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ORANGE COUNTY : SUMMER SPECIAL : A Cut Above the Others : Lolo Saldana's Barber Shop Is Tailor-Made for Island Sports Fans

Fifth in a series on recreation and outdoor life in Orange County during the summer.

July 22, 1987|STEVE LOWERY | Times Staff Writer

In other places, at other times, the sight of the town baker, standing just inside the barber shop doorway, belting out the French national anthem might seem, oh, a bit odd.

Lolo Saldana, barber and the best known name to the natives of Catalina Island this side of water, listens without skipping a clip.

"Hey, that's nice. What is that, Italian?"

The baker, Glenn Finney, a former Santa Ana resident, informs Lolo that it's Bastille Day, the French national holiday. Lolo nods and asks Finney if he is going to attend the big game the next evening.

Finney smiles and makes his exit.

The big game, to be played between the Exchange Club and The Galleon restaurant, is to determine the regular-season champion of the Avalon Kid Baseball League, which Saldana helped found in his barber shop in 1961. The league comprises six teams and 87 kids between age 8 and the eighth grade. Lolo said he decided to call it Kid baseball so there would be no doubts about who the league was intended to serve.

"We do everything for the kids," he said. "We don't want anyone to forget that."

Lolo has been a barber on Catalina since 1955. For about the same time, his shop has been Avalon's unofficial meeting place, unofficial historical society, unofficial disseminator of sports information, sports trivia and sports arguments.

"Whenever I'm in Avalon, I'll stop by three maybe four times a day just to shoot the bull," said Steve Smith, a Huntington Beach lawyer who was reared on Catalina. "Most of the time you talk about sports stuff, but you can find out or hear just about anything there."

The shop itself is fashioned in early clutter. Placement of an object depends less on where it will look good than where it will fit. Town and Country has yet to make a call.

Celebrity photos (John Wayne, Lee Trevino, Tom Lasorda) rub elbows with family shots, including the Saldana family on "The Family Feud" TV game show--they won more than $10,000.

There is a map of the United States, another of the world, schedules for every sport league on the island, awards for community service and countless team photos dating 26 years.

But Lolo's wonderful world of local color owes little to the surroundings. What makes the place, The Place, is a rare commodity known as conversation.

"I really miss Lolo's when I'm on the mainland," Smith said. "You just aren't going to find a place like Lolo's anywhere around here (Southern California).

According to Lolo and his brother Frank Saldana, who shares the cutting duties, everything is up for discussion. Sports, politics, sports, entertainment, sports, history, sports and sports.

"We just don't allow anyone to gossip," Frank said. "We don't need that stuff in here."

Frank is an assistant coach for the El Galleon team. Lolo's son, Lolo Jr., is the head coach. Frank's stand on gossip may be commendable, but his stand on just about everything else is usually a mystery during baseball season.

"This guy asked me the other day what I thought of this Ollie North business," Frank said. "I told him I can't bother with that stuff, man, I got my baseball team to think of. You know we got this big game coming up. The people in L.A. have the Lakers and the Dodgers, here we have Kid baseball."

Frank has a booming voice, which he throws out to virtually every passer-by.

"How you doing? . . . Hey, not so fast on the bike. . . . You going to be at the game? . . . How's the wife?"

Frank still aspires to his teen-age dream--singing opera.

"Frank took singing lessons in Hollywood," Lolo said. "He's got an excellent voice."

Lolo Saldana always had an excellent swing. Golf swing. In 1951, he became one of only two island natives to win the Bobby Jones amateur tournament. The tournament was held on Catalina from 1931 to 1955.

He had a 73.2 stroke average when he was the No. 1 man at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Lolo originally opened the barber shop as a means to earn some extra money to get him set on the professional tour. But this happened, then that. He met his wife Lidia and they started a family.

Lolo and Lidia have four children. In 1983, their son Gilbert became the mayor of Avalon at the age of 23. He was the youngest mayor in the United States at the time.

There are an estimated 75 Saldanas living on Catalina, all descendants of Lolo's parents, Martin and Margarita, who came to the island from Mexico in 1919 and where married in 1920. They had 11 children.

In virtually every walk of life on the island, you'll find a Saldana. Gilbert is still a city councilman, Lidia is the postmaster. There is a Saldana Taco Shop, a Saldana working in the bank, another one at the high school.

"Try walking 10 feet around here without running into a Saldana," said Doug Propst, president of the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy, an environmentalist organization that owns 86% of the land on the island. "You can't do it. They're everywhere."

If you include the steady stream of kids who make their way in the barber shop, then Lolo's extended family includes just about everyone.

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