A longtime Mount Vernon car repair shop, where classical music set the establishment's tone, shut its doors last week after nearly 90 years.
The closure of family-owned Comprehensive Car Care and sale of the property was precipitated by the retirement of managing director Robert Wagner, a former banker who trained at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School but took on the business after his father's death in 1976.
Wagner said members of the family trust agreed in the last few months to sell the parcel at Eager and Cathedral streets to local real estate investor Dennis Richter. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The last day of business was Thursday.
"As I've gotten older, I realize I just can't keep going on," said Wagner, 75, who for years greeted customers in a signature white lab coat, with Mozart symphonies on the radio. "I felt the time had come."
Richter, who last year purchased the neighboring former Eden's Lounge parcel for $625,000 after a foreclosure sale, said he and a partner are considering opening a restaurant on the combined properties, using the extra space for outdoor seating and parking.
Richter declined to identify his partner and said the plan is still in the "early stages."
Eden's Lounge closed in December 2013,eight years after it opened and became a nightlife staple for the city's hip-hop and R&B fans.
The club had also received unwanted attention after serving as the setting for violent incidents, including three stabbings that took place inside in 2011. A city police officer was sentenced to 15 years after being found guilty in a fatal shooting that occurred outside the lounge in 2010.
Wagner said he entertained several offers over the years but wanted to see the Comprehensive Car property, close to Charles Street shops and restaurants, developed in a way that contributes to the evolution of Mount Vernon.
"This block is a bit of a disappointment, underutilized and just ripe for development," he said. "I just see it as a gateway to mixed-use apartments and parking and some retail."
A car-related business has occupied the corner since at least 1926, when it opened as an early Esso gas station. It was one of four Exxon franchises owned by Wagner's father, Hugh, a businessman who served as general manager of the Lexington Market Authority between 1955 and 1970 and founded the Bowser Engineering Co., which developed automated parking garages.
Long known as Cathedral Exxon, the Wagners cut ties to Exxon in 1987, buying the property outright, changing the name and removing the gas pumps to focus on car service.
Wagner, one of four siblings, said he knew "virtually nothing" about cars when he started, relying on his staff of mechanics, some of whom worked there nearly as long as he did and made the customers feel at home, remembering license plates, names and past car troubles. In recent years, about seven people worked there, including the office manager and technicians.
"People are upset by the fact that it's moving," said Tom McElroy, a local lawyer who took his cars — an Audi convertible, a Mini Cooper and a Volkswagen Jetta — there for tune-ups for about five years and stopped in recently to say goodbye. "It's hard to find people who do quality work. It's as simple as that."
McElroy pointed to the walls, where "Best of Baltimore" awards competed for space with black-and-white photos from earlier eras.
"It shows the quality of work and it also shows the history," he said. "This has been a major part of this community."
Rena Reidt, service manager for about 10 years, and technician Dave Adamski are moving to Baltimore Body Shop and Service on Sisson Street, and hoping to take the customer base of more than 2,500 people with them. Still, Reidt choked up as she discussed the closure.