BARRIS BELL SHOP
After establishing a name in the Custom world in the Barris Compton Ave shop in Los Angeles, the shop was relocated in Bell for a short period. Very little is known about this shop, lets take a look at what we know.
The Barris name had become famous in Los Angeles, California and even in the whole USA when the shop was located on Compton Ave in Los Angeles from 1946 to late 1948, perhaps early 1949. In this CCC-Article we have shared all the details about this famous and well known Barris shop. We know that getting well known in the business lead to a lot more customers for Barris in 1948, and how the shop needed to be expended. So a new larger location was much needed, and found at the East Florence Avenue in Bell, a suburb from Los Angeles. The new shop could house 4 cars easy in the main shop and there was another building that could house another two cars. And besides the larger shop space there was a huge parking lot that came with it. And with the perfect SoCal weather that was ideal since most of the heavy work on the cars was done outside.
George Barris his personal 1942-47 Cadillac convertible was used on the E. Florance Ave Bell address business card. From the David E.Zivot collection. On the top the names Barris, Hector and John are listed in similar size fonts. The business name is KUSTOM AUTOMOBILES
For George and Sam it was going back to Bell, since it all had started in Bell in 1944 when George Barris opened his first body shop on Imperial Highway in Bell. So far we have not been able to find anything out about this first shop. No photos, not even the actual address. There is a lot of mystery around this first shop where George Started and Where Sam joined him in 1946. It is strange that the second shop in Bell where the Barris were located from late 1948 till 1950 also has a lot of mystery’s while there is a lot more known about the shop in between the two Bell shops, the one on Compton Ave. According to the Business Card from the Bell shop the official name for the shop was “KUSTOM AUTOMOBILES”. The business cars listed the Barris name only very small. The ads that were created during the Bell Shop period, showed the Barris name a little larger than how it was used on the business cards.
Barris ran this ad in the November 1949 issue of Motor Trend. It was a joint ad with Gaylords. The car used in the ad is George’s his personal 42-47 Cadillac convertible with Gaylord padded top photographed at the Forence Ave Bell shop.
Jesse Lopez’s 1941 Ford was used for another Bell shop ad. The same photo also had been used in an ad for the previous shop on Compton Ave. Both Bell address ads have the Hector and John name very prominent at the top. This ad comes from the October ’49 issue of Motor Trend magazine.
Photo most likely taken at the 1950 Hot Rod Expposition Show in Los Angles. Ben Mario’s 1947 Buick was displayed at the show wit the Barris Kustom Shop Bell sign on the wall behind it.
There are very few photos of the Florence Ave Bell Barris shop, most of the photos we have been able to find were taken outside next to the C.B. Mullins Meat Market in front of the shop. Apparently the Barris shop used most of this parking lot as their outdoor shop space. We know that during the period the Barris Shop was located here in Bell, a lot of cars were started, built and completed at this shop. Yet there is very little evidence – as in actual photos – of the work done at this shop. The Barris shop was located in the Bell Shop during the first portion of the “golden years” of customizing, and as far as we have been able to find out the shop was very productive in this shop.
Dick Carter 1941 Ford, Marcia Campbell 1942 Ford, Joe Urritta 1941 Ford, Ben Mario 1947 Buick, Nick Matranga 1940 Mercury, Vic Grace 1941 Buick, Dick Arkline 1941 Chevy, Paul Janich 1941 Ford, and most likely many more famous and not so famous Barris Customs were created partly or complete at the Florence Bell shop.
This is perhaps the most used E. Florance Ave Bell Barris shop photo. It shows the guys working on an 1948 Mercury, which most likely was one created for Larry Robbins. The people in the photo are: On the right George Barris with Goggles with Bill DeCarr (Ortega) behind him. And the left are Hector Savedra, Gene Simmons and Bob Ruble. The building behind the car and guys is the meat market. The actual shop was further to the back on the right of this photo.
