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Shear Tradition

2 Ventura Barbers Have Been Taking a Little Off the Sides for Half a Century

June 19, 1997|BRENDA LOREE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

VENTURA — Phil Marquez first picked up the shears as a professional barber not long after World War II at 12 W. Main St. in what was then known as Tigertown--for all the gambling and drinking and carousing of oil-field roustabouts.

It was 1946, and Marquez literally offered a shave-and-a-haircut for six bits. At least he thinks that's how much it cost.

"To tell the truth, I don't remember how much I charged for both back then," Marquez said. "But I do remember it was 50 cents [four bits] for just a haircut."

Given that it was 51 years ago, he can be forgiven for a bit of long-term memory loss.

Fifty-one years and some 100,000 haircuts later, give or take a few thousand, Marquez still stands in the same spot and still "takes a little off the sides" every day, although the view out his shop's door across Main Street is now of Vons grocery store instead of the Green Mill Ballroom.

Just a few blocks from Marquez's tiny salon, Marvin Jones started cutting hair in his dad's barbershop a few years later, for a dollar. Jones Barber Shop was then known as the "101 Barber Shop"--because back then Thompson Boulevard was also Highway 101--the Ventura Freeway was but a gleam in a traffic engineer's eye.

Jones' shop, which he runs today with his sister, still inhabits the same white wood frame house with red trim that it did then. A candy-striped barber pole--"My sister made it"--fashioned from PVC pipe and red tape, remains by the entrance, along with a homemade sign: Haircuts $7.

Neither Jones nor Marquez has budged from his original spot, while trendy hair salons have come and gone. Their tools remain the same as in the 1940s--scissors and comb--in a blow-dried world of mousse and styling gel.

On the wall of Jones Barber Shop is the original Wildroot Hair Tonic poster that Marvin's father slapped up in 1948. It's no campy reproduction. "It was always here," he said, "since I was a kid."

Jones still presides over the same Berninghaus barber chairs that held his first customers. "They're the same two that were here when Dad opened in 1948--and I think they were 50 years old when my dad got them."

*

So what's new in either shop? Posed that question, Marquez shrugged. "Not much," he said.

Jones offered the same answer. And perhaps not much has changed for these two men, who have been observing the world from the same square yard of floor space for half a century.

Indeed everything seems the same, the tools, the chairs, the type of haircuts and even many of the customers.

Which is why they keep coming back.

"Once Marvin cuts it, he knows what I want," said Louis Gaines, who "drives in from Oxnard so I won't have to say how I want my hair cut."

"Quarter of an inch?" Jones asked Don Nitsche of Ventura, who has been patronizing Jones' shop since 1990. "No, make it an eighth all over today," answered Nitsche. Jones got out his ruler.

"Most people say, 'Just cut it,' " Marquez said. In his shop, a Regulator clock mounted high on the rear wall "was here when 'Heinie' Sanchez was the barber. He got it from the old Anacapa Hotel in downtown Ventura, when he was the barber there."

You might say Marquez fell into his profession, while Jones was truly born into his.

"My mom and dad met in barber college in Los Angeles," Jones recalled. "I grew up in this barbershop."

*

Marquez was a young medic with the 8th Air Force stationed in England when he first "took a little off around the ears" of his first customer.

"When I went into the Air Force, I threw a pair of clippers in my bag," Marquez reminisced as he attended to longtime customer Allyn Sattler.

"One night in the barracks, I said, 'Who wants a haircut?' I remember Kelly, a little Irishman, stood up. 'Me,' he said. Then I started doing more trims. When I got pretty good at it, I started charging 50 cents.

"When we were coming home in '46 on the Queen Mary, I got an old egg crate and cut a guy's hair in the restroom. 'I wanna look good when I get home,' the guy said. When I was finished, the guy looks in the mirror and says, 'Just like downtown New Yawk.'

"And I looked up at the doorway, and there was a line of guys. Everyone wanted to look good when they got home."

After the war, Marquez went to Moler Barber College in Los Angeles, returned to his hometown and went to work for Paul "Heinie" Sanchez. Sanchez eventually sold out to Marquez and opened up a pool hall a few blocks up Main Street.

So, five decades later, what was the oldest thing in Marquez's barbershop? "Me," said the 82-year-old barber. That same instant, 77-year-old Sattler pointed his finger at Marquez and said, "Him."

*

Sattler, who went to Ventura High School with Marquez and got his first trim from him in 1946, allowed that as a barber, "He might be getting a little better."

Asked if he got a discount for such long-term patronage--Marquez now charges $10--Sattler said, "I should get my haircuts for half price since I have half as much hair and Phil has half as much work."

"But I have to look for your hair now, though," retorted Marquez.

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