At first glance, West 65th Street, between Clark and Denison, tells a story of neglect. There were once kill plants and cattle yards, then came a box store and strip retail that supplied landfills with furry plastic and leisurewear; decaying structures with no hope of renovation still stand today. It is painfully obvious that promises of development failed to deliver real benefits to area residents. To the untrained eye the neighborhood could be seen as testament to the failures of capitalism, however, hidden in plain sight is one of the greatest success stories of Cleveland’s west side, the story of Don McMahan.
In the 1950s the McMahan family left Newport, Tennessee, and came to Cleveland in search of opportunity. At the age of 14, with an ailing father, Don began full-time work. Soon thereafter he turned his passion for automobiles and innate leadership skills into a business that eventually supported family, friends, and local commerce. By 1986, at the age of 27, Don acquired the property where his current business resides.
On the northwest corner of Storer and West 65th sits McMahan’s Wrecking, a 17-acre complex that employs 40 people, pays an above average hourly wage, and supports countless others through their auto salvage services and scrap metal recycling. McMahan’s is a neighborhood business born from stockyard culture. Its 30-year life is proof of the transformative power of locally owned small business.
Now seen as the anchor of the West 65th street community, the story of McMahan’s Wrecking has not been without conflict. City government and area CDCs that once united in their opposition to his expansion, now understand that the young boy who had “a lot of hustle in [him]” was working in the interest of his own community.
If you are in need of used auto parts, wish to salvage the vehicle that has been sitting in your backyard for the last 5 years, or would simply like to see where your vehicle goes at the end of its life, pay a visit to McMahan’s Wrecking at 3378 West 65th. For the uninitiated, exposure to salvage yard culture will be one of the most memorable experiences of your life. Don prides himself on the people and relationships that made his success possible. This pride was evident in many of the conversations we had with employees, friends, and Cleveland consumers who all told us they patronize and work for McMahan’s because it feels like home.
Cleveland SGS is a homegrown group of street archivists and artists who, since 2006, have investigated the hidden meaning of Cleveland’s commercial narrative, one block at a time. From scrapyards to clothiers, hair care to daycare, and back alleys to bar stools, SGS painstakingly chronicles the homemade imagery that makes up so much of Cleveland’s landscape. Drawing heavily on the stories, images and visual vernacular they unearth in their travels, SGS produces video, paintings, and installations deeply entwined with the city’s pulse.
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