The shop sign
In all the photos I have been able to find from the E. Florence Bell Barris shop none show a Barris sign or the Barris name on a wall or anything. It does seam to be a bid odd that there was no sign stating the Barris name, especially since george had been so busy promoting the Barris name at the Compton Ave shop. However the Barris shop did run a couple of ads during the time the shop was located in Bell. And in the ads the Barris name was used. The only shop sign I have been able to find at this shop was an no name sign “Bell Body & Fender Shop, Free estimate and in large vertical letters GARAGE. A second sign on top of this sign was a General Auto-repairs sign. perhaps this was an old sign for another body shop that might have been located in the building before Barris
Another photo of the 48 Mercury coupe show the car now with the top completely removed. In the background we can see Don’s Cocktail bar on E. Florance street on the other side of the parking lot. Just above the nose we can see the Bell Body & Fender Shop sign.
Here is a close up of the shop sign located at the entrance of the parking lot of the Barris Bell shop on E. Florance Ave. We are not 100% sure, but most likely this was the only shop sign at that location. For unknown reasons the Barris name was not listed.
The ads as well as the business card used for the Bell shop all have the names John and Hector, (John Manok and Hector Savedra) very prominently listed at the top. From Jesse Lopez we have learned that both these guys were employees at the Barris shop, but we have not been able to find out why they were listed so prominent, and if it has any connection with the absence of the Barris name on the shop sign at the entrance of the shop on Florence Ave. Mysteries about the Bell Shopwe hopefully one day will be able to solve.
Perhaps the shop sign on Florence Ave was an old sign that was already there when the Barris shop moved there, and they never replaced it, or it was, but it was never actually photographed. Even Jesse Lopez could not remember a Barris shop sign. So perhaps there was never one… which still is odd since George had spend much time putting out the Barris name.
More work was done on the 48 Mercury, outside in the parking lot in front of the shop and next to the meat market. Here George is working on the removed running boards and extending the doors down.
Raising the drive shaft tunnel on the 1948 Mercury. The back ground most likely shows the back portion or building behind Don’s Cocktail bar.
Staged photo of George “leading” the rear fender on the 48 Mercury that has already been primered. In the background we can see Don’s Cocktail bar. The sign just above George shoulder is at the Florence Ave. side of the building.
Close up of the cocktail bar building.
Jesse Lopez conversation
In April 2016 David E. Zivot had an phone conversation with Jesse Lopez who owned a 1941 Ford Coupe back in the late 1940’s that he restyled together with Sam Barris at the Compton Ave shop. David asked Jesse about the East Florence Ave Bell Barris shop and what Jesse remembered about this shop. Below is the conversation that gives us some more insight about the Barris Bell shop.
DZ- “Jesse said he was in walking distance from his home in Bell to this shop. He chuckled when he related to me how he and Johnny Zaro and a couple of the other guys went to a local Army surplus store and purchased WWII foldable paratrooper bicycles and rode them like madmen all around the bell shop.
In fact, as was usual for Johnny Zaro, he crashed on his bike and broke his hip.
Here in conversational style are the questions.
Keep in mind this over 65 years ago, and Jesse told me everything he could remember about the Bell shop.”
(DZ = David E. Zivot JL = Jesse Lopez)
DZ- “How long were the Barris’ at the E Florence location? I understand it was for less than a year?”
JL- “No, it was more like a year and a half, two years.”
DZ- “Did you do any work or painting at that shop?”
JL- “No I was busy working at an auto parts store, and didn’t spend much time at that shop.”
DZ- “The location on E Florence Av, can you describe it?”
JL- “Yeah, it was located on the corner of Florence Av & Otis St, by a Shell gas station, and behind a meat market, where Gordo worked. That’s why the address is 4120 1/2, because it was behind another building.”
DZ- “Was it physically larger or nicer than the Compton Av shop?”
JL- “Oh yeah, it was quite a bit larger, had nice parking, lots of room. There was a roomy four-car stall, and another two-car stall as well.”
DZ- “What can you tell me about John and Hector?”
