Soap Plant Founder, Barbara Shire Dies at 100

A tribute to Barbara Shire at her July 20th memorial. Pictured also is her husband, Hank, who preceded her in death as well as family photographs of sons Peter and Billy. Photo: Gary Leonard.

A tribute to Barbara Shire at her July 20th memorial. Pictured also is her husband, Hank, who preceded her in death as well as family photographs of sons Peter and Billy. Photo: Gary Leonard.

ECHO PARK—Barbara N. Shire, the founder of Los Feliz’s Soap Plant died on July 5th. She was 100. 

Shire was memorialized July 20th at her elder son Peter’s artist studio with about 50 in attendance, including son, Billy, who now oversees and manages Soap Plant/Wacko on Hollywood Boulevard.

“She loved beautiful, beautiful things,” a friend of the family said, “and she was able to express herself with that store.”

Shire was remembered as a conversationalist, “the mother to all” of Billy and Peter’s childhood friends always quick with irony and humor and a radical left-wing political personality.

“I would be sitting at the table doing my homework,” Billy recalled, “while the Communist Club was meeting in my house.”

According to Billy, his mother was often a protestor against dictator Francisco Franco and fought for democracy, trade and worker’s unions an educational reforms in Spain. Franco ruled Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975.

Shire was also remembered as one who loved to go camping and the love of “yak.”

“She was born to yak,” said Billy.

She was also a long time Parliament cigarettes, but stopped at age 64.

“If she had not smoked,” Peter said, “she would have lived to 250.”

Both sons remembered their mother as a parent who let them be who they wanted to be and let them both freely explore the hills and valleys of Echo Park as children. She was eulogized as giving her children the freedom of creativity.

Soap Plant began in 1971 on Sunset Boulevard as a family affair. The business then moved to Melrose Avenue in Hollywood in the early 1980s. In 1984, Wacko, descried as a “pop culture toy shop,” was opened and finally in 1995, both businesses were moved to Los Feliz on Hollywood Boulevard.

Shire was born May 25, 1914 and attended the Anna Head School for Girls in Berkeley, founded in 1887. The school relocated to Oakland, CA and merged with the Royce School in 1979 and is now called the Head-Royce school. At 16, Shire enrolled to study biology at Radcliffe College in Massachusetts, which merged with Harvard in 1999.

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