On the last Saturday of 1978, with only one day left in the old year, the off-white shade on the door of the Mirror Barber Shop at Sixth and E streets NW slowly descended like a sleepy, drooping eye.
Written on the shade in large, red block letters was the word "Closed," symbolizing the end of another work day and the death of another long-standing downtown business.
Nearly 60 years ago, when the downtown area bustled with the activity of the-aters, the courts, retail stores and residents living above the stores, the Mirror Barber Shop was opened by Fred Sirica, the father of former federal judge John J. Sirica.
"We had five barbers here at one time, and they all had their own customers," recalled retired bootblack Joseph Rawls, 74, who came to work at the shop in 1924. In those days, Rawls said, the wall of mirrors in the shop reflected the activity of barbers working from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. weekdays.
"Judge Sirica's father worked that fromt chair until he retired," sometime about 1938 or 1939, Rawls said.
Now the neat row of chairs, sinks and cabinets will make room for the expansion of the D.C. Space Restaurant next door. Frederick Sturiala, 65, the barber who purchased the shop in 1971, said he sold the business because of poor health. Sturiala plans to work part-time at the barbershop in the Harrington Hotel at 11th and E streets NW.
Rawls, who has worked with Sturiala the past five years "to keep him company and to get out of the house," said he also hopes to work at the Harrington if he can work out an agreement with the manager of the barbershop.
The closing of the Mirror Barber Shop was a gentle passing, witnessed by few observers other than Sturiala, Rawls, four customers who came into the shop that morning and a group of young people making an unsuccessful 11th hour bid to purchase the red, white and blue barber's pole that turned slowly in the window.
Until the shop closed at noon, the two men passed the day doing what they like best -- performing their work with a relaxed efficiency and a genuine camaraderie that usually resulted in the serious-expressioned Sturiala playing straight man to the ever-lively Rawls.
"I come all the way down from Georgia and Eastern avenues to come here," said real estate broker Sheldon Tommer, the last customer. "I get a haircut the way I want it, and I enjoy the magnetism of these two guys."
Between them, Rawls and Sturiala have spent more than a half-century working in the E Street area between Seventh and Ninth streets.
"We haven't been too far in, the last 50 years," Rawls admitted.
"I have some customers coming to me for 48 years," said Sturiala, who became a barber nearly 49 years ago. "I just went to a barbershop, watched. someone else working, and I learned. I practiced on my father, brother and a few friends."
"Want to know the truth?" Rawls chimed in, "He's still practicing."
After his "apprenticeship," Sturiala worked for local barber Joe Lombardo for 12 years before joining the Navy. He spent the first seven weeks of his enlistment cutting hair and neglecting swimming lessons.
"I was on a destroyer 23 months, and I still don't know how to swim," Sturiala grinned.
Rawls explains his many years as a bootblack by admitting he "got stuck" in the job after migrating to Washington from Columbia, S.C.
"I don't know why I came here, I just took off. I came in 1923. I got married in 1926, and my wife died in 1935." Two grandchildren by his only child, a daughter, Bonnie, were killed in a fire in the late '60s, he said.
Sturiala has two children and five grandchildren. His grandson was recently named to the All-American high school football team.
Rawls came to the Mirror Barber Shop by way of his first employer, Jack Cass, a barber at Ninth and E streets. Cass was later hired by Sirica to manage the Mirror Barber Shop, and Rawls said he was invited to go along.
"I liked it all right. There were more ladies on this street," he said with a wink. "He (Sirica) run me out of here a lot of times (for lateness). He was always going to fire me but he never got around to it. He was only kidding."
In the downtown Washington of the '30s, the barbershop's customers ranged from show people to District commissioners.
"We had a lot of judges, lawyers, loads of FBI people and a commissioner lived across the street," said Rawls of those early days.
"This was the main section of Washington," said Sturiala. Saloon keeper Jimmy Lake was acknowledged by area people as the mayor of Ninth Street, Louis Hodges had the best 10-cent roast beef sandwich in D.C., and burlesque was alive, said Sturiala.
"Of curse, in those days they didn't strip like they do now," he said. "You didn't see anything then."
Much of the hustle and bustle of the business sector continued until the '60s, the men said. Then it slowly crumbled under the weight of the riots and the Beatles.
Rawls said many of the downtown retail businesses left the area after the riots. And the barber business succumbed to the Mod Look.
"When the Beatles came, everybody started letting their hair go," Sturiala reflected sadly. "That's what ruined the barber business, the Beatles." CAPTION: Picture 1, The Mirror Barber Shop, 628 E St. NW, opened nearly 60 years ago. Copyright (c) , Linda Wheeler; Picture 2, Between them, Fred Sturiala, left, and Joseph Rawls have spent more than half a century working on E street in downtown Washington. Copyright (c) , Linda Wheeler