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Cliff Cassola awarded the Glen Ellen Kenwood Rotary Vocational Award

Cliff Cassola awarded the Glen Ellen Kenwood Rotary  Vocational Award

By B. Byrd

On April 14 the Glen Ellen and Kenwood Rotary Club, an organization that recognizes achievement in our local business community, awarded its “Vocational Award” to the popular owner/ operator of the Marshall’s Body Shop in Glen Ellen. The award acknowledges “excellence, personal service, and outstanding performance” and was presented to Cliff Casolla for providing first-rate assistance to customers and making an outstanding contribution to the Glen Ellen community. The modest and thoughtful Cliff is grateful for the award and its $500 gift. The Rotary Club chooses one candidate from the local business community to honor each year.

Cliff ’s shop is located at the center of Glen Ellen, recognizable for its iconic storefront and beautifully renovated vintage Chevys, classic trucks, and hot rods out front.

Cliff is a Glen Ellen guy through and through. He grew up not far from the Sonoma Developmental Center and graduated from Sonoma Valley High School. “I was born into a hot rod family” he says, and from an early age he and his Dad loved hot rods and repaired autos together in their home driveway. Cliff had pursued a profession in law enforcement after high school and completed the Police Academy. In the end, he returned to his love of automobiles and home, and has developed a small business into a burgeoning, well-loved enterprise. He told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat in 2015, “When you get into an old car, like a farm truck, it has that smell…,” Casolla said. Restoring these cars, he added, is like “tuning an old guitar.”

Deciding that police work in San Francisco was not up his alley, in 2015 Cliff set out on his own back home, and purchased the auto repair business from his friend Kevin Flores which was housed in the old Marshall’s Auto Body building. The iconic building has a tale to tell. Way back in the horse and buggy days, there was a blacksmith shop in what is now the parking lot of the Jack London Lodge. In the 1930s, that business moved to the present site at 13695 Arnold Drive just north of the town bridge. It was a three-pump gas station, the only service station between Santa Rosa and Sonoma for years. In the 1950s, the Norrbom family took it over and expanded the front entrance of the gas station to accommodate an ambulance and a tow truck business. The town fire truck was housed here as well. In the 1970s Bob Marshall took over and converted it to an auto body shop. It even appears in the 1978 Hollywood film The Magic of Lassie. Following the canine theme, the façade and inside of the shop also appeared in the 1981 psychological horror movie, Cujo, about a rabid Saint Bernard based on the novel by Stephen King.

Since buying the business in 2015, Casolla’s venture has evolved from collision repairs to vintage car restoration, though all services are welcomed. He is proud of his team, which includes Chris Walsh, who is the chief restoration guy, Don Ballard does the custom fabrication and body design, Shawn Walsh, the lead technical guy, Antelmo Vasquez who is the detail man, and others. Alicia Valdez is the efficient office manager. It should be said that the shop is so clean and organized that there is not a whiff of gasoline, grease, or sweat within.

Plans for the body shop’s future? There’s a detached site off Highway 12 near Sonoma Botanical Gardens where this talented team performs their big jobs, like the San Francisco trolly restoration completed last year. They hope to have bigger and better automotive adventures as the business continues to expand, and Casolla hopes to do large major works at the off-site garage, while the in-town classic garage will remain the same.

As a well-loved member of the community, Cliff Casolla and Marshall’s Body Shop have a bright future together.

A historical photo of Glen Ellen Garage. The building later became Marshall’s Body Shop.Source: Glen Ellen Historical Society

Drawing of Bob Marshall’s Body Shop by Glen Ellen artist Archie Horton, 2002. Cliff Casolla bought the business in 2015.