When we think of people in history who may have heard the most stories from local residents, some of the occupations that may come to mind are barbers, bartenders, and members of the clergy. Let’s take a look this week at a longtime barber in South Portland, Warren Wass.

Warren Wass is shown cutting customer John Bean’s hair in this 1961 image from the Portland Evening Express. Courtesy photo

Warren Avery Wass was born in 1891 in Addison, Maine, the son of George and Nellie Wass. His father was a sea captain, but Warren chose not to follow the sea for his profession. He instead moved to the Portland area and found his passion in barbering.

When the United States entered World War I in April, 1917, Warren Wass was already operating a pool room and working as a barber in South Portland at Willard Square in the building where you now find Willard Scoops.

At that time, Clinton Wendling was operating a grocery from the left side of the building and Warren Wass was on the right. Wass married Minnie Record in December, 1917, and then joined the military in June, 1918. While he was away serving in the war, Minnie worked as a clerk in the post office in Willard Square.

Wass was honorably discharged on Jan. 29, 1919. He returned to South Portland, but moved around for many years, operating pool rooms and working as a barber. In 1922, Warren and Minnie Wass purchased their home at 20 Day St. in South Portland. Also around 1922, Warren was running the pool hall at 141 Sawyer St. in South Portland (the pool hall that would be taken over by Howard Bates). Around 1924, he was working as a barber just down the street at 50 Sawyer St.

From roughly 1925 to 1943, he barbered and/or ran pool halls at various locations in Portland, for many of those years at a barber shop in the Rosemont neighborhood, at 498a Woodford St.


Around 1944, Warren Wass finally came back to work in South Portland again, going back into the building in Willard Square where he had found his start. From roughly 1944 until his retirement around 1969, he operated his barber shop at 429 Preble St. This is the left storefront in the building, where Stella’s Seller Consignment is now located. Warren Wass operated his barber shop there for about 25 years.

For over 25 years, the Warren Wass barber shop was located in this building at 427-429 Preble St. in Willard Square. For most of those years, Wass was in the left storefront, 429 Preble St. In this 1968 view, the small one-story beauty shop that was attached to the left of the building is barely visible. If you have a photograph showing the barber shop and/or beauty shop attached to this building, South Portland Historical Society would love to hear from you. South Portland Historical Society photo

For many of those years, Marion Cobb ran her Marion’s Beauty Shop at 431 Preble St. – a little one-story building addition that had been attached to the left side of the 427-429 Preble St. building (that structure was later demolished and a driveway now covers the footprint of the former beauty shop).

In an article in the Portland Evening Express on April 19, 1961, a reporter had interviewed Warren Wass, or “Wassy” as they had called him. According to the story, “Wassy…enjoys being a barber. He is his own boss, knows his customers well, and ‘hears all the local gossip’.”

Warren was cutting a customer’s hair during the interview and the men were laughing about the beauty shop next door: “The two men chuckle over the bits of news they used to pick up when a ladies’ beauty parlor was immediately next door. Seems the walls are quite thin and even the din of the dryers wouldn’t drown out the ladies’ conversation.”

Roger Dewey, who grew up in the Willard neighborhood, has fond memories of Warren Wass:

“Wass’s Barber Shop was a regular stop for all the neighborhood kids. When you were very young, there was a booster seat for the barber chair. As we grew up, whenever he finished cutting our hair, he would splash Bay Rum on our neck. I worked in the Caribbean for over 20 years and would check out various bay rum samples, looking for that exact scent. Not that I wanted to wear it, but it is said that scents can trigger memories. I found products from Trinidad most like what he used.


“Mr. Wass had a number of clients from the many ships that regularly visited Portland at that time. From these sailors he amassed a collection of ships in bottles. Rick Dobson, who grew up next to Mr. Wass on Day Street, and I have often wondered what happened to this beautiful collection.”

Warren and Minnie Wass lived in their home at 20 Day St. right up until their deaths. Minnie died in 1970 and Warren died in 1972. They are buried together at Brooklawn Memorial Park in Portland.

There are many barbers who have been well-known throughout South Portland’s past.

Bob Stewart and Gene Roberts both cut hair in the Pleasantdale neighborhood for generations of residents. People like Alfred Boudreau, Bill Cyr, Karl Gardner, Art Gonyea, Charles Griffin, Lewis Hutchinson, Reuben Nutt, George Simonton, and Austin Wright, to name a few, all were barbers who were widely known in the community, but for whom we have very few, if any, portrait photographs available to know what they looked like.

At the South Portland Historical Society, we would like to document the lives of the barbers who have lived and worked in our neighborhoods and who listened and shared stories with so many. If you have any photographs of a barber or barber shop in South Portland, we would love to hear from you. Please reach out to the historical society at sphistory04106@gmail.com, by phone at 207-767-7299, or by mail or in person at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director for the South Portland Historical Society. She can be reached at sphistory04106@gmail.com.

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