JL- “Well John was John Manok, who along with his brother Ralph, worked there. Their work was just OK. And Hector Savedra did stuff around the shop. No great skills. All of this is in Michelley’s articles. Gordo did work around the shop as well.”
DZ- “Was there a Barris Kustom sign anywhere outside the shop, or was there an office in the building?”
JL- “I don’t remember any particular sign with their name, and there was a small little makeshift office in one corner of the building.”
DZ- “What about some of the cars that were either started, completed, or worked on at the E Florence Av location?”
JL- “I can’t remember exactly, but I know for sure that a ’48 Mercury coupe that belonged to a fellow named Zhakov was started and completed there. It was a pretty nice car. I’m also pretty sure that Dick Carter’s ’41 Ford convertible was begun and finished there. Bill Ortega may have had some work done on his car, as well as Jack Stewart.
It’s hard for me to recall. Because Dick Fowler lived in Bell he may have had his car worked on and painted there as well.”
DZ- “Jesse, is there anything else you can recall from that shop that sticks in your mind?”
JL- “No, not really, as I said I was working the counter of a parts and paint store and had my hands full with that.”
Dick Arkline’s 1941 Chevy mildy restyled custom was created and photographed at the Bell Shop. The car was painted a deep organic purple.
These two photos of Dick Arkline’s Chevy appeared in the May 1950 issue of Motor Trend for the first time, one of them was later also used in the first Custom Car annual published in 1951.
Bill DeCarr (Ortega) already worked with Barris at the Compton Ave shop, where he had build his 1941 Mercury business coupe with Fade Away fenders. Possibly the car was finished and painted at the Bell Shop, in any event this photo of the finished car was taken at the bell show with the Meat Market building in the background.
Motor Trend April 1950
In the Motor Trend April 1950 issue there was an article by George Finneran named “What is Restyling?“. The George Finneran interviewed a couple of major Customizers from 1950 about their opinion on the subject. He interviewed George Barris at Barris Kustoms, Gil Ayala at Gil’s Auto Body Works and Jerry Moffatt at the Olive Hill Garage. The interview with George Barris took place at the E. Florence Ave. Bell Barris Shop, Thomas J. Medley was the photographer accompanying the interviewer who took several photos at the Bell during the visit at the Bell shop. Sadly there is noting written about the Bell shop in the article, but there are a few nice photos that have helped us identify a couple of things.
The 1948 Mercury that we have seen in several in progress photos at the Bell shop is identified as the Larry Robbins Mercury in the Motor Trend article. It now does make me wonder if this is the same car that Jesse Lopez mentioned, in his phone interview, belonging to a guy named Zhakov. Or if there were possibly two 48 Merc coupes done at the Bell shop in 1949.
The John Vara / Johnny Zaro 1941 with a new grille at the Bell shop. Just behind the back of the car we can see the “Bell Body & Fender Shop” sign. Notice the window divided in 16 small windows just above the steering wheel, we can also see that same window in the photo above of Larry Robbins 48 Merc. The four door chevy on the right is parked head on towards the meat market.
We have no info on this Dodge photographed at the Bell Shop. Notice the padded topped convertible in the back ground. Looks to be a Ford from the late 1930’s.
Another Mercury that was done at the Bell shop was this unidentified ’47 convertible. In the background we can see Don’s Cocktail bar on the right.
This heavily chopped 1940 Ford coupe was most likely also photographed at the Bell shop, but so far I have not been able to see this background in any of the other photos I have found. Most likely it was in the back of the lot.
The Shop Building
So far the only photo(s) that possibly show something about the actual Barris Bell Shop building are these two photos (below) showing a stock 1941 Ford convertible. These photos were used to show the difference of the stock compared to a custom version with Dick Carter’s 1941 Ford that was created at the Bell shop in the 1951 Trend Books first annual Custom Cars #101 book. The same photos, but then with the background removed were also used to compare with the Johnny Zaro 1941 Ford in an Restyling article in Motor Trend magazine. We are not 100% sure these photos are taken at the Bell shop, but most likely they are, and are so far the only photos showing a portion of this “mystery” Barris shop. Hopefully the future will bring us some better photos showing this shop.
