It was his 90th birthday party, but he did not expect so much: A bronze bust in his likeness, a cake with a picture of him in his namesake roadster, a small crowd to honor his birthday and a declaration from Fresno city leaders that June 24 is Michael “Blackie” Gejeian Day.
As Gejeian, assisted by two canes, entered the Fresno County Historical Museum at the fairgrounds, the room erupted in applause.
“One of the few legends we’ve got left,” Conrad Jiminez, a curator at the museum, said of the man behind Fresno’s Autorama Shows. He remembers going to Gejeian’s famous shows – billed as one of the largest custom car shows in North America – as a child.
Gejeian grew up on a farm in Easton. His family, survivors of the Armenian genocide, immigrated to the San Joaquin Valley and started a raisin farm. He grew up driving cars on dirt roads in the area.
Gejeian got his nickname, “Blackie,” after building a roadster that he then painted black. He started the world-famous Autorama Show in 1958 and ran it for 51 years before health concerns forced him to retire the show.
Those health concerns didn’t stop him from going to his own birthday party, though.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “Yesterday I was in the hospital, and today I’m here.”
Gejeian himself revealed the museum’s new bust, which was carved by artist Debbie Stevenson. Stevenson, who attended the unveiling, has done work with the museum before, including the William Saroyan exhibit and a painting of California Chrome, the famous racehorse.
“I’m really honored to be a part of this,” she said.
“This guy is iconic, and we’re blessed to have him,” said museum CEO John Alkire.
Council member Sal Quintero officially declared June 24 as Michael “Blackie” Gejeian Day. He also shared that the city was giving the museum $25,000.
Gejeian praised the work being done by the museum, which includes an exhibit about the Autorama Show: “It’s history, what they did then and what they’re doing now. It’s amazing.”