Although they had never met before Thursday evening, it seemed as if Bill Ware, founder of Tonsorial Parlor on Main Street, and Dr. Willie Morrow, founder of California Curl on Olive Street, had known each other for years.
The two Lemon Grove barbers kicked off the ’s 34th annual History Alive lecture series with Although they shared their very different stories with attendees, they often spoke to each other, sometimes finishing each other’s thoughts.
Born in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Morrow came to San Diego, where his uncle lived and worked as a barber, to attend barber school.
In 1962, Morrow said he carved the first pick comb in the United States for the Afro hairdo. He wrote the first barber textbook for African-American hair in 1965. A few years later, Morrow was contracted to train military barbers, beauticians and cosmetic counter personnel worldwide.
Morrow also wrote a Black barber and beauty history book, 400 Years Without a Comb, and made a film with the same name. In addition to other books and research papers, Morrow, who now works in the manufacturing business, has created and patented a number of hair products and tools.
Morrow, 71, explained he began creating products after accidentally burning a woman’s hair with relaxer overseas. Because he did not have quick access to water, Morrow said he could not readily get the product out.
“I will never forget it,” he said. “That’s what happened, and I burned that lady’s hair.”
Ware joked, “I bet she remembers it, too.”
Morrow, who said “every experience is a lesson,” makes a variety of natural products that are softer on hair today. The entrepreneur also established the San Diego Monitor and the first live black radio station for San Diego.
San Diego native Ware also trained in San Diego. He decided to become a barber after he got out of the Army. Ware worked at five different shops, with his last being Tonsorial Parlor.
Ware, 83, explained when he finished barber school in 1954, he was painting his mother’s house when someone called him and offered him his first job as a barber. He began working with Stan Smith on Broadway.
“He liked beer, and so did I,” Ware said, which made everyone laugh. “We shouldn’t have worked together.”
Ware established Tonsorial Parlor in the late 1970s. The brick building was an old sheriff’s substation.
Today, Ware is retired, and Morrow only cuts his friends’ hair, not for money, “just to talk.”
“The greatest thing about the barber chair is that a barber ends up with about four or five PhDs,” Morrow said.
Ware added, “You know a little bit about everything. You learn.”
Ware agreed that “the people” were the best thing about being a barber.
“You want to learn something … somebody will come in that knows something about it,” he said.
Ware explained that one of his clients told him he needed to “do something” about the sunlight above his parlor’s front door. About a month later, the client came back with a stained glass window he created. The window, which has images of a lemon, sheers, razor and mug, is one of the few items Ware held onto after his parlor closed.
Passionate about his career, Ware said he would be more careful with his right shoulder, when he was asked if he would change one thing.
“I’m 83,” a teary-eyed Ware said. “I still would like to cut hair.”
He then chuckled and said he cut too many flat tops when Historical President Helen Ofield asked what happened to his shoulder.
Morrow, who encouraged his new friend to “get back in,” said his right arm was broken in three places after he fell on his 60th birthday. Luckily, it hasn’t troubled him since.
At the end of the lecture, both speakers were thanked and presented with lifetime memberships to the Lemon Grove Historical Society.