In the chair with city's first barbers

‘Tonsorial artists’ also offered shaves, hot baths

all photos courtesy/whatcom museum of history and art

Inside a Bellingham barber shop, circa 1905, featuring requisite display of personal shaving mugs in the cabinet at right and a room with bathtub(s) located beyond the partition in the back. The three barber chairs are all T. A. Kochs’ "Garden City" models.

Jeff Jewel
   In 1908, a local newspaper revealed that Jim Inks, a barber in the Sunset Building, had the oldest continually operating business in Bellingham.
   Inks came to Whatcom back in 1882 with the "mercantile ambition" and opened a general store. As he later explained, there was "nothing doing in the business way, but a lot of fellers used to come around wanting a hair cut or to be shaved." Admitting that he knew "nothing about either one," Inks started barbering in the back room with a chair fashioned from a fir log. He soon disposed of his lingering retail stock to take up the razor and shears full time.
   The railroad boom brought a new wave of barbers to tend to the bay cities’ increasing population. Sehome suddenly had two barber shops in 1889, as James H. Rivers offered "Shaving, Haircutting and Shampooing" and the multiple-chair Hofercamp & Co. declared themselves "Tonsorial Artists."
   Over in Whatcom, Cooper’s Club Shaving Parlor on 13th Street (W. Holly) claimed it was the "Best Equipped and Most Elaborate Shaving Parlor in the Northwest" with "everything strictly first-class," guaranteeing only "experienced workingmen employed" in the application of "clean linen and delicate perfumery." On the south side, barber John Benson crowed in 1891 that he had set up the "Finest Parlors on the Bay" with both "Hot and Cold Baths" in the fabulous new Fairhaven Hotel.
   Elsie Baker introduced the skills of a professional beautician to Bellingham Bay by 1891. New Whatcom women, for the first time, could get a coddled coiffure on Holly Street just like the ones available in San Francisco. Miss Baker’s Hair and Cosmetic Parlors afforded "Waves, Bangs, Frizzes, Switches, Chignons, Hair Chains, Ladies’ and Gent’s Wigs, the latest style of Hair Dressing and Cutting, Shampooing neatly done, Bleaching and Dyeing a specialty." Such big-city amenities, however, were an early casualty of the economic calamity that defined the mid-1890s.
   The business of Fairhaven’s barbering brothers, John and Richard Sharpless, survived the 1890s’ Depression despite having the worst possible surname for men who made their living with a straight razor. In 1901, the Sharpless brothers established a new tonsorial emporium with expanded bathing facilities and a billiard room in the basement of the Nelson Block.
   Men showed great loyalty to the barber who gave them a smooth (and nick-free) shave. A shop’s regular could buy his own shaving mug for individual use whenever he came in. The successful barber had rows of private shaving mugs, each decorated with the owner’s name in fancy lettering, displayed proudly in an ornate cabinet above the hand basin. It was a tradition that lasted into the 1920s.
   While the straight-razor shave is still remembered, the fact that barbers once offered baths is all but forgotten. Partitioned cubicles with bathtubs in the back of barber shops were common in an era of rooming houses that only had a privy down the hall. Working men arriving downtown from the forest, railroad or waterfront were in ripe need of hygiene and the barber shop could provide complete transformation with shave, haircut, bath and heady fragrance.
   Further, many Bellingham barbers had a contract with Pacific Steam Laundry, on Ellis Street, whereby a patron’s clothes could be picked up, washed, pressed and returned before they were ready to get out of the tub!

In 1905, Frank Gounyu’s Horseshoe Shaving Parlor and U.R. Next Barber Shop, 912 Harris Ave., served the men working on Fairhaven’s waterfront.

    Stepping forth renewed, a shiny gent might well be ready to "refresh the inner man." Some tonsorial parlors made this incredibly convenient by operating in tandem with the saloon next door and a back or side exit doubled as an entrance straight into the barroom. George Farnung’s Lighthouse Barber Shop had this arrangement with The Horseshoe Saloon at 102 E. Holly, which included a shoeshine and cigar stand as well. Likewise, Doc & Dick’s Place at 123 W. Holly was connected to Alonzo Greenwood’s Baths. George Pierce’s barber shop worked in conjunction with D. K. Butler’s Sideboard Saloon in the Terminal Building at 11th and Harris.

