By Vicky Nguyen
Tucked into the far corner of campus is building P1, also known to some as the Palmer Automotive Technology Building (Palmer Building, for short).
It is not as large as the Fine and Visual Arts Building, and its namesake is not as well-known as Vincent Price or Helen Miller Bailey.
In fact, the building’s full name is not found on either the East Los Angeles College official campus map or anywhere on the school’s homepage, being only ever labeled as “Automotive Technology.” Instead, the Auto Tech facility represents William “Bill” Palmer’s unrelenting determination to give his students the best opportunity to succeed.
Palmer retired shortly after the building was completed which was a venture that took twenty years to complete. But the state-of-the-art automotive technology facility that he envisioned still stands strong and everlasting in order to provide countless generations of ELAC students with the equipment and technology for an education that meets rigorous industry standards.
Before the facility was opened in 1994, auto tech students had a single small classroom and the blacktop by the stadium to work on.
“Bill worked with President Ernest Moreno for years trying to get a new building for ELAC. They flew to Sacramento and talked to many politicians to support this concept,” said Los Angeles City College President, Renee Martinez. Martinez was Dean of ELAC during Palmer’s time.
She remembered Palmer’s cheerful temperament and love of cars. “He would always tell you what car was the best to buy every year,” Martinez said.
Adrian Banuelos, the current Automotive Technology Department Chair, only knew Palmer for a brief time. Palmer had suffered a stroke in September 1998. After he retired in 1999, Banuelos took over. Banuelos recalled Palmer smoking his cigarettes and “just taking it easy.”
“He was a calm, calm, quiet guy,” Banuelos said. “He fought really hard to get this building here; he worked his butt off. Unfortunately, when he finally got the building here, he was too tired to teach.” He was often found sleeping in the building.
Banuelos pointed at and named various tools and technology important to the program. “We’re not a hobby shop, we’re a learning institution,” said Banuelos.
“(Palmer) was not trained to use technology, but he knew how important it was, so he made sure the new building was equipped for the future.” Martinez said.
Ten years ago, with the approval of Los Angeles Community College District Office Board, the building was officially renamed the “Palmer Automotive Technology Building.” According to Martinez, “(Palmer’s) tenacity to keep on working to get the building” was one of the reasons that prompted this decision.
In the corner where the only two halls of the building meet, a Memorandum to Palmer can be found hung on the wall. The plaque reads, “The automotive facility is dedicated to automotive technology professor emeritus William A. Palmer.” A black and white photo of a smiling Palmer hangs above the plaque.
“He was just following his heart, he believed in his students, and that’s why he pushed for the program here and kept it alive,” said Banuelos.