After more than 50 years serving the Hill District, iconic barber and entrepreneur Walter Hamm passed away in his home March 9 at the age of 78. His barbershop on the corner of Centre Avenue and Kirkpatrick Street stands as a testament to his legacy as a community servant always quick to lend a hand, a shave, or a smile.
“He was cutting hair on the Hill until the day he died,” said Hamm’s wife Janice Hamm. “He was a person who cared. He’d tell you everything he got came from the Hill.”
Hamm’s career began in 1956 after his graduation from the Pittsburgh Barber School. Two years later he opened his first barbershop on Wylie Avenue.
Throughout his life, Hamm owned a number of other businesses including a lock and key shop and a restaurant, Hamm’s Black Derby. He also wore many different hats as a member of the United States Army, contractor and landlord, owning several apartment buildings and rental properties.
In 1971, Hamm’s barbershop was relocated to Centre Avenue where it has stayed for the last 40 years. The barbershop has remained a staple in the community, standing strong while other businesses and institutions have come and gone.
“He started out in 1956 at a barbershop. That’s when he first came out of barber school. He took over the shop and worked there until the city bought the property and tore it down,” said Janice Hamm. “We had Hamm’s Black Derby, which was a fast food restaurant, so we closed it down so he could have his barbershop there. That was ‘71.”
Hamm was born on Oct. 25, 1932, and raised in East Liberty with his five siblings Olamae Hamm Gibson, Ernestine Hamm Cheatham, George Hamm, James Hamm and Samuel Hamm who have all passed. His father William Hamm, a postal worker, and his mother Agnes Hamm raised him.
Hamm was a graduate of Westinghouse High School and upon graduation he went on to serve in the Korean War where he received an honorable discharge.
In 1961 Hamm married his wife Janice and they had three daughters, Tracy Hamm, Shawn Hamm, and La Schell Hamm Wilson. He is also survived by granddaughters, India Hamm and Milan Amani Wilson; son in-law Robert Wilson; niece Gail Boyd; and many other family members and friends.
“That was his life. He loved the Hill. He’s been a barber on the Hill for over 50 years,” said the barber’s daughter Shawn Hamm. “He always wanted to stay on the Hill. He was an icon in the community.”
Ebenezer Baptist Church hosted Hamm’s visitation March 14 from 4-9 p.m. and a funeral was held March 15 at 11a.m. He was buried in the Homewood Cemetery.