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West Maui community loses colorful ‘Blackie’ Gadarian

By Staff | Aug 8, 2013


LAHAINA – “He appeared to the world as a gruff curmudgeon,” his wife said, but Arsene “Blackie” Gadarian was really a colorful character with a spry sense of humor.

Known for his love of jazz, businesses in Lahaina and signature orange shirts, Gadarian, 91, died peacefully on Maui after a full life on July 21, 2013.

At his wish, no public service or memorial gathering will be held. A private scattering of ashes by the family will take place in the future.

He is survived by his wife, Sara Gadarian, of Lahaina; daughter, Cynthia Gadarian, of Frederick, Maryland; son, Mark Richardson, of Auburn, Washington; and three grandsons.

Sara said that during their 53 years of marriage, they were “true partners in business and personal life, working together at all times, complementing each other.

“Blackie was the colorful orange personality; Sara was the cool blue. No matter how Blackie appeared to the world, he was a loyal, true friend, lover and companion. He made me laugh!”

Blackie was born on Sept. 18, 1921 in New York. The son of Armenian immigrants was raised in the slums of New York City.

As a teenager, he lived in Harlem and attended performances at the Apollo Theater and Savoy Ballroom. This led to Blackie becoming a lifelong fan of “straight-ahead” jazz.

Blackie graduated from trade school and was trained as a machinist.

“He considered himself first of all as a machinist, of the ‘old school,’ a lifelong occupation,” Sara noted.

Another continued interest and source of education was found in reading newspapers and history books.

During World War II, Blackie served in the Navy as an aviation machinist’s mate on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific.

“He was in many enemy actions,” Sara said. “He said he didn’t get killed once!”

After the war, Blackie lived in Los Angeles and worked as an aircraft mechanic at Western Airlines and AiResearch Aviation Service Company at Los Angeles Airport.

This is where he became known as “Blackie” due to his black hair and dark humor.

Blackie met Sara Richardson while working at the same company. Their romance led to marriage in 1960, when they combined Blackie’s daughter, Cynthia, and Sara’s son, Mark Richardson, into a family unit.

Blackie and Sara Gadarian moved to Newport Beach, California, where Blackie worked as an aircraft and boat mechanic. They launched Blackie’s Boat Yard, a dry-dock and boat repair yard, on the waterfront.

This is where Blackie started wearing those bright orange work shirts.

“The color orange came from the days at Blackie’s Boat Yard, when machinery was painted with orange primer to keep it from rusting. Blackie said it was the only neutral color. There were no grays in his life. You took him as you found him. Honest with pride in his work,” Sara commented.

They ran Blackie’s Boat Yard in Newport Beach from 1964-79. Meanwhile, in 1976, Blackie and Sara built Blackie’s Boat Yard Lahaina, a dry land boat storage.

In 1979, they sold the Newport Beach business and moved to Maui, establishing Blackie’s Machine Shop.

After raising their children, they decided to move where it was warmer year-round, to continue working in business. They lived in Kaanapali.

Blackie’s Machine Shop specialized in metal fabrication and custom railings for customers such as the Hyatt Regency Maui when it was constructed. Blackie even built a railway car for the Sugar Cane Train.

In 1981, Blackie and Sara decided to do “the ultimate ego trip,” she said, and built Blackie’s Bar at Blackie’s Boat Yard.

Blackie’s Bar was an open-air gazebo with bright orange roof, shipwreck pictures on the wall and this motto: “Promote safe boating, stay ashore and drink at Blackie’s Bar.”

The bar was open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., serving the “coldest beer,” Blackie’s big burgers, Sara’s meat loaf sandwiches and Mexican-style food.

“The logo for Blackie’s Bar said, ‘Every time I see you, you’re in a bar.’ This reflected Blackie’s opinion that a bar is a social gathering place for adults,” Sara recalled.

Blackie added live performances of “straight-ahead” jazz played four evenings weekly by resident musicians, supplemented by many internationally known jazz artists.

Blackie’s Bar became the longest-running jazz club in the Pacific.

In 1986, Blackie bought the building known as Windsock Lounge at the old Kaanapali Airport. He moved the structure and its eclectic memorabilia to add to the Blackie’s Bar building.

Over the years, more than 300 various dcor items were added to the walls and ceilings of Blackie’s Bar. One was a “whale egg” constructed by Blackie.

Blackie would work in the machine shop during the day, and on jazz nights, greet customers at the bar. Sara worked in the restaurant as bookkeeper and general manager.

A licensed marriage officiant in Hawaii, Blackie performed services at his bar and other venues.

Blackie once joked that his business motto was, “The customer is never right.” Sara clarified that his attitude toward customers was, “Aloha is a two-way street.”

“Customers are treated the same way they treat us. Blackie was loyal to his employees,” Sara said.

In 1995, after 14 years of long days running the bar/restaurant, the Gadarians sold the property (across from Safeway at Lahaina Cannery Mall) with the machine shop and bar buildings to a gas station operator, who converted the property to a gas station and car wash.

The memorabilia was sold at auction to benefit his vocational scholarships at Lahainaluna High School.

“Blackie respected skilled tradesmen and women. Since 1982, he awarded 200 scholarships for vocational students at Lahainaluna High School,” Sara noted.

In 1995, the Gadarians bought property on Luakini Street in Lahaina and built another building with a bright orange roof. They moved the machine shop equipment to that location, and in 1999 moved their residence from Kaanapali to Lahaina.

The Gadarians remained jazz fans, and in 2012 and ’13, they staged “Maui Blackie’s Jazz Events” at Lahaina venues, featuring straight-ahead jazz music.

The couple would go out in the evening to West Maui bars and restaurants “to meet people from all over,” Sara said. Blackie presented strangers with bright orange business cards to provoke conversation.

To stay informed on current events, Blackie often listened to news broadcasts. “This became the source of his letter writing to local newspapers with wry observances on human behavior,” Sara explained.

Blackie served on the Maui County Board of Ethics from 2000-05 and Liquor Commission from 2006-11.

In lieu of flowers or other mementos, the family requests donations to the Lahainaluna High School Foundation, “Blackie” Gadarian Vocational Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 11617, Lahaina, HI 96761.