By Douglas R. Pricer
The clearest view of history is often provided by looking at the people and their ordinary tasks of daily life. How people lived, bought or grew their food, traveled, and even where they got their hair cut offers interesting insight into the past.
In our fair town, one interesting establishment was the Iowa Barber Shop founded by Walter G. Osborn. Around 1900, Walter, a widower, moved from Iowa (like so many early Long Beach residents) with his young son Frank. By 1902, he had established the Iowa Barber Shop at 144 Pine Avenue where he was joined by barbers James Duty and Oliver M. Moore.
Walter’s shop became a hub of social activity, offering a place for people to gather, gossip about their hometowns, and get a haircut and shave for two bits (25 cents). First came a hot towel facial, then hot lather applied with a shaving brush (the best ones had Ivory handles with Silvertip badger bristles) followed by a flawless shave with a straight razor honed on a riding horse leather strop. I can still remember the soft flip-flop sound made by the white smocked artists who smelled like Bay Rum aftershave and Jeris hair tonic. That was, and still is, a wistful memory to old guys like me who often watched their dads being coifed.
By the time Walter retired and his son Frank took over, the shop had moved to 231 East Third Street opposite the Union Stage Depot. By the 1950s the shop had become a Long Beach institution, patronized by untold numbers of Buckeyes and other prominent residents.
When Frank passed away in 1962, the renowned Iowa Barber Shop closed. Ken Larkey, the founder of the Heritage Museum, saw the historical value of this once landmark business. He acquired two of the vintage chairs and other artifacts which he displayed at the Heritage Museum at 411 East Third Street until it closed in 1990 and all went into storage.
Recently our president and curator, Marshall Pumphrey, struck a deal with Louie and Leo of the Esquire Barber Shop at 4240 Atlantic Avenue to display the original chairs and other tools of the trade. Circa 1915-1920s, the steel and ivory chairs are still in excellent condition according to Mike Ippoliti, curator of the National Barber Museum and Hall of Fame in Canal Winchester, Ohio.
So if you need a shave or haircut, stop in to see this nostalgic piece of history. While Louie or Leo takes care of you, if you listen hard enough you’ll hear the soft flip-flop of the razor strop and smell the Bay Rum and Jeris and be reminded of the days when two bits bought a man a little luxury in an era long ago.
Esquire Barber Shop is located at 4240 Atlantic Avenue and is open 7 days a week. Call (562) 612- 3801 for an appointment.