By Barbara Wood
Special to the Almanac
When Louis Arenas opened his barbershop in downtown Menlo Park, he wanted it to be an old-fashioned type of place, where customers could feel as if they were returning to another era when they settled in an antique barber chair for a shave or a haircut.
Of course, the opening of Golden Shears, on April 7, 1963, half a century ago, actually was in another era.
While Golden Shears still feels like a portal into the past, about a decade ago, a few changes were made. The antique chairs in the waiting area had to be replaced, and the original flocked wallpaper had to come down.
The barber chairs are still antiques, though, dated around 1890, Mr. Arenas says. The Santa Cruz Avenue shop also boasts elaborate oval gold-framed mirrors and a checkered floor. Straight razor shaves are still available. Old photos, including several taken soon after the shop opened, have a place of honor in the front windows and on interior walls. "I try to make it authentic as it would be in the 1890s," Mr. Arenas says.
"The shop hasn't been changed," Mr. Arenas says. "Downtown Menlo Park has changed, but not here."
Not that he dislikes change. "The improvements that they have done on the street since 1963 have been very comfortable and very useful and very decorative," Mr. Arenas says.
Golden Shears, located on downtown Santa Cruz Avenue near Crane Street, will belatedly celebrate its 50th anniversary this month, with refreshments and live mariachi music on Saturday, May 18, from 1 to 3 p.m. "The whole town's invited if they want to come in," says Mr. Arenas "This is going to be a big one."
In addition to the replacement of the old waiting-room chairs and the flocked wallpaper, there have actually been a few other changes in the shop over the years. Two years after Golden Shears opened, despite the old-time feel, it was considered innovative enough to garner front-page coverage in the Dec. 16, 1965, San Jose Mercury. "Men's Beauty Salon a Smashing Success," the headline says, with the story and photos detailing services such as hair coloring, straightening, facials, manicures, shoe shines, saunas and massages, as well as the hairpieces then offered by the shop.
However, Mr. Arenas says, the demand for plain old haircuts soon became so great that he removed the sauna and massage tables and added more barber chairs.
Ever since, Mr. Arenas says, the shop's eight chairs (seven of them leased to other hair professionals) have been in steady use. "I have been very fortunate to have the volume of clientele," he says. "Very steady and very loyal."
He says his staff has also been "very stable and productive."
"I could never have done it alone," he says.
The shop has both male and female customers, and two female stylists. The hair professionals who lease chairs in the shop have been there for between five years (Woody Jackson) and 41 years (Wayne Slocum). Other Golden Shears haircutters are Sam Valero, Dwight Stark, Yvonne Soliz, George Guiterrez, and Valerie Jamison.
Mr. Arenas, 83, still works four days a week in the shop.
Mr. Arenas grew up on a farm in the San Joaquin Valley, but he comes from a family of barbers, with four of his five brothers also in the profession, as well as nine other family members, including his granddaughter.
He took up barbering after serving in the military in Germany. "I started thinking I'm not going back to the farm -- I know everything about farming. I want something different," Mr. Arenas says.
He attended barber college in Fresno and then moved to San Jose, where he worked for two years before opening his own shop in Sunnyvale and then his "full-service" shop in Menlo Park.
Mr. Arenas says many of his customers, or their offspring, as many as 30 or 40 percent, have been getting their haircuts there since the shop opened.
Those loyal customers include a few well-known names, many of them connected with the San Francisco 49ers. Dwight Clark used to bring his children in for haircuts, and Jim Plunkett, Harris Barton, John Brodie and Matt Hazeltine were also customers, Golden Shears barbers say. Y.A. Tittle is a long-timer who "still comes in and gets his trim," Mr. Arenas says.
Other longtime customers include the late John "Jack" Beckett, who worked in San Francisco for Transamerica and is considered responsible for building the iconic pyramid building, and Mervin Morris, the original owner of Mervyn's, Mr. Arenas says.
Another long-time customer is Harry Cook, a former U.S. Geological Survey geologist once profiled in the San Francisco Chronicle as the "Indiana Jones of the USGS." Mr. Cook, who lives in Redwood Shores, has been coming to Golden Shears since he moved to the Peninsula in 1974. For nearly 40 years, Mr. Cook says, Golden Shears barber Wayne Slocum has cut his red hair and beard.
"We just hit it off," he says, when asked why he's continued going back for so many decades. "He has seen me through two divorces and I'm on my third marriage now," Mr. Cook says. "Wayne knows more about me than anybody."
In fact, Mr. Cook says, he considers his monthly visits to Golden Shears a sort of therapy. "I'm in the therapy chair for 30 minutes and it's $40," he says.
Apparently the Golden Shears staff feels Mr. Cook is family, as well. Louis keeps a copy of that Chronicle article about him "and once in a while he'll pull it out and show it to some of his customers," Mr. Cook says.
"I just hope it keeps going as long as possible," Mr. Cook says of Golden Shears. "It's a landmark."
As far as Mr. Arenas is concerned, Mr. Cook has nothing to worry about. "I'm not planning retirement," he said. "If I knew how to do nothing, I would retire tomorrow," he says, but "I'm still 90 percent healthy so I'll stick around for a while."
Barbara Wood is a freelance writer, photographer and gardener from Woodside, and the author of the Almanac's "Dispatches From the Home Front" column for more than 20 years.