Gorgeous Southwest Onyx & Marble Co. Shift Knob

I found this stunning vintage shift knob in the basement of an old dealership building a while back. It is made of onyx, and the markings on the base indicate that it was made by Southwest Onyx & Marble Co. That company, located in San Diego, California, operated the quarry at El Marmol on the Baja Peninsula until it closed in 1958.

The onyx deposits at El Marmol were discovered around 1900. Great blocks of the unique stone were loaded on freighters to be shipped to other parts of the world for use in manufacturing beautiful items like clocks, tables, desk sets and this shift knob. One story reported that the managing director of the company, Kenneth Brown, would accompany the blocks to the freighter to direct the loading and then dive overboard and swim back to shore right before the freighter sailed away. Some of those blocks were also used to build a schoolhouse in the little mining town and, according to this article, some of that school building is still standing today.

Sadly, the prolific use of plastics lessened demand for onyx, and the mining towns became ghost towns. It is a shame, because I have never seen a plastic shift knob that could outshine this butterscotch beauty.

A Businessman’s Cadillac, Complete with a Bar, an Office and a Secretary

I found a story in a 1953 newspaper about a general contractor and architect named Hal B. Hayes who turned a Cadillac into a rolling office in the 1950s.  The article describes the convertible Caddy as being built three feet longer than usual, with no explanation of how that was accomplished, in order to accommodate equipment like a typewriter, telephone and Dictaphone, not to mention a living, breathing secretary. Ten folding chairs were carried in case Hayes wanted to stop the car and entertain business associates at the curb, and built into the trunk compartment?  A full stocked bar, of course.

I had never heard of Hayes, so I did a little research, and it turns out that he was one crazy cat.  He built a mansion that Popular Mechanics termed “a house for the atomic age.” Hayes billed himself as something of an expert on the subject, and the home was supposed to be atom bomb-proof.  The details are pretty hilarious. The house, perched on a Hollywood hilltop, included an underground bomb shelter that was accessed by swimming through a tunnel in the indoor/outdoor pool. Hayes reasoned that any radioactive contamination would be washed off people’s bodies as they swam to the sanctuary. At the push of a button, the living room carpet, a lovely green shag, would creep up the glass wall to act as a blackout curtain. The home featured five dance floors, and kitchen faucets served up not just champagne, but also the George Thorogood trifecta of bourbon, scotch and beer. It would appear that the mansion was as much swinging bachelor pad as atomic bomb shelter. If you are dying to know more, additional details and pictures are available in the 1953 Popular Mechanics.

Hayes standing next to movie starlet Kay Spreckels. Photo from the LA Times article “That was one boss bachelor pad” by Sam Watters, photo credit to Seaver Center for Western History, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Hayes rubbed elbows with movie stars like Peter Lawford and was even engaged to Zsa Zsa Gabor at one point. Then a military housing project he was developing became a tangle of bribery charges, lawsuits and countersuits between Hayes, the federal government, subcontractors and bond companies. After the dust settled, Hayes vamoosed to Mexico in the early 1960s and lived there for the last three decades of his life.

I was unable to find much more information about the mobile office. The Cadillac apparently won a trophy at a 1957 car show, but the photo in the paper is disappointing as it only shows the door of the car, Hayes, and some woman in a fur coat:

In order to save space at the mansion, Hayes created a parking space using steel beams that stretch into thin air over a retaining wall. Photos do exist of this innovative parking arrangement; the first photo features a Buick, but the second photo might just be of that Caddy:

I don’t know about you, but I would rather park a mile away and walk. I usually do that anyway to avoid getting door dings.


“Builder Hits FHA, Military For $55 Million Shutdown.” Evening Journal [Wilmington], 21 Mar. 1961, p. 34.

“Finale of the Style Show.” The Desert Sun, 10 Apr. 1957, p.

“Hal Hayes Cleared of Bribery Charges.” News and Observer [Raleigh], 17 Mar. 1962, p. 15.

“Hal Hayes Switches Roles, Files $2,787,059 Suit.” El Paso Times, 29 Jul. 1961, p. 1.

“Hollywood Agape At Tarheel’s Mansion.” News and Observer [Raleigh], 25 Jul. 1954, p. IV-3.

“House For the Atomic Age.” Popular Mechanics, Aug. 1953, pp. 108-111.

“Latest Creation – Car With Built-In Office.” Ogden Standard Examiner, 6 Aug. 1953, p. 4B.

Mosby, Aline. “A-Bomb Proof Home in Hollywood Hills Would Make Air Alert Welcome.” The Knoxville News, 12 Apr. 1953, p. C3.

Watters, Sam. “That Was One Boss Bachelor Pad.” LA Times, 6 Nov 2010, p. E4.

Wilson, Liza. “America’s Most Amazing House.” San Francisco Examiner, 24 Jan. 1954, p. 12.