What’s Next For George Barris’ Famous Shop?
The Barris Kustom building is for sale. The property has occupied almost a whole block on Riverside Drive in North Hollywood since the day George “King of the Kustomizers” Barris set up shop there 60 years ago. The “for sale” signs on the storefront have drawn attention and led to a lot of speculation about the future of this local landmark and one of the most famous custom shops ever.
When we stopped by the historic shop recently, the doors were locked but the lights were on. Joji Barris-Paster was there working. Joji, the daughter of the late George Barris, is a partner in Barris Kustom Industries, along with her husband, Barry; her son, Jared; and her brother, Brett. She invited us inside and answered our questions about the future of one of the last-remaining shops from the golden era of customizing.
The First Barris Shops
The 10,000-square-foot facility in North Hollywood opened in 1961 but was preceded by several other locations. In 1944, after moving to Los Angeles from Northern California, George Barris opened his first shop in the city of Bell. His brother, Sam, after returning from military service, joined him in 1945 and the brothers moved to a larger shop on Compton Ave. in Los Angeles a year later.
An even larger location, back in Bell, lasted from 1949 until 1950, followed by the shop in nearby Lynwood. Sam left the business in 1956 to return to Northern California (and passed away in 1967).
The Move to North Hollywood
Barris made the last move in 1961. His wife, Shirley, found the location for the shop, now named Barris Kustom City, at 10811 Riverside Drive in the San Fernando Valley. By this time, Barris was well-known to enthusiasts across the country, not only for such award-winning creations as the Hirohata Merc, Ala Kart, the Emperor, and the Golden Sahara, but for the tech stories he was contributing to HOT ROD and other magazines. He was also getting attention of the nearby studios—and the stars. TV and movie projects started increasing and soon, thanks to customs like the Munster Koach and the original Batmobile, George Barris’ cars were becoming the best-known customs in America. The biggest celebrities were commissioning one-of-a-kind personal cars from Barris Kustom City as well.
In the midst of all the famous cars he built and in the company of Hollywood’s biggest stars, George Barris cultivated his own celebrity status (called “branding” nowadays). He was a master or promotion. “As he built cars, he always thought about how to promote,” Joji told us. For the rest of his life, Barris never left the spotlight—a regular at national hot rod and custom shows, at SEMA, and in the media. In 2004, he hosted the inaugural Crusin’ Back to the ’50s Culver City Car Show, which continues annually.
Barris Kustom After George Barris
After George Barris passed away in 2015, his family kept Barris Kustom in business on Riverside Drive.
Without the shop’s namesake, there are no new projects cars being created, but the company is still an integral part of the hobby, involved with events from Pebble Beach to the SEMA Show, sponsoring trophies, overseeing the restoration of some historic builds from the past, and participating in youth educational programs like the Acceler8 program with the Los Angeles Police Department. “Keeping the legacy going,” as Joji put it.
The Next Barris Kustom City
A full custom shop is no longer a practical need for Barris Kustom and most of the Barris family has relocated from Los Angeles to Ventura County, 50 miles up the coast (and the center of a lot of hot rod and custom car activity). Thus the “for sale” sign on the Riverside Drive building and the search for a new Barris Kustom property closer to home.
“It’s a bittersweet move, but it makes sense,” Joji said. “Mom went in 2001 and Dad went in 2015. It’s not the same without him. We can only do so much.”
The move is bittersweet for everybody who will miss the historic location, but we know that Barris Kustom is not a piece of real estate, it’s a piece of hot rod history. We are eager to visit the new location when that day comes.
Watch! George Barris and the Batmobile
Go back in time to the 2006 SEMA Show, where MotorTrend caught up with George Barris to hear him talk about the Batmobile he created for the 1960s Batman TV series.
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