The Aves Scholarship

A Philanthropist and Entrepreneur who led an Extremely Interesting Life!


For Your Reading Enjoyment!

Fredrick J. Aves
A Philanthropist and Entrepreneur who led an Extremely Interesting Life
by Grant Francis

After I retired from teaching at Venice High School for thirty-five years, I became interested in the Venice High School Alumni Association, and particularly about the large amount of money donated to the scholarship program each year. I later became the president of this alumni association which inspired me to find out what started this donation tradition. I found out that it was a very large donation to the fund by a man by the name of Fred Aves. I wanted to find out more information about this gentleman, and thus started my quest during 2018.

The information in this article was obtained from interviews conducted by Grant Francis, a board member of the Venice High School Alumni Association. The interviews were held during 2018 with Fred’s children Russell, Donald, and Julie. Also interviewed was David Macvicar a good friend of Fred’s who graduated from Fairfax High in 1938. David was 98 when the interview took place. Dennis Erickson, a Venice High School graduate of 1965, who worked for Fred, also graciously provided information. After talking with all of these people I have discovered that Fred Aves was a true Renaissance Man, ahead of his time. A man who thought outside the box. He was a designer, inventor, manufacturer, and curious about everything, not unlike the names of Thomas Edison, and Eli Whitney.

Fred Aves was born on February 6, 1912 and lived with his parents, Frank and Ida, outside Chicago. Fred did not do well in the traditional school in Kirkland, so he was enrolled in the School of Engineering in Chicago. Here he started his education and developed his true interest and great appreciation of industrial arts and mechanics.

Fred met his first wife, Arlene Menz, while attending high school in Kirkland Illinois, where his grandmother lived. She was very impressed by Fred’s debonair attitude, and quickly fell in love with him. They got married in 19, after he finished going to a trade show in Chicago. They had three children: Russell, Donald, and Julie.

Fred moved to the west coast with his father while still in high school While living in Venice, Fred attended Venice High School, and became very interested in electricity. He took several classes from Mr. C. Amo, the electric shop instructor. This teacher- student relationship grew very strong during the time that Fred was in school. Fred was inspired by Mr. Amo to think creatively. He had a very creative mind and was always thinking up new ideas for useful products. Fred learned at a very young age about being an innovator and inventor.
It was during this time that Fred met Dale Erickson in the same shop class. Both boys had a passion to figure out how things worked, in electricity and mechanics, and because of this common interest, theirs became a lifelong friendship. Fred graduated from Venice High in 1930. During his senior year he was voted as part of “a group of scientists to find a way to harness the hot air from congressmen.” It was his class that gifted the flag pole, (which was once a ships mast), that still stands proud in front of Venice High School.

Fred’s first part time job was working for Jack Comsilides of Jacks at the Beach parking cars, fixing radios, and making sandwiches before there were any restaurants on Ocean Park Pier.

Upon graduation from Venice High School, Mr. Amo got Fred a job at Culver Studios which later became MGM, then Desi Lu studios, down the street on Washington Blvd. He did not last very long at the studio because sorting films had nothing to do with his passion for electricity.

Fred started his first real business, Aves Electric Company (AECO), in 1934 in Beverly Hills, in the back of Baker’s Electric, where Fred specialized in appliance repair. His high school buddy, Dale Erickson, also worked in the shop repairing appliances with Fred and would go out on service calls with Fred. Many of their clients worked in the motion picture industry and were quite wealthy. When they would make a house call they would pick up the appliance that needed to be repaired, take it out to the van and immediately start thumbing through the repair manuals to figure out how to fix it. The two guys would repair the broken appliance in the van and return it the same day making many happy customers.

In 1939 a cousin of Fred’s, by the name of Dorothy Maxwell, came out from Kirkland to visit Fred and Arlene. Fred offered her the job of handling his books and scheduling house calls for AECO. Dorothy met Fred’s high school buddy Dale, who had been working at the shop. They got married in 1941, and had a child by the name of Dennis, who was interviewed for this story.

