In Appreciation of the Rock Store, Cornell, California, USA

Steve McQueen's 1942 Indian Scout
Steve McQueen's 1942 Indian Scout at the Rock Store

In hindsight, I should not have been surprised when my first motorcycle ride here in California took me to the Rock Store—after all, I am now paired with a life-long motorcyclist and a group of his devout motorcycling friends. This is the place to see and be seen. If you’re a gearhead—car or motorcycle—or simply after a fun drive with your family, I’d recommend the Rock Store. It’s an iconic landmark for visitors to California and a great drive out for you if you’re from LA and surrounds.

The Rock Store, Cornell, California

I gawped visibly at the variety of motorcycles and riders maneuvering in and out of the not-too-large parking area, from smart, tidy racing leathers and sportbikes, to sexy and fringed chicks and guys on Harley-Davidsons and other cruisers. You’ll see standard and customized motos—expressions of love, devotion, and appreciation for two wheels. We mill around, gawk, and talk with a mélange of characters from all walks of life—celebrities, racers, ex-racers, old and young and take with us a multitude of photos. Memories matter!

After introductions and hugs, we squeezed into a booth with Vern Savko. Back in 1961, Vern and her husband Ed were looking for a place to set up their grocery store. They fell in love with this little building situated in Cornell, a village set in the Santa Monica Mountains between Malibu and the Conejo Valley. In the early 1900s, it was a stagecoach stop and had been built entirely from rock.

The Rock Store: Mulholland Highway

As time moved on, Cornell expanded. Roads were developed to connect the neighborhood to the surrounding beach and valleys. This beautiful, alluring area with stunning twisting canyon roads attracted day-trippers out for the pure enjoyment of the drive. These pleasure-seekers started to use the Rock Store as a refreshment stop, a chance for a cold drink on a sunny weekend.

Soon, more and more motorcyclists numbered amongst the transients and were much encouraged by Ed and Vern. The Rock Store became a hub for riders to head for and have a chinwag. Motorcycles galore now fill the outside area for perusal by all. The higgledy-piggledy parking can be an entertaining spectacle in itself, and then the mixed bunch can wander through inspecting and looking in awe or amusement at the assemblage of motos.

The wheels of time turn without a break; our memories are precious treasures. Vern kept the Rock Store running when Ed passed away in 2012, and now we mourn the loss of Vern. Yet she, like Ed, has not really gone away. Their son Rich has taken up the baton, and so the Rock Store is a continuum for bikers and their celebration of all things motorcycle. Rich’s fortitude lies in moving forward to carry on this awesome tradition.

Ruminations from the Rock Store by David Morris

Originally published in May/June 2006 issue of Ultimate Motorcycling

“Meet me at the Rock Store” is something of an invitation to Vanaheim for motorcyclists. The star-studded congregation and their steel steeds meet faithfully on Sundays at Ed and Vern’s barn-wood café perched on Mulholland Highway. Some are ready to grab the head of the blacktop cobra that winds its way through the Santa Monica Mountains to the Malibu beaches. Some end up as passengers in EMS vehicles, pieces of their dream hanging from the tree limbs or crushed at the bottom of a canyon. Some just come to guzzle a cup of joe and jaw—maybe about bikes, maybe not.

The machines are lined up like a Best of Miss Universe, Past and Present; it is a parade of voluptuous metal that dares you not to adore it. A newcomer to this ritual, I wandered about, mouth open like a schoolboy at his first wet t-shirt contest. Looking at the Black Shadows, Brutales, and Benellis, the carbon-fibered sport bikes and chromed-out cruisers, I imagined everyone there was more committed to motorcycling than I could ever hope to be.

As a 50-plus executive at the end of his useful life, looking to rekindle what remains of his daredevil DNA strands, I had made the only logical decision to save my soul: buy another motorcycle. My parents still disapprove—but then, as I finally live away from home, they don’t have to know their son is really a hooligan on two wheels.

The Rock Store - Kawasaki Ninja

I consorted with the other miscreants at the Rock Store, hoping their wisdom and mojo would rub off. One 60+ veteran looked quizzically at me as I likened the motorcycle to the horse, and countered with his notion of a day ride as a 180 mph blast through Big Sur. No wonder his engine died at 18,000 miles.

“Motorcycling is the great leveler,” opined a professional acquaintance of mine. When I look at his racing trophies and listen to him describe sliding both wheels around Laguna Seca, I wonder. When he reveals that the semi-retired tycoons in custom leathers with race-ready exotics are, contrary to my assumption, “painfully slow”, I wonder how I could possibly keep up with him on my showroom-fresh V-twin throwback.

Memories of The Great Escape Triumph leap across barbed wire barriers and multiple viewings of Mike Hailwood and Wayne Rainey on the DVD player don’t make your figure-8s any cleaner while you struggle through the MSF Rider Course. No matter how much you think you know about motorcycling, there’s always that sand in the corner of a curve coming out of a parking lot that can make you lose the front end at less than five clicks on the speedometer.

So, perhaps my friend is right. Motorcycling is the great leveler. Whether we ride Harleys or Hondas, Big Dogs or Road Stars, we are all engaged in the discovery of ourselves each time we mount up. Motorcycling is the measurement of our character, for no two motorcycles and their riders are the same. Everything we do on a motorcycle is a consequent action that has a directly proportionate result. Few things demand more faith, in fate and the marvel of gyroscopic effect. Nothing else combines the ego-shattering Zen moment with such a fleeting pleasure of getting it right.

Ed Savko, 1925-2012

Vern Savko, 1928-2021

Rock Store

30354 W. Mulholland Highway

Cornell, CA 91301