Day 1346

The mystery of the auto shop awning

September 6th, 2015

Here's a better-lit look at Flushing's Pied-a-mer mural, painted on a roll-down gate at an auto repair garage.

My usual practice, after taking a photo like this with no identifying information, is to snap a quick shot of something nearby with a business name/street name/address to help me figure out where I took the photo in case my phone got the location wrong.

In this instance, the brainless shot I took next captured the awning over a door to the garage, just to the left of the mural. I didn't process what I was looking at when I snapped the picture, but it later struck me as odd when I was sitting at my computer, reviewing the day's photos: the awning says "Rodolfo Valentin" in fancy lettering that feels quite out of place at an auto shop.

Rodolfo Valentin — that name sounded familiar to me. It turns out I was thinking of Rudolph Valentino, but there is a well-known South American hairdresser in New York named Rodolfo Valentin, a specialist in wigs and extensions whom New York magazine described as "Argentina’s answer to Fabio". He looks like this. (If you need more, you can watch his 2012 New Yorker of the Week interview with NY1.)

But could that Rodolfo Valentin possibly be the same one whose name is on the garage awning? What could a high-end Manhattan hair stylist have to do with a grimy repair shop in Queens?

Hoping to make sense of all this, I figured I'd search the internet for some connection between Mr. Valentin and the garage's address. When I checked the awning for the building number, however, I realized something was off. The number on the awning is 694, but buildings in Queens have dashes in their addresses. The actual address of the garage, for example, appears to be 41-10 Fuller Place.

A search for "rodolfo valentin 694" revealed that there was, for a number of years, a Rodolfo Valentin salon located at... 694 Madison Avenue, on the Upper East Side. And if you visit that address in Street View, you'll see that the salon's signage featured the same cursive font that we find on the awning here at the garage.

There was even a period around 2010-2011 when the salon's color scheme matched the awning. (You may notice that the sign above the door during this era gave an address of 696, not 694. While the entrance to the salon was at 694 Madison Avenue, the salon itself occupied the connected second floors of both the 694 and 696 buidings.)

But there's no photographic evidence I could find of an awning in place at the salon. All the Street View photos through the years just show a flat sign above the door. (The salon that previously occupied the space did have an awning, however.)

It would seem, then, that the awning either was never actually installed at the salon or was used for a relatively short period of time and went unseen by the Street View car. Whatever the case, we're still left wondering how the thing ended up here in Flushing.

Let's now take a Street View visit to the repair shop. Glancing around, you'll see that the garage stands among a cluster of other blue-collar businesses in an area I described in a previous post as "a hotbed of Queens chrome". When I looked back at that post, I noticed something: the Queens chrome shop pictured in the post advertises that it also makes signs and awnings. Using Street View, I was then able to find a few other awning-makers within a block or two of the garage.

So here's a theory. Back in 2009 or 2010, during the process of relocating from 1020 Madison Avenue to 694 Madison, Rodolfo's salon contacted one of the businesses near the garage and ordered an awning to replace the one used by the previous tenant. But for one reason or another (Rodolfo decided he preferred an uncovered entrance, there was some dispute over quality or payment), the salon never took possession of the awning.

Meanwhile, the owner of the garage wanted somewhere to smoke a cigarette when it was raining outside. A sign shop around the corner, which gets its trucks serviced at the garage, had this extra awning that some prettyboy Madison Avenue hairsmith didn't want, and so a deal was struck. And now we have a Rodolfo Valentin-branded smoke shelter outside a grease monkey's cinderblock shanty in this obscure corner of Flushing.


  1. Brian says:

    fascinating story. I love it.

    • Mike Heavers says:

      Holy csi Matt Green! Been a while since I’ve checked in on your blog. I’ve clearly been missing out on some great stories. If the whole walking for a living thing gets old, there’s always detective work…

  2. Julee says:

    Wow! You dig deep. This is so awesome.

  3. Jeannine says:

    Your theory is sherlockian in scope. I agree with the deductive reasoning.

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