During World War II, Dorothy kept AECO going while Dale went to work for Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica, and Fred got a job working at Littelfuse Inc. an electronics manufacturing company, in El Monte. This satisfied both of their draft deferments. After the war ended in 1945 Fred resumed his work at AECO. Although Fred was very creative, inventive, and very focused, he did not treat his employees very nicely, nor did he get along with many other people. There was one person that he continued a good relationship with and that was with his old high school buddy Dale Erickson who he still had working for him.

Fred’s first successful electronics product invention was an aircraft light bulb tester, known as a “light shutter and dimmer”. All aircraft have light bulbs in the instrument panels that let pilots know when certain functions have been completed. Functions like flaps down, or when the wheels are locked in place for landing. During flight the pilot has no means of knowing the status of these bulbs. Fred identified the problem and designed a system that would test the bulb and indicate when a light bulb was burned out while the pilot was flying. In addition to designing this system Fred also designed and built the machinery to manufacture the system and its parts. This was the first of his many patented products, starting in 1944.

Fred’s friend David Macvicar, who was a returning Navy pilot, was ambitious, and would become a long-lasting friend to Fred. They both spent some time at Dale and Dorothy’s apartment on Exposition Blvd. Dale had a metal lathe in his garage, and they both loved watching Dale use the lathe. David soon picked up those skills himself. David made some nice projects on this lathe, but Fred was more interested in the byproducts that were being produced that laid on the floor waiting to be tossed into the trash. Fred loved those long spiral shaped strands of metal being formed with each cut of the lathe. He took these long metal spirals and invented the curb alarm, which became not only his second patent, but the start of his first big manufacturing business. Curb alarms, feelers, or curb finders are spring like wires installed on a vehicle which act as “whiskers” to alert drivers when they are the right distance from the curb while parking. The devices are installed low on the body, close to the wheels. As the vehicle approaches the curb, the protruding feelers scrape against the curb, making a noise and alerting the driver in time to avoid damaging the white sidewall tires, wheels or hubcaps. The feelers were manufactured to be flexible and do not break easily.

In 1947 Fred rented, and later purchased, his own building in Los Angeles at 2010 Westgate Ave. near Olympic and Bundy. This is where he moved AECO. He not only made the curb alarms, but also designed and made the machines to make them, including the automated chrome plating machines, and packaging machines. From curb alarms came a number of other products and patents that AECO produced including: chrome exhaust tips, and personalized license plate frames with the dealer’s names on them. At this facility Fred designed and built the longest chrome plating tank in the state of California. During this time Elaine McVickers, David’s wife was hired to work at AECO, in the retail part of the store.

The next product and patent to come out of AECO, in 1948, was the remote controlled right side rear view mirror for passenger cars. Fred invented and designed that product, and built the machines to manufacture these mirrors. Since AECO was becoming quite successful with these automotive aftermarket products, and Fred had good reliable people running the business, Fred started looking for more adventure.

In about 1955 AECO expanded from Westgate to a one acre property at 4211 Redwood Ave, near Venice High School. Fred bought this large piece of property with his son Russ. Here they built a standard wood frame building on the front of the land for his manufacturing group.

Fred helped his old friend, David, build a 28-foot boat on the back of the Redwood property. There were a lot of wooden boats being built at this time with the new marina under construction just a few miles away. What made this boat so unusual is that it had a Cadillac V-8 inboard motor driving it. Don, Fred’s son, remembers going on a fishing trip to Catalina with both David and his dad, while he was a freshman at Cal Poly. Don remembers the motor cutting out from fouled spark plugs. They got it running just in time to prevent the boat from running ashore on the beach. They all had a very exciting time, and he does recall them catching at least ten nice yellow tail tunas.

David Macvicar calls Fred one of the three geniuses that he has known throughout his life. He was always thinking of the next project that he wanted to create. Fred became a self-made man who had an incredibly inventive mind. In all of the years that David hung out with Fred he never once heard him use a swear word, nor utter any obscenities.

Fred was intrigued by the construction business. He went to UCLA to take classes in how to build reinforced concrete buildings. He was particularly interested in the “Umbrella Column” type of concrete structures.

