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Custom Car Builders

February 28, 2016

Barris Compton Ave Shop

Barris Compton Ave

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BARRIS COMPTON SHOP

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George and Sam Barris worked out of this small shop on Compton Avenue in Los Angeles for 3 years. In those years, they created Custom Car Magic, and established themselves as the top Custom Restylers in the USA.

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The Barris Shop at Atlantic Blvd in Lynwood (used from 1950 to 1961) was the most famous and most prolific Barris Shops of them all. But the small shop at 7674 Compton Avenue in Los Angeles where the Barris Shop was located from 1946 to 1949 might have been the most important. It was at this shop that the what we now cal typical Barris style was developed. It was in this shop that George Barris created his live changing 1941 Buick convertible. It was in this shop that the first magazine featured cars were created that would put the Barris Customs name on the map all around the USA. Everything that happened at this shop made sure there would be a future for the Barris Custom Shop. A future in which the Barris name became synonym for anything Custom. Lets take a closer look at this small Los Angeles shop, that changed so much for us Custom Car enthusiasts

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A mildly updated 1941 Chevy is sitting in the drive way of the shop. Next to it sits an in progress of getting chopped 1939 Mercury Coupe. The car is the Jim Kierstead’s 1939 Mercury possibly the first 39-40 Mercury coupes getting chopped by Sam Barris. Notice the Pete and Carl names on the Brake shop sign next door. These two names only show in two photos, in all other photos it appears the name Carl has been removed.

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Not the best quality photo, but it is interesting since is shows how the drive way was used to work on cars, with the top being removed of the car on the right. Notice the 1941 Cadillac bumper on the Ford Convertible on the far left.

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George Barris opened his first body shop in 1944. The small shop was located in Bell, California. In 1946, after his brother Sam Barris had joined George in shop, they found a new, a bit larger location on Compton Avenue, just a few blocks away from their old place in Bell. The new shop was located in a building with two garages. The owner of the building used half of it for his own Brake shop, and rented the other half to George Barris. The garage could house at least 4 cars, and the parking space in front and behind the shop allowed for a few more cars to be parked and worked on. We know that the majority of the work on the car was done on the car sitting outside the shop.Painting of the cars was however done inside, although there was no real spray booth. When a car was painted the floor would be watered down, to prevent the dust to fly into the wet paint during painting. Despite these poor painting conditions, it is know that George Barris was very picky about his paint jobs and these hand rubbed paint-jobs he did were looking really amazing.

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This photo of the shop was actually taken earlier that the one on top, the “Complete Custom Work” and list of the shops specialties had not been painted on the building section between the two doors. The car in the photo is Johnny Zaro’s 1940 Mercury getting worked on. 

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According the Motor Trend issue this primered and mildly restyled Buick belonged to Sam Barris.

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Clean 1940 Ford convertible with chopped windshield, padded top, lowered and skirts, later model Ford bumpers and closed center grille. Typical Custom for around 1947-48.

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The Compton Avenue shop was the building ground for many famous, trend setting and iconic Custom Cars. To name a few in no particular order:

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Brothers George and Sam were very productive at this shop, They were both very young and spend a lot of time at the shop. By the time George had finished his 1941 Buick the style for the shop was sort of set, and the customers started to come in to the shop for the Barris look. But at the same time there was still a lot of experimentation to find the right way of doing things and making each car look better. Judging from the surviving photos it seamed like every car that came out of the Compton Avenue shop looked fresh with new ideas, yet sill very recognizable as a Barris Kustom. It is truly remarkable that that such a great number of really great looking Custom cars have been created in such a small shop. Of course we have to keep in mind that due to the mostly great weather, the whole parking space around the shop was basically shop as well.

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In progress Mopar Custom Convertible with chopped padded top parked on Compton Ave in front of the shop. Two more project cars are parked in the drive way. I noticed that in most of the photos there seams not to be much business going on at Pete’s Brake shop.

