Benny Fontanilla, 69, owner of the 500 H St. Barber shop in the heart of Washington's Chinatown for 42 years, died Thursday of a stroke at Washington Adventist Hospital.
The barbershop, which closed in 1973 when Mr. Fontanilla retired, was popular among Asian-Americans here. "A lot of people knew Benny," said Mon Suey Lee, owner of the Suey Sang Lung grocery store at 604 H St. NW. "The older people, who came over themselves, they used to go to Benny. He was a good barber. The children didn't go much when they got older, but when they were young Benny would cut the hair of all the children in Chinatown."
Mr. Fontanilla, who came to Washington in 1926, opened the barbershop on the second floor of the 500 H St. building in 1931. The shop had three chairs and a large window that over-looked Chinatown.
"I used to take my kid brother there," said Margaret Lee, the daughter of the grocery store owner. "It was an old-time barber shop, lots of ashtrays and the smell of tonics. There he had all the Chinese and Philippine newspapers.
"Since Benny's closed my father has had a hard time finding a barbershop as good," Lee said. "You just can't go in barbershops and talk and read the papers and meet people like that anymore."
Mr. Fontanilla's wife, Mona, said her husband gave haircuts to many dignitaries, including the president of the Philippines and the Philippines ambassadors, when they were in Washington.
She said Mr. Fontanilla closed the shop on Mondays because Saturdays and Sundays were the busiest days of his week. "The government workers, the people from the embassies, and the Chinese and Philippine communities could come and chat on those days," she said.
Mr. Fontanilla came to the United States with his uncle when he was 13, according to his wife. She said he attended school in California before coming to Washington.
"I didn't know him when he first came to Washington," she said. "But I know he came here for the same reason he came to the United States. He was looking for a better life.'
Mrs. Fontanilla said her husband, who was born in San Juan, Launion, the Philippines, was last in Chinatown for this year's Chinese New Year' parade. Mr. Fontanilla was a member of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association.
In addition to his wife, of the home in Hyattsville, Mr. Fontanilla is survived by two daughters, Georgia and Karen, a son, Benny Jr., and a grandson, all of the home.