In 1964, he took his plans to Building and Safety to build a second, much larger three-story, ten thousand square foot building on the back of the Redwood Ave property. He was turned down, so he hired an engineer to modify his plans. They were finally approved. This structure was made out of reinforced concrete, which Fred’s son Russ was instrumental in helping build. As Fred was pouring the concrete he got very impatient with the amount of time needed between pours for the inspection process to occur. He sent his accountant, Jack White, to UCLA to become a concrete inspector. This got Jack more work, but more importantly, there were no more delays in completing his building on the back lot on Redwood Ave.

After years of being in business, he was now starting to make good money, so Jack White suggested that he invest that money. He took Jack’s advice and started diversifying his investments.

Fred became interested in wine and took a class at UCLA, with his friend David, to learn the art of wine making. He and David took a trip to the wine country in northern California, and bought several cases of grapes and brought them back home to put what they had learned to work. Fred became interested in growing grapes so he bought a piece of property in the foothills of Beverly Hills. He built a home with several rock walls and terraces in the side of the hill, with his son Russ, for his family to live in. He planted a few varieties of grapes but they never proved to be successful. He also built a wine cave in the side of the hill to store the small amount of wine that he would eventually make. The wine was satisfactory, but he needed more room to grow the grapes, and a bit more experience.

In 1970, he made a very bold decision and went north to the wine country of Napa and bought 88 acres in Calistoga. He built a log cabin for himself, and added a small house in the rear for a caretaker. He also bought a house nearby for his son Russ and his family to live in and later manage the winery. Although Fred divorced his second wife Betty, they remained friends. She ultimately returned and worked for him in his office.

The business endeavors in Los Angeles were becoming so successful that he went a little further south in the wine country and bought another 100-acre piece of property on Spring Mountain Road in St. Helena, in northern California. He built another larger two-story home on this property, with his son Russ, this time out of stone. The plans were so involved that it soon became a castle. It had a basement that would be used as a wine cellar, an artist’s studio, and for a boiler to heat the house. It took ten years to complete the house, during which time Fred lived in the log cabin in Calistoga.

He hired a stone mason from San Francisco, by the name of Louis LeTulip, to do a major portion of the stone work on his castle. Fred designed and built a machine to split the large boulders that were brought to the property. For his kitchen, Fred designed and built several very large circular cast iron doors for the appliances and cabinets. He also designed and built an iron spiral staircase which was used to get to the second story, and several very unique stained-glass windows that adorned his stone castle. This castle became known as Yverdon, named for the place of his grandmother’s birth.

Taking his previously learned skills of making concrete buildings, he built a winery on the Spring Mountain Road property, using the same three-story floor plan that he had used for the building on the Redwood Ave. property. He designed the elevators that would take the product and people to and from the different levels of the building. Fred established the Aves Philanthropic Foundation which ran the winery and eventually sold it to Kendall Jackson.

In 1978 Fred sold both businesses on Westgate Ave. and Redwood Ave., but kept the buildings. He had to figure out what to do with these three empty buildings, which remained empty for several years. Even though it is well documented that Mr. Aves did not have many social skills, there is one story that points out how kind and giving Fred was. When the plant on Redwood Ave. was finally sold and closed its doors, he gave all of his employees a lifetime monthly pension.

The Redwood Ave. property with its two large buildings, was too big for most potential buyers. Both Fred and Dale thought long and hard about this problem and finally figured out that the most efficient way to take advantage of this space was to use it for self-storage. Fred ran with this idea and hired Dale to convert the two-story concrete building on the back of the Redwood property from three stories into five. Dale built new steel floors between the existing concrete floors and built individual storage units, with doors and locks, and started renting out the newly developed 1,000 individual spaces. This is where Fred made his fortune. He started the self-storage industry on a large scale, with Marina Redwood Self Storage on Redwood Ave. In 1978 Fred made a small apartment for himself on the second floor of the front building on Redwood.

