Ohmega Salvage was born on June 4,1974 at 9:30 PM sharp in the Flight Bar at the San Francisco International Airport. Victor Lab (known to all as Vito) and Bob Ford, while sipping drinks that fateful night, signed partnership papers to buy and deconstruct a huge two story building at the Oakland Naval Supply facility. The building exceeded 18,000 square feet.
After signing the agreement, one partner confessed that, in his whole life, he had never taken down more than a chicken coop. Several days later, the second partner, when asked by a Naval contract inspector how they expected to proceed with the impending removal, replied calmly, yet somewhat facetiously, “Very carefully!”
The group of friends that started Ohmega initially lived in South San Francisco. Eventually they moved to the Reno Hotel in San Francisco, the site of the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test about which Tom Wolfe wrote. Then they moved to a photography studio in the city…then to the back of a truck…then, later in the summer of 1974, to the Nexus Building in Berkeley.
Legendary characters such as Wavy Gravy and the Hog Farm; Country Joe MacDonald; Dan and John Fogerty (Vito sold Dan a Quanset Hut); Malcolm McAfee, whose son later started McAfee software; Lloyd Kahn (publisher of Shelter and Shelter II); Kerista Village; the architect Dan Lieberman; Terry Riley, the extraordinary New Age composer (e.g. Rainbow in Curved Air); the Save the Whales Group who put on the original Whale Play in the Ohmega warehouse; and other celebrated icons of the era were welcomed by the group as friends and customers.
Victor (Vito) Lab
On the night of January 18th, 2013, Victor Lab passed away. He was 82. Self-described "Berkeley crackpot," Vito led a unique life that brightened the lives of friends and acquaintances. His joyous laugh punctuated every conversation. His clear blue eyes were beacons of the careful observations he held so dear. His omnipresent leather-bound folder, perhaps the only part of his wardrobe that he changed less frequently than his characteristic jean jacket, always contained intriguing articles enlivened by his handwritten thoughts, insights, and commentary.
His eyes, folder, and love of life all helped him draw friends deep into his world. He believed in Gaia theory—that the earth should be respected as a self-regulating system—and lived every day true to his reduce, reuse, and reuse again beliefs. He made important strides in the recycling movement, such as leading a commune that salvaged building supplies and formed the earliest incarnation of Ohmega Salvage.
A great lover of literature, Vito's final request was for a book. His frequent partner in literary adventures read to him from 'East of the Giants' by George Stewart before he left us for good. His passions also extended to friends, conversation, the natural world, and the workings of things. These passions fueled his interest in Victorian and Craftsman architecture and Native American cultures, which, in turn, inspired the stained glass windows he designed and sold through Gabilan Glass. His windows were works of art that manifested his creativity with light and beauty.
As a child, Vito lived on a ranch in Arizona and in California, and in many ways he stayed close to those roots. His father, Victor J. Lab, Sr., had a scientific mind, and his mother, Elizabeth Mary McQuaid, was a teacher. From them he learned a lasting love for nature, learning, and analytic inquiry. Until his last days, he would frequently light a fire in his backyard wood stove and sit with friends, enjoying ice cream with sherry, singing ballads and cowboy songs, noshing pizza, and telling stories of childhood in Grass Valley, San Diego, and San Francisco in the early 1930s.
In 1986, Steve Drobinsky purchased the business from Vito and continued the tradition of salvaging architectural materials. Steve’s background as a stock option floor trader and dumpster diver served him well in all aspects of the growing business. Ohmega Salvage has grown steadily throughout the years and boasts a very knowledgeable retail staff as well as a team of removal specialists who reclaim items for reuse from locations throughout the Bay Area.
In 1998, Ohmega expanded across the street to 2400 San Pablo Ave., naming that building the “Ohmega General Store." The General Store is housed in a Victorian building built in 1894. It was once a hardware store and was converted into a restaurant in the 1960's.
Sadly, Steve passed away in April of 2012, but the legacy of Ohmega Salvage continues under the care of his wife, Katherine.