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George Barris was sort of into Hot Rod Racing for a little while as well. Here we can see George and a few of his buddies with George’s flamed track-roadster in front of the shop.

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Sam Barris driving a  lowered 1929 Model A Ford wit 32 Ford grille and late 30’s molded in v-windshield. The license plate on the sedan parked in the driveway on the left of the photo looks to be from 1946.

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George and Sam allowed the car owners to work on their own cars at the shop during the whole process of Custom restyling as well. This way the owner could save some money if they did the disassembling, sanding and other “easy” work themselves. For George and Sam this was convenient as well since they could then concentrate on the fun stuff or creating, and could handle more customer cars at the same time.

The shop was called Barris’s Custom Shop. What is really special about this is that the word Custom in the name is still spelled with a “C”. We know that George already started to write the word Custom with a “K” Kustom from the mid 1940’s. But still the shop name would be Custom Shop for at least most of the time the shop stayed in the Compton Ave. building. He would refer to the cars the shop created as Kustom Automobiles with a “K”, but the name Kustoms would not be officially connected to the name Barris as in the shop name until 1949, or 1950

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I really love this photo of a 1947 Ford convertible with padded top in front of the shop. Interesting to see how the white wall tires set it off against the black wall tires of the other cars in the photo. The car itself is not a Barris creation though, but was created by a guy who also worked for the Barris shop. Amazingly this beautiful custom survived and a full feature of the restored car can be seen in Kustoms Illustrated #46. 

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Possibly an in progress photo of Sam Barris’s 1940 Mercury personal Custom parked in front of the shop.

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1937-38 Ford with long Nash grille, chopped windshield, padded top and running boards removed. The black wall tires show that this must be early, 1946-47 most likely.

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The sign on the front of the building has quite a lot of writing on it. The main sign above the door reads: in bold letters BARRIS CUSTOM SHOP and on the left side of this the name SAM and on the right the name GEORGE. Below that in even bolder letters. BODY & FENDER WORKS. Below that in a bit smaller letters … AUTO PAINTING … The 7674 number is painted on the bottom far left side of the building, just above the door.

The section between the two doors has been added at a later date and reads.
COMPLETE CUSTOM WORK, below that in smaller letters; – CUSTOM PAINTING, PLATE-INSET, -CHOPPED TOPS, BODY MOLDING.
And diagonal; ROADSTERS CHANNELED on the top and PUSH BUTTON DOORS on the bottom.

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Beautiful 1938 Ford sedan with heavy chop, Packard Clipper grille and smoothed body. Another typical early Barris Custom shows once again that not only coupes and convertibles were used for the full custom treatment.

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Bob Creasman payed the shop a visit with his chopped 1940 Ford coupe. Notice the frame work next to the shop, most likely used to lift engines from the cars. 

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This is a really great photo of the Compton Avenue shop with a lot of Barris cars parked in front of the shop and all the guys posing for the photos. I have never been able to find out the occasion for this photo. Perhaps they were gathering to go on a trip, or perhaps celebrating something. On the far left, we can see George Barris sitting on the front fender of his 1941 Buick, and parked next to it is Dick Fowler’s 1938 Ford Coupe.

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Sadly there is only one photo, that we are aware of, that was taken inside the Compton Ave shop. And it does not show much. We can see some custom hubcaps hanging from the wall.

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The backside of the shop

At the backside of the shop there was a large empty lot. In several photos we can see multiple project parked in that section. Possibly just waiting next in line to be brought closer to the shop to be worked on. Possibly the owners temporarily ran out out of money and the project were just parked there. On the backside there was also a drive way that allowed you to access the rear located parking and the rear door of the shop. The garage door that opened to the E77th street belonged to the Brake shop and was not used by the Barris shop

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Jesse Lopez on the Barris Compton Avenue Shop
The Compton Avenue shop was basically a two car garage, but longer, and if you really tried you could put four cars in it. But most of the time the work was performed outside, weather was always good. Sometimes they had up to ten cars in the “backyard of the shop. Projects they worked on and stalled projects of customers that ran out of cash. Nobody complaint about the amount of cars in the backyard and parked on the street. There was always a crowd. Next door to the shop was a brake shop. The guy who owned it owned the whole building George Barris rented the shop space from him.

