There are always three cars parked at the intersection of Cypress Avenue and Figueroa, along with a companion RV parked at the Union 3 auto body shop on the corner. Each vehicle is covered bumper to bumper in bible verse and posters of lions and eagles. There are American and Israeli flags waving over the windows, and newspaper clippings from the Vatican. "Repent," appears over and over, "for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." This is the home and headquarters of William Matalyan, a spirited Korean War veteran who's on a crusade to save mankind.
Matalyan was born Jewish. His parents were Austrian immigrants who changed their names and fled Nazi Europe. They settled in Philadelphia, re-opened their old tailoring business, and tried to ignore their Jewish background.
"My parents told me, ‘Don't tell anyone you're a Jew’," says Matalyan. "And soon I said, ‘Why? I'm a man, and a Jew. What's the difference?’"
When asked if he considers himself Jewish now, Matalyan answers, "Yeah, in fact a completed Jew. A messianic Jew.
"I was (once) a wicked person. I went to Korea, to fight in the Korean War. I was drinking at that time. I had Canadian Club; I took about one third, and I hit the ground and started to vomit. I heard a voice say, ‘You're going to go to war’. I said, ‘I'm in one.’ And God says, ‘This is for the truth. You're going to work for me. You're going to take my word out there and get killed, the same as you do for America.' Matalyan then sings the Battle Hymn of the Republic as he relishes the memory.
After the war Matalyan started looking for work as a house painter, and he and his wife and children moved to LA, where there was painting work year-round. He would end up working for 35 years as the Painting Supervisor at East LA College, where he also gave informal music lessons to students. When he retired he could no longer afford his rent, so he moved out.
"I lived in Elysian Valley," he says, "and I finally moved out of a rented house into an RV. I was parking the RV on the street, and the city was going to penalize me, either by putting me in jail or a $1000 fine. They didn't carry the threat out, but I didn't let them. I went over and told Carlos, and he said he had a spot for me. So he let me come and park here."
About three years ago, Carlos Cruz, the owner of Union 3 auto body shop, let Matalyan move his RV onto his lot permanently, and that's where it stands today. Cruz and his workers makes a big racket everyday, just 20 feet from the RV, but Matalyan doesn’t let it bother him. He's made it as cozy as possible.
"We got Gardenias, Chile plants, tomatoes – an apricot tree from a seed. This is like the Garden of Eden. And the word of God is out here for everyone to see. It's free!"
On the other side of the RV, his messianic clunkers are parked right on Figueroa Street.
"I move them around, I keep them here. It's a moving, preaching, word of God. I park at IHOP and hand out gospel tracks, because that's the menu."
Matalyan tries to spread the word as much as he can, but lately he's been disappointed with his audience. He blames poor political leadership, and Americans' ongoing obsession with money.
Still, he believes that when the time comes and the pressure builds, most people will repent.