BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES IN SOUTH BERKELEY 

Story of Ratha Watkins
Original Artist: Yvonne Browne
 
Rehabilitation Artist: Zoe Thiele-Seidenberg
 
Writers: Gwendolyn Reed and Sara Bruckmeier
 
Original completed 2006
Restored in 2018
Link to full interview text
RathaWatkins_2019.jpg

In the ‘20s and ‘30s, upwardly mobile black families often chose to build homes in South Berkeley,

one of the few areas not covered by restrictive covenants. Black churches, clubs, and businesses

took root in this stable and concentrated community. Then came the war. The attraction of war work

at Bay Area shipyards drew migrants from all over the United States, including African Americans moving

away from the oppressive Jim Crow laws of the South. Once a cozy community where everyone knew

their neighbor, South Berkeley became a densely populated migrant enclave over the course of a few

short years.

 

The surging tide of economic strength would ebb again in the late ‘40s, when the shipyards closed.

Many African Americans became unemployed in a nation where racism continued to limit job opportu-

nities. It was during this period, the early 1950s, that Ratha Watkins and her two colleagues decided to

found a business in South Berkeley.

 

Ratha Watkins, while working as a cosmetologist at Lovely Lady Beauty Salon, dreamed of own-

ing her own business. Two of her cosmetologist friends, Julianne Schultz and Billye Dunlap, shared that

dream. The three of them became business partners. They found a vacant shop at 3312 Adeline in a build-

ing so rundown it had been condemned. But they saw something special: a space large enough for each

of them to have a booth plus room for additional booths to rent to other cosmetologists.

 

With the consent of the owner, Ms. Weiman, Ratha and her husband William Watkins got to work.

They installed all new copper plumbing and electrical wiring, and repaired and renovated the place in-

side and out. Not only did they bring the building up to code, but they installed a modern and beautiful

salon inside.

 

1952 was the year of the grand opening. Julianne Schultz chose the name “Coeur d’Alene” after a

salon in Idaho. Billye Dunlap added the phrase “Charm House” to advertise her modeling business. The

beauty salon was a success from the start. Clients flocked to the modern and professional salon and the

booths rented quickly to other cosmetologists. Ratha Watkins recalls, “We were so proud!”

 

Over its 50 plus year history, Ratha’s Coeur d’Alene Charm House served as a place of business

for more than 200 cosmetologists including Frank Gonder and Leartric (Lee) William. It also helped the

women of South Berkeley and the surrounding areas keep up with the latest fashion in hair care and

grooming. Maudelle Shirek, the Honorable Vicemayor of Berkeley, was a very dependable client - until

the natural came into vogue in the ’60s. Ratha Watkins became sole proprietor in the late 1950s after

each of her two friends decided to sell her their interest. After Ratha Watkins retired, the shop reopened

under a new name. You can still see Ratha’s name on the building. This panel depicts Ratha Watkins, her

two children, her daughters-in-law, her grand children, her great grand children, and her diploma from

Institut Myriam Carange in Paris.