Oliver O’Ree at his OK Shop, 218 W. Holly, in 1905. A barber pole’s symbolism dates back to the Middle Ages, when the ancient profession included bloodletting.

    Barber Oliver O’Ree was one of Bellingham’s first black business owners. His OK Shop at 218 W. Holly had a side door to the adjoining Alhambra, a saloon run by Henry Casebolt and William Gregory. O’Ree moved to New Whatcom from Canada in the mid-1890s, but left in 1910 following passage of a local prohibition law that closed the Alhambra and all other Bellingham “thirst emporiums.”
   Early 20th century barbers had an arsenal of dressings, waters and preparations for the scalp and face. Hair tonics, cranberry red or iridescent blue in color, with intriguing names like Sea Foam, Florida Water, Bay Rum and Tiger Rub, were displayed in elegant glass bottles. Most tonics were straightforward grooming aids though some blatantly claimed they could prevent or reverse balding. For best results these were to be applied directly with a thorough scalp massage.
   It was later discovered that wood alcohol-based tonics, developed in the 1890s to prevent hair loss, actually had the opposite effect.
   Among the ubiquitous shampoos, dyes, powders, colognes and shaving soaps, there was lavender and lilac-scented Witch Hazel, Extract of White Rose, Brilliantine Jelly for the beard and Hungarian Wax for the mustache. Barbers were even armed with concoctions to combat head lice and ringworm.
   By 1902 there were 14 barber shops in Whatcom and seven in Fairhaven. In October of that year, a barbers’ union was established in the Bellingham Bay towns to set standards of sanitation, safety and pricing. A shave set you back 15 cents, a haircut 25 cents.
   As well, 1902 saw the return of a beauty parlor to Holly Street. With the economy improving, May H. Helland opened a salon in Room 19 of the new Clover Building. Helland provided hair dressing, manicuring, scalp and facial treatments, even electrolysis. In 1904, Helland’s moved to 321 W. Holly and three years later the business was sold to Lennie Roscoe, who renamed it Roscoe Hair Dressing Parlors.
   Bessie Switzer worked a chair at Roscoe’s before joining Jessie Lee, in 1910, with the founding of Manx Beauty Parlors in the Clover Building. For the next 40 years, Jessie Lee ran the Manx Salon of Beauty at various downtown locations, including the Leopold Hotel.
   Another pair of barbering brothers was Charles and George Farnung, who initially were competitors.
   For about three years, each brother had his own shop on an opposing side of E. Holly, directly across the street from the other. Yet, by 1911, the Farnungs had teamed up to ‘co-chair’ the Principal Barber Shop in the Alaska Building, which was to remain a Bellingham landmark at 216 E. Holly for the next four decades.

Barber shops were no longer just for men by the time this photo was taken in 1926, as the seven-chair National Barber Shop accommodated women and children as customers. James D. McDonald is the barber at right.

    James D. McDonald worked for the Farnungs before starting his own shop in 1915. McDonald founded the National Barber Shop in the Bellingham National Bank Building in 1926, while also managing the beauty parlor of J. B. Wahl’s department store on W. Holly. He established the McDonald Barber and Beauty College in 1938, at 1232 Commercial St., which continued (under different ownership) well into the 1980s as McDonald’s School of Cosmetology at 208 W. Holly.
   Indeed, many Bellingham barbers had lengthy and admired careers. Fairhaven barber Walter Chapman is still fondly remembered by old-timers even though Chapman passed away in 1939 and his shop at 1105 Harris Ave. was torn down long ago.
   Grant Reed cut hair at his Fountain Barber Shop, at 2402 Meridian, from 1927 to 1973. Jim Inks, Whatcom’s first barber, died in 1929 at the age of 68 having never retired from the profession he chanced upon 47 years earlier.



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