Michael Sarcona is the guy behind Classic Cars West, a boutique vintage car dealership and art gallery in Uptown Oakland. He talks with the concise directness of a man who works in mechanics, so when I asked how the seemingly unlikely intersection of classic cars and fine art came to be, he replied rather concisely, “I like art.”

“And honestly,” he added, “[the art gallery] is kind of a way to have a social life ’cause I just work all the time.”

From the sidewalk, Classic Cars West doesn’t look like much to speak of — a brick-and-plate-glass facade reminiscent of a 1970s municipal building, on a street largely devoted to auto body shops.

But enter the showroom and you find yourself in a cavernous 13,000-square-foot warehouse filled, breathtakingly and stupendously, with the sparkling dreams of every car aficionado who ever lived.

Gleaming mechanical beasts dominate the space, all chrome and steel and glass and leather, sleek with their promise of speed, powerful engines lurking under their rounded haunches, reflecting buttery ambient light from the hanging lamps overhead. There are pre-war Fords from the 1930s that look like they just came off of the assembly line yesterday. There are vintage Mercedes-Benzes that call to mind European royalty, and 1950s Cadillacs that suggest dance sequences from Grease, and brilliantly-hued ’60s Mustangs, and 21st century Porsches and Maseratis.

These cars are so clearly pieces of art in their own ways that the fine art on the walls simply adds to the feel of an art gallery, which is the other function served by Classic Cars West.

With its location on 26th Street between Telegraph and Broadway, right in the heart of the Art Murmur/First Friday neighborhood, Classic Cars West has become an Art Murmur mainstay. Sarcona tried to start a gallery at his original showroom location in San Francisco’s Mission District, but found that there wasn’t enough momentum to get an art gallery successfully off of the ground. When Sarcona moved his showroom to its current location in Oakland, he found that his first gallery opening in Oakland was packed even with no advertising at all.

“It’s a more powerful scene here than any kind of collective scene that there was in San Francisco,” Sarcona said. “Twenty-four-year-old artists can’t afford to live in San Francisco anymore.”

Sarcona himself doesn’t curate the exhibits at Classic Cars West, which each typically run for about six weeks. He instead leaves that up to the alternating team of curator Dasha Matsuura and the Champagne and Nettles Art Collective.

Classic Cars West’s current exhibit, which runs through September 21, is a not-to-be-missed solo exhibit by Oakland-based artist Emma Webster called kate, this is about us: paintings of when we were close. Webster’s massive paintings are expressive and emotive, full of bold brushstrokes, roaming lines and vibrant pastoral-hued color palettes. kate, this is about us references Webster’s nostalgic childhood memories of playing with her sister and their dog, in a context of fading memory and a comparatively distant present-day relationship with her sister.

Emma Webster

Emma Webster, “Boxing Day with Our New Puppy” (2013)

According to Webster’s artist statement, her work “is about the eventual distancing between people — the slow separation where the ones we love most become unknowable. It also addresses how we revel in recoiling from others; how self-imposed incubation makes us more ourselves.”

Along with her solo exhibit in the Classic Cars West Gallery, Webster’s exhibit also features a permanent mural that Webster completed in the outdoor back patio area. The mural can best be enjoyed on Saturdays during Classic Cars West’s beer garden events — because, as if a classic car showroom and an art gallery weren’t enough multi-purpose function for one space, Classic Cars West also hosts an outdoor weekend beer garden every first and third Saturday of the month.

Emma Webster

Emma Webster’s mural at Classic Cars West (2013)

In terms of its offerings, Classic Cars West thus manages to be hyper-local across several industries: most of their cars are sourced within a 500-mile radius of the Bay Area, most of their exhibiting artists are from Oakland, and the beer garden is a partnership with neighbor CommonWealth Cafe & Public House, with murals by Webster and Oakland’s Groundscore Collective.

That doesn’t mean that Sarcona’s plans are small, however; he has aspirations of someday returning to his native New York to create a sort of Classic Cars empire.

“I want to return as the conquerer, as they say,” he said, “and have enough money to open a Classic Cars East.”



Emma Webster’s solo exhibit, kate, this is about us: paintings of when we were close, runs August 2 through September 21, 2013, at Classic Cars West. Her new mural in the outdoor beer garden is on view permanently.

The beer garden at Classic Cars West is open every first and third Saturday of the month from 1 p.m. until dusk, featuring sausages and and craft beer courtesy of CommonWealth, live music, ping-pong, vintage cars, art and $3 PBR on tap.

Classic Cars West Gallery
Where: 411 26th St., Oakland
Gallery hours: Every Saturday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.; First Fridays 6 p.m. – 10 p.m.; and by appointment
Phone: (415) 626-1135
More info: www.classiccarswestgallery.com


Oakland Social is a weekly arts and culture column devoted to upcoming events, new places, and narratives about going out in Oakland. Have ideas for what to cover? Contact goingout@oaklandlocal.com.

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