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George Barris behind the word “Rod” on the white model A-Roadster. Often a lot of the guys hung out at the shop after work and in the weekends. 

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Al Andril’s 1940 Mercury during the construction. Friend Al Andril and Johnny Zaro wanted to have near identical Custom mercury Coupes. Al’s Coupe was done first. Noticed how messy the parking space behind the shop is. Notice the Rex Liquor Store on the other side of Compton Ave.

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This photo taken from East 77th street towards Compton Ave gives us a really good view of the shop from the back. On the right, behind the front end of John Vara/Johnny Zaro’s 1941 Ford convertible we can see the opened rear garage door of the shop. As far as we know the whole section on the left of the building was the brake shop and was not in use by Barris Shop. Parked on E. 77th street are a freshly finished Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford, Sam Barris’s 1940 Mercury convertible. Parked behind the shop is John Vara/Johnny Zaro’s 1941 Ford convertible, and a few in progress projects including a 1934-35 Terraplane or Hudson, a very unusual car to customize.

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This photo was taken from behind the shop facing towards E. 77th street. On the right we can see the headlight of John Vara/Johnny Zaro’s 1941 Ford, parked in the street are Sam Barris his 1940 Mercury and in front of him Jesse Lopez his 1941 Ford. The car on the left is a heavily restyled 1936 Ford coupe.

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Wild restyled 1936 Ford coupe sitting on the lot behind the shop. Behind the Ford we can see what appears to be a 1941 Buick very similar to the one George had. However this cannot be George his Buick, since it does not have fade away fenders, and this photo was taken after Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford had been finished so this photo was taken in 1948 or later. George’s Buick had full fade away fenders since 1947. The Rex Liquor Store on the other side of Compton Ave can be seen on the far left side of the photo.

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Advertising and business card

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Business card for the Compton Avenue Shop showed an image of George Barris his personal 1941 Buick.

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George used the same photo as he used on the Barris Business Card of his 1941 Buick for an 1948 magazine ad. Notice how he specifically mentions that the car was in a Hot Rod Show.

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Most likely this was the first ad George Barris used for the Compton Ave shop. No photo was used and the Shop name was written incorrect. The ad appeared in the very first issue of Hot Rod magazine in January 1948.

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Two photo ads for the the Compton Avenue shop as used in various Motor Trend magazines. Notice how the Kustom Automobiles on the top is written with a K, while the name is Barris’s Custom Shop. On the left John Vera/Johnny Zaro’s 1941 Ford was used, and on the right a photo of Jesse Lopez was used to advertise the Custom style of the Barris Shop.

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Check from August 19, 1949 with with the Barris Custom Shop address with a “C”.

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Barris’s Kustoms with a “K” ?

George Barris started to write the word Customs with a “K” Kustoms, in the early to mid 1940’s. The cars he created he would call Kustom Automobiles. But on the shop wall of the Compton Avenue shop the name was Barris’s Custom Shop, and as we can see on the check from August 1949 we can see that the official address was also listed as Barris Custom Shop. There is one photo of the Compton Avenue Shop that shows the name with a “K”, but all I have is a small poor resolution scan of this photo, and on there it looks like either the “K” for Kustoms was written on the photo, or it was done rather quick on the show wall sign. In all other photos I have seen of the shop Customs is written with a C. The Barris Shop was officially renamed Barris Kustoms after the move to the new Atlantic Blvd shop

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The only photo that shows the Compton Ave shop with the work Kustom with a “K”. But the “K” looks a bit crooked, so it could be added to the photo by George later in the 1950’s. Or perhaps the “K” was painted on the shop wall by one of the guys and not an official sign writer, hence thee crooked look.

