YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Around the Valley

Keeping in Touch With Roots at Styles Ville


PACOIMA — Come on a Saturday, says Freddie Carter, the man who has owned Styles Ville for four decades.

That's when you'll find a row of eight barbers, buzzing, snipping and shaping heads. That's when you'll breathe in the musky spice of peppery oils, hair tonic, after-shave and an incense called Black Love. That's when you'll hear the clamor of loud talk and quiet whispers, of dominoes slapped down by men playing in the back, and the slice and whir of clippers. Bzzzzz, slash, slash, slash. Bzzzzz.

Styles Ville Barber Shop and Beauty Salon on Van Nuys Boulevard is the oldest black-owned barbershop in the San Fernando Valley, said Carter, 68. It's a bit weathered, but comfortable--kind of like your favorite pair of shoes.

The shop was once part of the Valley's thriving--albeit small and segregated--black community. Now Styles Ville sits in an area that has become almost entirely Latino. Yet to many blacks in today's Valley, Styles Ville is an anchor that keeps them tied to cultural roots.

"Thank the Lord for him staying here," said a man known as Warren T., on a recent Saturday. "To the people who come to Styles Ville, this here is ground zero. For me, it's the center of black life in the Valley, a place where I can just plain hang."

Carter opened Styles Ville in 1958, when he was 28. Back then, there were scores of black-owned businesses along Van Nuys Boulevard in Pacoima. The Valley was heavily segregated and would remain so until the 1970s.

For the waves of blacks who came here to work in aerospace and other industries, Pacoima was just about the only place they could buy or rent a home. They did so in housing developments like the Joe Louis Tracts, which butted against Van Nuys Boulevard and provided a steady stream of customers for the grocery stores, restaurants, nightclubs and barbershops along the black Valley's main street.

It has all changed. Today, Styles Ville is surrounded by stores called El Azteca, Pollos en Chiappeneco, Ramirez Bookkeeping, Hispanic Connection and Mi Familiera Reyes Hair Shoppe.

"I look at them as my new friends. It's a cycle, that's all," said Carter, a wire-thin man with dark eyes and long, manicured nails. "Hispanics were here, then we came in, now the blacks have sold almost all the businesses. Most of the blacks who owned things around here are, well, you know . . . they died. I was a lot younger than most of them when I started here."


The original Styles Ville was across the street from its current location. But as his trade grew, Carter in 1977 bought The Dew Drop Inn, a little jukebox joint across the boulevard that played Chuck Berry and Little Richard tunes, and converted it into the present day barbershop. He renovated the place, putting in mirrors, sinks, a new floor, barber chairs and a wall that separated men from women. In those days, Carter said, the barrier was necessary because state regulations forbade men and women from getting their hair done in the same place by licensed barbers.

"Don't know why that was," said Carter's wife, Ollie, 67, who retired from the shop just three weeks ago. "Was that way until a few years ago, when they made it unisex. It was about time."

The law changed, but the wall remains. It'd be too much to take down, the Carters said.

Nine barbers cut men's hair. And there is Nella, Carter's 49-year-old daughter. She runs the place since he retired and works mostly on women's hair.

Some barbers are in their 30s, including Nella's son, Gregory. The oldest is in his 50s. Most of them grew up here, said Fred Carruthers between short puffs on a cigarette on a break outside the shop. He's been working at Styles Ville for the longest stretch, nearly 20 years.

The place is mostly mirror, or at least it seems so. Six-foot mirrors stretch back deep along the walls of the shop. Young men like to vainly check themselves out in the mirrors. Older ones cringe at their bald spots.

Ribboning the mirrors are hundreds of pictures of the store's favorite sons and daughters. People, like former USC football star Anthony Davis, who made their way out of the Pacoima area and hit it big or others who came from somewhere else, and in Carter's words "made something of themselves." Now they trip down to Pacoima to keep in touch with their roots.

Carter's personal favorite is jazz great Billy Eckstine, who used to drive his vintage 1920s roadster to the shop from his Encino home. The two became good friends, as many Styles Ville customers do with their barber.

"You get on the same wavelength," Carruthers said. "When a man's been coming here 20 years, you know the highlights of his life--and the troubles."

Los Angeles Times Articles