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The Heritage Ranch

home of The San Dieguito Heritage Museum

Al's Barber Shop

In 1920, Grant Ulysses Johnston played a lucky hand of cards at the Encinitas Pool Hall and won Al's Barber Shop – and a whole new career. Johnston walked next door to his new business at 569 First Street (now Hwy 101) and promptly changed his name to Al to match the sign. Undeterred by the fact that he had no formal training, Al optimistically began his career as the local barber. He was pleased that his customers seemed to appreciate his natural hair-cutting talents.

Al's Barber Shop quickly became a local hangout, which was especially busy on Saturdays when customers came as much to gossip as to get a haircut. Al was especially fond of children who were given a peppermint stick while sitting in his barber chair.

Always looking for another lucky hand, Al remained a gambling man the rest of his days. Rumor has it that friendly card games were known to take place in the back room of the popular shop.

The Depression Era

In 1932 with the nation in the midst of the Great Depression, Al convinced his son Harvey Johnston, a trained barber, to leave Long Beach and join him at his two- chair shop.  The father-son duo became known as Big Al and Little Al to match their respective sizes.

The going rate for a haircut, either for a man or woman, was 35 cents and a shave was 15 cents. With money in short supply during the Depression the barbers often traded services for whatever the customer could offer beans, corn, eggs or a five gallon can of honey for service to an entire family. During these trying times the pair was known to provide free haircuts to jobless men they saw on the street.

Barber Pole

The barber pole is the oldest distinguished mark of any profession or craft, dating back well before the birth of Christ. Barber/Surgeons combined the art of hair and beard trimming with medicine, dentistry, and surgery to become the most respected and protected men in early history. They held this respect for thousands of years. The red and white spiral stripes on the modern barber pole represent the long bandages used in bloodletting, which was the first form of surgery. Olden day barbers hung the bandages outside their shops to dry. As the years passed, this original badge evolved into the present glass red and white pole, which signifies the barber profession. The blue stripe was added in the U.S.A. to represent our national colors. 

Researched and written by Mary Fran Riggs

How Surfing started in Encinitas

If you are a surfer, ever wondered how surfing got started and how it developed in Encinitas? Well, here is your chance to learn. Click the link below to see a 16 minute video produced by MGE Productions, Inc., co-sponsored by the San Dieguito Heritage Museum, and funded by the city of Encinitas Community Grant Program and the Mizel Family Foundation. A high-quality full size version of the video can be seen at San Dieguito Heritage Museum.

The Journey of 3,500 Bird of Paradise plants to Encinitas

by Evelyn Weidner

Yesterday a field of dry bushes and rattlesnakes. 

Today the verdant green Encinitas Golf Course.

Throw in the Thornton flower growers, a local Sheriff, and you have a story of long ago that connects with the Golf Course of today.    That little white golf ball will be landing on a real life true story of years ago. Connecting today to yesterday with a story that really happened. You will see bright Orange and Blue Bird of Paradise flowers growing along Leucadia Blvd next to the Golf Course.

Discover the story behind the Birds.  Brought to you by the Encinitas Ranch Historical Museum where you can discover other intriguing  stories of the past.

Way back in the very early 60’s those Birds came to Encinitas from Montebello. Three thousand five hundred small plants. The Ecke family didn’t want to grow them but they provided the scrub land with clay soil and nothing but rattlesnakes and chaparral.   The Thornton family flower growers ended up growing these young plants and eventually those Birds became their top seller.

 Here is how Robert Thornton Sr. and some of todays’ Thorntons recount this tale.

There were so many Rattlesnakes on that land that in the 4th year they killed over 300, The next year they only killed about 200.  Imagine cutting those long-stemmed blooms and seeing a venomous Rattler nestled in the base. It happened and the workers learned to look first, cut next.

This land was fenced and some of the workers were living there.  One-night Robert went at dusk to turn off the water sprinklers and met a car approaching the gate.  A pimp and three prostitutes on their way in.  “You can’t come in here” says Thornton. Out comes the gun right in Robert’s face.  “Sorry, go right on in, be sure you close the gate when you leave”

Robert beat a hasty retreat but on the way out he locked the gate.  He went straight to the gas station still on the corner of Encinitas Blvd and what would someday be Freeway 5.  Jim Kemmna, the local Policeman owned the gas station and knew the property well.

 “Hey Jim. I just left a pimp and some prostitutes locked in at the Bird ranch. When you get off go over and arrest them.”   Robert laughed as he told me that story. “I didn’t mind the prostitutes so much but I really didn’t like that gun in my face.” 

Yes, there was child labor.  The Thornton’s flower operation was a family business and that meant all the kids helped too. Today the sons and daughters all share memories of childhood working.  Luanne:  “Having to fill a bucket with Bird of Paradise Seeds before we got out to play”  Curtis “I got sent to the fields every time I got kicked out of school, which was quite often!” Thornton flowers also grew a huge variety of other cut flowers where Cantebria Homes now stand.