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Columbia City’s Favorite Barbers - Circa 1908

The Gardner and LaPorte Barber Shop in the first of several locations in Columbia City. | RVHS Photo: 1993.01.0049

The earliest reference we have regarding Columbia City’s barbers, Gardner and LaPorte, is 1907. Their partnership was listed in Carey Summer’s “Centennial History of Columbia City and Rainier Valley” as a candy and cigar shop, a pool hall, as well as a barbershop. The location was listed as 4866 Rainier Avenue, just south of the alley’s entrance to Rainier between Edmunds and Ferdinand Streets. 

This photo of their shop was taken in 1908 according to the handwritten note on the back of the photo. It was donated to the Columbia Pioneers by Menzo LaPorte. 

It wasn’t the average business partnership as Menzo C. LaPorte, probably unknown to him, was to become the son-in-law of Lee Gardner. Menzo’s birth date was 1891 making him 17 years of age when the photo was taken. 

Lee Gardner’s daughter Ruth was born in 1901 making her 10 years younger than Menzo. They were probably married around 1920. Ruth and Menzo enjoyed a long and happy marridge, raising one son, “Bud”. 

They were very active in the Columbia Congregational Church, Menzo serving as a trustee and Ruth singing in the choir. She had the most beautiful soprano voice and regularly soloed at church services and other occasions.

Ruth also worked as a sales clerk for my dad and I in the giftware department at Grayson & Brown Hardware and Furniture Co. She was very attractive and had an outgoing personality that made her well suited for her job. Everyone liked her and she seemed to know everyone. 

We did a lot of gift wrapping with our large gift department, and was noted for the beautiful packages we turned out, and at no cost to the customer. Ruth’s only problem was she didn’t have the knack for gift wrapping and she knew it. She did a terrible job so we usually arranged to have one of the other employees offer to take over.

Menzo was a very handsome man and had an unbelievable head of curly hair. In his younger days he had a reputation for being pretty wild.  Being a very husky youth he intimidated the Columbia City marshal who at that time was Freeman Parker, a very slight man who would go out of his way to avoid dealing with Menzo. On one occasion Free fell asleep in his desk chair at the jail and awoke to find himself and his chair inside the locked jail cell. Menzo and his friends were the guilty culprits.

Menzo spent his life as a barber in Columbia City and loved every minute of it. He donated many photographs of the town’s early days to the “Pioneers of Columbia City” of which he was a member. His memories of those days supplied much of the printed history we have in our files today. 

In the photo above if you look close you can see several corn cob pipes and cigars for sale in the lower shelf of the display cabinet. The second shelf looks like it is filled with candy for sale. Above the display cabinet are the shelves used by the Supply Laundry Company that used their shop for their daily laundry drop off and pick up point.

Lee Gardner is at left in the photo, standing behind his customer. Menzo is at the right with his customer. Beside the center empty chair can be seen an antique electric hair clipper supported on a metal stand. It consists of an electric motor on the stand with the power cord going down to the floor. Instead of the motor being part of the clipper as they are today, attached to the motor is a flexible cable about four feet long that is  attached and supplies the rotation to operate the clipper.

This is the of several locations for their barber shop. In 1917 they moved to 4870 Rainier. In the 1920’s the shop was moved to the next block south, at 4906 Rainier. It was in the late twenties when Menzo took over the shop and in 1929 he built a new brick building next door at 4910 Rainer, next to the alley.  He had four barber chairs, a shoe shine stand with an attendant and a beauty shop in the rear with an entrance from the alley, run by a very attractive beautician. He stayed at this location until he retired. 

The barber in the number 2 chair was named Bob and I can’t remember his last name. He was with Menzo for many years, into the late sixties at least. 

Menzo was the main barber in Columbia and I’m sure he was the barber for my great-grandfather, D. C. Brown, until he passed away in 1924. I know he also cut my granddad Will Brown’s hair, my dad’s hair and mine when I had some to cut.  

When I was in grade school I remember getting orders every month or so from my mom to get my hair cut at his shop. One time however I decided to go to his competition, a barber on Ferdinand Street, about a half block west of Rainier, because he charged 25 cents while Menzo’s price was 35 cents. With the extra 10 cents I bought two nickel grab bags of candy at Nick’s Confectionery, hoping for a prize.  

When I got home that night my mom asked where I had gotten my hair cut? I didn’t think it looked that bad. How did she know that it wasn’t Menzo?  I was grounded for a week.  It was years later that I learned that my grandmother, Edith Brown , who lived across the street from the cut rate barber, happened to be looking out her window when I went into the shop.

My two boys, Dean and Paul, were born in 1951 and 1954 and when it came time for their first haircut, of course we had to have home movies of the event and Menzo was delighted to be the star of the show.

After cutting hair for five generations of Rainier Valley residents, he passed away in 1972, five years after his wife Ruth.


Days Gone By 

South District Journal 8/2/2000

By Buzz Anderson


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