roof of the neighboring company and took several photos of the cars all parked in front of Larry’s shop. The photos we used in this article are taken by Larry himself or by his good friend Lowel Hellms and most of them are Kodachrome prints with fantastic colors even 50 plus years after they where taken.

[box_light]This article shows a selection of photos from the Larry Watson Personal Photo Collection. More on Larry’s personal collection can be found in the Larry Watson section on the CCC-Site. Or on the Custom Car Photo Archive.[/box_light]

CCC-larry-watson-parking-01-WLarry Watson striping one of the first crab claw flame paint jobs he did on this mild customized 1956 Oldsmobile. The 1950 Ford parked in the background is actually the very first flame job Larry did on his friend Buzz his car.

It must have been a spectacular site to drive by the Larry Watson shop’s and see all these beautiful painted custom cars parked together. Like a mini show, and this happened every day, and especially in the weekends when all the guys came by the shop to hang out, and talk cars and girls, and perhaps get their car detailed for an upcoming show, or getting ready for the local cruise at the drive-in’s.

CCC-larry-watson-parking-02-W1957 photo taken at Larry’s 1016 E Artesia Blvd. Shop. The guys where gathering at Larry’s shop for a small Car show in the parking lot of Larry’s shop. We can see from left to right; Larry’s Grapevine in its final version, Unknown 1957 Ford, Duane Steck’s 1954 Chevy Moonglow, Larry Lorenzo 1950 Mercury Convertible, Saint Vesquez 1951 Chevy Convertible, and another unidentified car on the far right.


CCC-larry-watson-parking-03-WAn amazing photo taken at the 9012, Rosecrans Blvd in Bellfower shows 13 parked Customs.
All the way on the left is an unidentified 1958 Ford Ranchero with lake pipes, The row on the left starts with Dave Kyte wild chopped 1955 Mercury, on the right followed by Terry Holloway’s 1957 Plymouth, an unidentified 1958 T-Bird with rather similar panels and colors as Larrys own T-Bird, and unidentified dark blue 1957 Ford Ranchero and the last one in that row is the bright candy root beer Gullwing Mercedes owned by Jack Laird a tv and film producer. The sports car behind it, in front of the famous shop wall is also unidentified.
In the center row we can see from the front, and unidentified candy red with light gold outlined 1957 Ford. Behind that sits Jack Van Tassel’s 1957 Pontiac  and the last that row is Larry’s personal 1958 T-Bird in the second version with the fades inside the panels.
The row on the right consists of two unidentified cars. The smooth dark raspberry red 1954 Buick with pink top was owned by Richard Axcell, who worked for Larry, and who painted his Buick himself. And a candy plum painted 1955 Chevy. WOW… what a parking lot.
And there is another car, the 1958 T-Bird that is half in Larry’s paint-booth. Another unidentified car.
This obviously was an arranged photo shoot. And we think James Potter might have had something to do with it. Although none of these photos were ever published back in the 1960’s as far as we know. Interesting to see are the hands held high, from the camera man, on the bottom left of the photo. He was standing on top of the building next to the parking lot. Apparently the photographer wanted the camera even higher than he already was. 


CCC-larry-watson-parking-12-WColors by Larry Watson… There are several amazing photos of these Multi Car photo sessions at the Watson Rosecrans blvd shop around. and by the looks of it these shoots did happen on different days. The cars in this photo above differ from other parking photos we have seen. This low angle photo shows an unknown 1958 Chevy with cleaned up body and tubular grille, followed by Terry Holloway’s 1957 Plymouth, and two unidentified 1958 T-Birds. 


CCC-larry-watson-parking-25-WLarry was so prolific at his Rosecrans Blvd shop. He created so many wonderful customs there. And fortunately for us he photographed most of them, including this very nicely done light blue 1957 Ford sedan with pearl white outlines and fogging in candy dark blue. In the background we can see a flamed dark green 1955 Buick, and a light blue pearl 1957 Pontiac. 



A very nice nice deep purple 1953 Chevy in front the Watson’s Shop Wall. The Chevy has a mostly stock body, is lowered to the perfect stance, and has a set of lake pipes and four bar hubcaps on white wall tires installed. To the far right we can see “Moonglow” Duane Steck’s 1953 Chevy with a fresh coat of Larry Watson Candy blue. The 1957 Pontiac getting ready to get painted is unidentified.