Dennis’s wife, Barbara, worked at the Bank of America and Fred would always come to her to make his deposits because she was friendly and interested in his work. While at the bank one day Barbara got involved in conversations about the bookkeeping of Fred’s company. She ended up managing Marina Redwood Self Storage for 17 years, starting in 1978. She seemed to be one of the few people that Fred would listen to. On the other hand, David’s wife Elaine worked for Fred as a bookkeeper for $150 per month. Unfortunately, she, like many others, had several issues with the boss, including her low wages, and did not stay very long.

During this time in the early 1990’s Fred became enthralled with physics and began writing papers on how poor our economic regulations were, the movement of the planets, and how modern physics had it all wrong. He had a lot of ideas that he put on paper but it took his ex-wife Betty to help with his grammar, sentence structure and spelling. He wrote on these subjects for about ten years and finally published a book in 1992. The title was Big Spark. By the way, Fred also painted the picture on the cover of the book of a horse head. It was during this period that Fred also expressed himself through his art. He became very proficient at sculpting in Bronze. He made several sculptures including one of Robert Louis Stephenson “Marching Song” where he is sitting on a log, which is about 20” tall. He also sculpted several life-sized busts of famous wine makers of the region.

Fred was a gourmet cook and loved traveling to foreign countries to sample their foods and wines. He took several trips to Paris to dine at fine noted restaurants. He was known to bring those Parisian recipes back home to share with his family. It is not clear which came first, his desire to create a gourmet kitchen, or the food he created in that kitchen. During these Paris excursions, he would talk with David about his desire to give some of his wealth to Venice High School when he died. Fred was remembered for his lavish Christmas meals that involved the whole family in the preparations. He handmade all of the Christmas cards one year, that he gave to his friends and family.

When Fred was in his seventies he designed, built, and installed the copper roof on the winery on Spring Mountain Road in St Helena. He also built an elaborate tasting room as part of his winery, with huge stained-glass windows that he built. He had very few visitors, because he seldom invited anyone over to promote either himself or his wine.

Fred kept in contact with his mentor and former teacher, Mr. Amo, from Venice High, by visiting him after Mr. Amo moved to Mexico. He later helped him finance his move to a rest home in Corte Madera, north of San Francisco. On several occasions during the 1980s, Fred would go to the rest home, or someone would bring Mr. Amo up to his home on Spring Mountain Road. Fred loved to show his mentor his home, which was a fine work of art. Julie, Fred’s daughter, was fortunate to have been able to spend some time talking with Mr. Amo, learning about one of his favorite students, before he died.

Fred’s daughter Julie, still living in Santa Rosa, told me of having the pleasure of meeting a proud recipient of one of the Venice High School Alumni Association Aves scholarships.

Before Dorothy died she had a nurse/care taker who cared for her. During their talks, the care taker would mention her daughter, who attended Venice High School. When told of her daughter receiving a scholarship, Julie shared her stories of how these were started by her father.

Dennis, who now lives in Fallbrook California, still owns the dinner bell that was used to call the workers in from the farm back in Illinois. His wife still uses that bell to bring him in from his plot of land. He and his wife Barbara now own and work a small vineyard.

David McVickars started his business, Trader Boys Office Furniture, on Pico Blvd in 1949, and the company is still in business today.

Don remembers finding some old papers after his dad died, that showed Fred donated $10,000 to Lee Iacocca to help him get nominated for president.

Fred died in December of 1997, donating much of his money to the Venice High School Alumni Association Scholarship fund. Fred wanted that money to be given to the students in the Industrial Arts program, in remembrance of his teacher and mentor, Mr. Amo. He specifically wanted the funds to go to students who plan on going to college to further their education in the Industrial Arts. He also made specific instructions that some of the money be given to the young people from the cosmetology classes, as his mom was a hair dresser.

It is truly amazing that Fred Aves was able to accomplish so much in one life time.

When Fred Aves attended Venice High School in the thirties, there were as many as 15 different Industrial Arts classes that he had to choose from. Like many of his classmates they were all able to take these skills and knowledge that they acquired in these classes and get jobs right out of high school. Unfortunately, today there is only one of those Industrial Arts classes left.






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We’re loyal to you Venice High School, to thee we will always be true…