4120 1/2 East Florence Ave Bell address
The Barris shop was actually located behind the C.B. Mullins Meat Market which was located at 4120 East Florence Ave in Bell. There was a large parking area next to the Meat Market, and behind it, and at the far back the was a 4 car garage located. That was where the Barris Bell shop was located And that is why the address location was 4120 1/2. We have not been able to locate any clear photos of the actual shop building, not from ground level, nor from the skye. But we have been able to find an aerial photo from 1952 and 1980 that show the actual shop building. The actual shop building was later torn down, so its completely gone now. A new larger building was build at its place, and in 2016 a laundry company was located in this building.
- A = Don’s Cocktail bar
- B = Barris Kustoms, Bell shop
- C = C.B. Mullins Meat Market
- D = Building across the street visible in a few photos.
These aerial views shows the Barris shop “B” in the 1952 and 1980 photos, and how it was replaced by a larger building around 2010 and how it looks today in the bottom Google image.
Street view taken from Florence Ave showing the former C.B. Mullins Meats building (C) on the left which is now Cliff’s Liquor store at 4120. The large building in the back is placed where the Barris Bell Shop (B) used to be in the late 1940’s.
When turning to the right at the same location as the previous photo you can see the former Don’s Cocktail Bar (A). It is the yellow building with red lower wall and roof behind the tree).
Across the street from the Meat Market we can see another shop (D) 4127 E Florence Ave. In some of the photos taken in the late 1940’s. This building is still there in 2016. (this google screen shot was taken in 2010)
Building (D) across the street from the Meet Market on East Florence Ave can be seen in this late 1940’s photo.
Moving to Lynnwood
The Barris shop most likely left the Bell shop and moved to the new Atlantic Blvd shop in Lynnwood at the end of March 1950. There is a business license dated for the period April 1, 1950 till January 1, 1951. The name on the Business License in now Barris Kustom Shop. We have not been able to find any business licenses or other official papers from the Bell period to see what the official name was back then.
Business license for the first period of the shop after the Bell shop, Atlantic Blvd in Lynwood. The business is listed as Body + Fender Shop. The license starts at April the first, 1950.
The Barris shop Addresses
For everybody who has been able to visit the former Barris shops in Los Angeles and Lynwood they all know how the shops location relate to each other, but for those who have never been able to visit the former shops I have created this map to show where the shops are located.
The Barris Shop had 4 different addresses before it moved to its last North Hollywood location in 1961. From the first shop in Bell, Ca we have not been able to find an actual address. If anybody of our readers know the actual address of this first shop George Barris had in 1944, please let us know.
- 1944 – 1946 – George Barris first shop in Bell (The shop was most likely named: Barris Custom Shop in Bell, but we do not have an full address)
- 1946 – 1949 – Barris Customs 7674 Compton Avenue, Los Angeles.
- 1949 – 1950 – Kustom Automobiles 4120 1/2 E. Florence Avenue, Bell.
- 1950 – 1960 – Barris Kustoms 11054 Atlantic Blvd, Lynwood
I have tried to gather as much information about the Barris East Florence Ave shop location as I could found, and the research has clarified a few of the mysteries this shop has. But there are still a lot of things we do not know about this Barris Bell shop where Custom Car magic happened in a relatively short period during the golden years of Custom Restyling. Many of the Famous early Barris Custom creations have been created, started or finished in this shop, but there have been very few photo evidence about this. The connection of the names John and Hector and the lack of a Barris Shop sign are just a few of the mysteries we really would have loved to solve. Hopefully some of the CCC-Readers will have some more info about the Barris Bell Shop and would be willing to share their info with us. So if you know more about the Barris E. Florence Ave, then please email Rik here at the Custom Car Chronicle, so that we can share it here with the CCC-Readers. Thank you.
Special thanks to David E. Zivot and Jesse Lopez for their help on this article.