CCC-larry-watson-parking-11-WUnidentified 1959 Pontiac Cataline with a very nice panel paint job in pearl white, and two tone green with fades parked, in front of Larry’s shop. Behind it are Jack Van Tassel’s Lime pearl 1957 Pontiac and Ron Dulin’s 1956 Plymouth with the pearl white and candy grape panels. Larry would add dark purple paneling to Ron’s Plymouth shortly after this photo was taken. On the front right we can see a small portion of the 1957 Ford in candy red and pale gold which we can also see in an earlier photo in this article.


CCC-larry-watson-parking-14-WEd Roth had Larry Watson paint several of his cars/creations. Here we can see Ed pushing the Rotar to the Larry’s paint-booth for the red,white and blue paint job. Behind it is a WWII Jeep that belonged to one of the shop guys. and the Johnny Zupan (former Louis Bettancourt) 1949 Mercury is sitting there after Bill Ortega added Studebaker pans to the front and rear.


CCC-larry-watson-parking-34-WParking in and outside of Bill Ortega’s shop, waiting to be worked on, or just parked by the owners who came to hang out at the shop. This is Ed Schelhaas his old shop. Bill and Larry, who worked in the paint booth at the back of this shop did not even had the time to repaint the shop front. 



1957 Chevy photographedin front of the Rosecrans blvd. Bellflower shop. The 57 Chevy is mostly stock, except the usual lowering, the lake pipes, and spotlights, the Lancer four bar hubcaps and of course Larry’s scallop paint job. Behind the Chevy we can see Larry’s own T-Bird, and on the right we can see the 1958 Corvette, that Larry painted several times for LaVonne Bathke. Another scalloped front fender can be seen behind the Corvette, and it appears to be the radically painted chopped 1955 Mercury from Dave Kyte.

CCC-larry-watson-parking-36-WWonderful wooden boat with Larry Watson painted sections in pearl white. The guys in the back ground, the 56 Lincoln, probably heading to the muffler shop next door and the Candy Purple and silver top 1958 T-Bird… just another day.


CCC-larry-watson-parking-17-W1960 Ford done in dark green with a gold top. with a dark bleu 1957 Ranchero parked behind it.On the right we can see another 1957 Ford, this time a sedan with a nice gold/bronze paint job. A few older cars including a four door 1950 Mercury are sitting behind it.


CCC-larry-watson-parking-30-WPossibly the same 1960 Ford as the photo above, parked next to a T-Bird and a just painted 1958 Chevy.


CCC-larry-watson-parking-24-WLarry Watson painted both these cars. Walt’s 1961 Dodge was painted brilliant silver with purple flames and the Pinky’s Corvette with body work by Bill Hines was painted orange red with black and pepper flames with wild outline pin striping. Larry Watson is saying “Hi” sitting in the passenger seat of Bill Striker’s 1959 Cadillac in the back. Bill’s Cadillac has some primer spots from repair work, and is getting ready for Larry for his ultra smooth black paint job.


CCC-larry-watson-parking-06-WThe building in this photo was actually Larry’s neighbor at his Lakewood Blvd Paramount shop. The extra parking space it had was most of the time filled with Custom Cars from Larry’s shop. In the lower portion of this photo you can see the photographer, most likely Larry himself, or Lowel Helms holding its camera above his head, for an even higher shot.


CCC-larry-watson-parking-07-WBelow; Lots of fresh Custom Cars parked at the Larry Watson Firestone Blvd shop. Some of these cars are nice samples of cross overs between Custom Cars and Lowriders. The photo was taken in the later part of the 1960’s and some of the customs in the photo where brand new cars.


CCC-larry-watson-parking-29-WSadly only in black & white is this photo taken the same day as above, but from a different building.



Go to part TWO of the Parking at Watson’s article.






Rik Hoving

Rik is the CCC editor in chief. As a custom car historian he is researching custom car history for many years. In 2004 he started the Custom Car Photo Archive that has become a place of joy for many custom car enthousiasts. Here at CCC Rik will bring you inspiring articles on the history of custom cars and builders. Like a true photo detective he will show us what's going on in all those amazing photos. He will write stories about everything you want to know in the realm of customizing. In daily life Rik is a Graphic Designer. He is married to the CCC webmaster and the father of a 10 year old son (they are both very happy with his excellent cooking skills)

One thought on “Parking at Watsons

  • Great article Rik! The two tone plumb colored 1954 Buick in the fourth photo from the top belonged to Richard Axcell. He worked for Larry and painted the car himself. I discussed with Larry about this and a few other cars about a year before he passed. He spoke highly of Richard. I would love to see some more pictures of it if you ever come across any. Thanks for documenting and sharing all of this for the world to see!

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