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CRENSHAW : Auto School Readies for a Royal Visit

October 30, 1994|ERIN J. AUBRY

When James Muse learned that Prince Charles planned to visit his class at the Toyota Automotive Training Center, the first thought that popped into his mind was, "Why?"

"I didn't understand why he'd come here, to the inner city," said Muse, a genial man dressed in the customary blue work clothes of center trainees.

"Of all the places he could visit in Los Angeles, why would he come here? . . . But thinking about it, I guess I'm pretty proud we were chosen."

Muse and his fellow classmates will get the rare chance to meet the Prince of Wales on Tuesday, when he and his royal entourage will make a pit stop at the training center at 3833 S. Crenshaw Blvd.

The news came as something of a shock to most of the 14 students who will be present, who say that although the heir to the British throne is hardly part of their lunch break conversations, the prospect of entertaining an internationally known figure is indeed exciting.

"I hope he's friendly," Muse said with a laugh after learning that the prince plans to tour the facility and question his class, the brake and suspension students, about their work. "He might even pay attention to what we're doing and learn something."

The 2-year-old center, operated jointly by Toyota and the Los Angeles Urban League, has trained about 150 students in auto repair, including tuneups, smog exams, brakes and suspensions, and exhaust systems.

Its high percentage of job placement in a relatively short period of time--all members of the last graduating class found full-time employment--caught the attention of Prince Charles' delegation, Toyota spokeswoman Nancy Hubbell said.

Members of the British Consulate toured the center last summer and were impressed enough to return two months ago and settle on it as an official stop during the prince's Los Angeles visit.

"Prince Charles has a real interest in vocational schools and educational programs," Hubbell said. "The automotive training center seemed like a good example to (the British Consulate) of what's working here in L.A."

Center General Manager Joe Saia said that although he feels honored to be paid a royal visit, he is not planning on doing anything special. Prince Charles "is coming here to see us ," he said. "We have more to offer him than he has to offer us. . . . We're putting people to work. He can take what he sees here and duplicate it in other industries, other countries."

Christopher Parr, who was chosen to present the prince with a special honorary degree, said he is somewhat used to rubbing elbows with the politically famous.

"I met Bill Clinton last year, and that was nice," the Los Angeles resident said. Prince Charles is "probably a regular guy who happens to live in a fishbowl. . . . The best part of this visit is that it'll open a window on what's really going on in the inner city all the time."

Muse agreed, saying that central Los Angeles "isn't all shootings. The center is very clean and presentable, no graffiti. It's always that way. People just need to see how things are day-to-day here."

Joel Barraza, in his third week of study, said he never figured on getting an audience with such a famous person when he signed up.

"I'm kind of excited," he said. "How many chances do you get to meet someone like this? Never. . . . I'm lucky to be in this class, at this time."

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