Tony Gordon leaves Clark Avenue but retains the memories
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, April 2007) After 37 years of cutting hair at his barbershop at 5011 Clark Avenue, Tony Gordon has decided it is time to move on. He will be turning the barbershop over to Edward Concepcion at the end of March.
Concepcion, who just completed barbering school in December of 2006, grew up in the neighborhood on W. 48th and Clark. Gordon says he cut the hair of three generations of Concepcion’s family – Edward, his father and his son.
Concepcion says of Gordon, “He has a lot of respect for everybody. If there was a person out there who needed a haircut and didn’t have a penny in his hand, Tony would give him a haircut.”
Gordon says that when he married his wife Sharon in 1968 he was working as a welder. When the company where he worked closed, he said he and Sharon talked about different businesses. When he said he was thinking about becoming a barber, Sharon was very supportive and told him about the space once used by her grandfather. He said Sharon put him through barber school while working as a bookkeeper at Monarch Aluminum on Detroit Avenue.
Gordon calls his decision to become a barber “the best thing I ever done in my life. I enjoy it, I certainly do.” He qualifies that saying, “next to marring my wife.” He said, “a barbershop is like a bar – you hear so many tales. You sit back and listen to conversation. A lot of times you are part of it.”
Gordon is not only leaving the barber business but also the building at 5011 Clark Avenue that is a big part of his history and the history of his wife’s family. The building, which he has now sold, was the home where his wife Sharon Lynd Gordon grew up. The building was in her family for over 100 years. Three generations of father-in-laws and son-n-laws worked side by side running businesses on Clark Avenue.
Gordon says his wife Sharon lived in the rear of the building with her parents, Elmer and Emily Lynd, and her Uncle Ray and Aunt Lois. An optician, her father ran his office out of the front of the building for 67 years from 1930 to 1997. When Gordon opened his barbershop in the east side of the front of the building, he worked next door to his father-in-law’s optician’s office from 1970 to 1997.
Sharon’s grandparents, Charles and Emma Becka, owned the building before her parents. Her grandfather purchased the building at least 100 years ago around the turn of the last century. Becka, a barber, worked from the same space where Gordon’s shop is located for about 50 years until he retired in 1956. He worked next door to his son—in-law, the optician, for 26 of those years.
When Gordon first started as a barber in 1970, people still shared memories of his wife’s grandfather who had barbered there before him. “Some customers came in who had gotten their hair cut by him. All I ever heard about him is he could walk on water,” said Gordon.
Gordon says a number of his customers have moved out of the neighborhood to places like Rocky River, Bay Village and Strongsville, but still come back to the old neighborhood for a haircut. He says he still has customers who have moved back to West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky, who he sees as often as when they lived in the neighborhood because they get their hair cut at his shop when visiting family in Cleveland.
Gordon chats with Marvin Adkins as he cuts his hair. Adkins, who served with Gordon during the Korean War, ran a bar on Clark Avenue by W. 44th called the Starfire during the early to mid 1980s. (Today it is Henry’s Bar.)
Adkins recalls that Clark Avenue was a tough street in those days. There were shootings up and down the street. “A lot of guys from Lorain and Detroit Avenue come looking for trouble,” he said. Gordon noted, “A lot of the guys that lived in the neighborhood then have moved back to where they came from – West Virginia or Kentucky.” Many of the young guys that lived that lifestyle are now dead and gone, said Gordon. He said, “When one of those guys said he was going to shoot you, you could count on him doing it.” They talk about various fights in the neighborhood over the years and some of the characters involved.
Gordon says that despite the roughness of some men who traversed Clark Avenue, they always showed respect for the barbershop.
Talk then shifts to football, Gordon asks Adkins who he thought was the greatest running back to ever play for the Cleveland Browns – Marion Motley or Jim Brown. Gordon argues strenuously in favor of Motley, while Adkis says both were great athletes.
Gorden remembers fondly that when the Cleveland Browns started in the mid 1940s, Cleveland Browns star fullback and linebacker Marion Motley would come to the Clark Avenue Recreation Center every Wednesday night during the Browns’ season and show game films. He said it was like “home movies.” Gordon recalls that when Motley came to Clark Avenue in the 1940s he was the only black person in the neighborhood. Gordon says of Motley “everyone held him in high esteem.”
Gordon says he will also miss Clark Avenue. He grew up along Clark Avenue. When he was born in 1932, his family lived at 38th and Bailey. The family later lived in several houses on Clark from W. 67th to W. 71st.
“I’m a die hard Clark Avenue guy,” says Gordon as he shares memories of Clark Avenue. Gordon’s father died in 1940 when Gordon was eight. Gordon remembers shining shoes as a kid at the Crackerjack Bar, now called Caruso’s, just across the street from the barber shop. As a child, Gordon remembers not wanting to go to the stockyards along W. 65th Street where he says he hated to see the pigs get slaughtered because they always looked like they had a smile on their faces.
Gordon says he was the only Irish kid growing up in a largely Slovak and Bohemian neighborhood. He says as a young man he could hold his own in a fight and recalls a time he got the best of five guys who jumped him outside a bar on Clark Avenue.
Gordon remembers the first Mom’s restaurant – a dining car, followed by the Mom’s restaurant that burned down and then the current Mom’s. He recalls Tony’s Diner, located at the point where Clark and Lorain met, as well as Standard Brewery (makers of Erin Brew) located where the U-Hall is now, and the P.O.C. (Pride of Cleveland) Brewery in the building across from Mom’s Restaurant. Businesses on Clark Avenue included Lincoln Savings, Walter’s Florist and the Clark Movie Theater, which later served as a bar and a bowling alley. The main grocery store was Fisher Foods, which was located just west of the barbershop.
Gordon recalls other Clark Avenue history:
Looking through the missing street car planks on the Clark Avenue Bridge at the steel mill below
Experiencing the orange soot from the steel mills that covered everything on Clark Avenue when the wind was blowing in from the mills
Cement stands under the Clark Avenue Bridge at W. 65th where steam locomotives stopped to add water
The Clark bathhouses where in the 1940 you could still get a bar of soap and a towel for 1¢ to take a shower. Gordon explained that before everyone had running water, the bathhouses offered a place to shower.
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