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The shop Address

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 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
  • 1960 – 1961 – Barris Kustom City 11054 Atlantic Blvd, Lynwood

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The 6774 Compton Avenue shop building that Barris used from 1946 to 1949 is still standing in 2016. The overall shape of the building has not changed much, and even the sign pole on the corner of Compton and E 77th street is still standing. It looks like the building was expanded backwards were the Barris shop used to be. (Google maps image)

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Luke Karosi (Kustoms Illustrated Magazine) took this photo of the former Barris Compton Ave shop building in 2013.  The Compton Ave street has been widened since the 1940’s and the drive way of the shop has been consequentially narrowed.

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Luke Karosi also tried to capture the names that were written in the wet concrete side walk on the side at the shop, but they are rather vague, and do not show up to well. The big letters read “Kustom” (below the water) and the inset photo shows Bill O (most likely Bill Ortega, who later changed his name to Bill DeCarr) and Sam Barris. It is dated 1-27-48.

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About the Author

Rik Hoving
Rik is the CCC editor in chief. As a custom car historian he is researching custom car history for many years. In 2004 he started the Custom Car Photo Archive that has become a place of joy for many custom car enthousiasts. Here at CCC Rik will bring you inspiring articles on the history of custom cars and builders. Like a true photo detective he will show us what's going on in all those amazing photos. He will write stories about everything you want to know in the realm of customizing. In daily life Rik is a Graphic Designer. He is married to the CCC webmaster and the father of a 10 year old son (they are both very happy with his excellent cooking skills)




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9 Comments


  1. awe rik, there u go again giving me the willies with those great pictures an a great story to boot, takeing me back to those great days when i was a teenager rolling around this areas in my 37 checking the kustom shops , keep em coming rik,


  2. What a great story showing how much it has changed from having lots of space to work out side in the sun and enjoying working on the cars around the whole shop, To so built up….

    I never thought any one else knew about the concrete writing with Sam Barris…!! Because I was thinking of repairing that spot with my concrete cutter and some orange cones diverting traffic. There was about 10 Hispanic guys at Home Depot looking for work and they said we could have that area repaired in about 5 minits while we ate home made tamales and mandarin flavor Jarritos soda………!! Dam it now every one knows Rik…..lol hahahah

    As for your comment about not much work going on in the Brake shop next door, Well you can see the rocking chair out the front in the photo with Sam Barris in the 29 Ford.

    Also in the group photo you can see an old guy who looks older then the rest on the very far right with his hand on the car… Maybe this is the old guy who owned the shop building..?

    Also would love to know more about that mild Buick Sam had….! Love to find that car some were…!
    KUSTOMLAND


  3. Yet another great article Rik. You have really been on a roll lately.
    Love it and keep them coming.
    Torchie


  4. Awesome article Rik, thanks a lot for putting this together!!

    -Chris


  5. Kevan Sledge, Olav Kvipt, and I went there after Brad Masterson’s 2014 Fire Party at the Lynwood shop…you wouldn’t want to visit this area after the street lights go on nowadays. It’s still fascinating to see how much of the original building and streets are there…we had to grab a beer at the Rex Liquor store, of course 🙂


  6. Thanks for doing this Rik. Great story and research .


  7. Straight out of Compton ! thats some history for the books, very cool that the same little building that Barris worked @ is still being used to work on cars & repairs after all these years, different owners of course. most of those landmarks would have bin mowed down or ? the cement side walk is like a walk of fame !


  8. What a collection of photos!


  9. Gee, thanks once more for yet another great historical story Rik! The only thing missing is the terrific smells those old shops used to radiate! Memories of the various club “shops” we used to hang out at ’round here when they were the hang-out places to be.. Of course without the productivity – ha, ha!

    Dave



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