Harry Hall has lived through both World Wars and the Great Depression. He was already an adult when the attack on Pearl Harbor happened. He’s bore witness to the modern motion picture and the advent of air travel, and was alive before the first transcontinental telephone call between New York City and San Francisco ever occurred.
The same year Hall was born also saw the completion of the Angels Gate Lighthouse, the opening of the Panama Canal and introduction of Ford’s modern assembly line.
To say that Harry Hall has seen a few things in his lifetime is an understatement.
The son of Charles and Christine Hall, Hall was born on June 7, 1913, in San Pedro, and is the youngest of eight children. He would go on to attend Barton Hill Elementary School, Bandini Street School and San Pedro High School, where he was the humor editor for the school’s Fore ‘n Aft newspaper and the yearbook.
Today, nearly a century later, Hall is healthy and happy and living a treasured life in his home in San Pedro; in the same house he’s lived in since the 1950s. You know, when he was in his 40s.
“Well, hello there,” Hall says as he welcomes this reporter into his home. He has a slow yet steady gait as he navigates his way through his living room, settling down in the middle of his couch. “Have a seat,” he says.
For someone approaching a century in age, Harry Hall shows no signs of slowing down. Sitting in khaki pants and a Hawaiian shirt, with his silver mane slicked and well coiffed, the man many people know as “that guy who plays the violin” is all too happy to discuss his life as he nears such an amazing milestone.
“My daily routine, you know, for a 100 year old, it’s not much,” laughs Hall. “I have nobody here to do the housework, you know. But I’ve got a gardener and I’ve got friends next door.”
It’s surprising to realize that Hall is as independent as ever. He still drives around town and lives on his own (though relatives drive him when he needs to go outside of San Pedro). He’s constantly entertaining the multitude of guests that stop by to make sure he’s doing ok on a daily basis. It’s safe to say that entertaining has been his life’s work.
A Lifetime Love Affair
Hall is never too far from his trusty violin. It’s the instrument that has come to define his life. The way he explains it, his introduction to the violin came in the form of a door-to-door salesman who was selling violin lessons in town.
“My folks thought it’d be nice if I studied some music,” he recalls. “It didn’t matter what it would be. If the guy who came to our door was selling pianos, maybe I’d have taken piano. But no, I started the violin. I found out I enjoyed it very much. And that I was capable of doing it.”
Since Hall didn’t own his own violin, he would pay a dollar a week to his teacher for a year, after the year was up, he could keep the violin he had been practicing on.
“It was a violin and a bow,” he says. “Then you’d pick the music up every week. That was a 10-cent sheet of music and it was gradually getting harder and harder as you went. But if you did it for one year – and it was a dollar a lesson – one year, the violin was yours.”
That one year turned into a lifetime love affair with music.
Eventually, Hall joined the Navy Seabees and served during WWII. While stationed at Camp Peary in Virginia, Hall called to have his violin shipped to him.
“I was entertaining the kids, you know, the fellows,” he remembers. “Somebody would have a guitar and they’d sing and if there was a piano, they had a pianist too. So we had a little group that we could get together.”
After the war, Hall joined the faculty of the National Institute of Music and traveled around the western United States teaching violin to students and teaching teachers, as well. In 1948, Hall would experience one of his life’s highlights as he conducted an orchestra of 2,000 violins at the Hollywood Bowl.
In 1950, Hall married his first wife, Muzelle Davis. Sadly, Muzelle would die of cancer in October 1961. Looking to move on, in December 1963, Hall would marry Eda Cortner. They would be married for 32 years before Eda’s passing from a stroke in 1995. Both marriages never spawned children.
Even through those difficult times, Hall always found solace in music. While he could read music, he claims he was a better learner by ear.
“My ear is pretty good,” claims Hall. “So, you know, I could actually play tunes that a lot of kids can’t play. They can’t play tunes that they’ve heard.”
Even though he has been around the world with the Navy and traveled across the country as a violin teacher, he still calls San Pedro home, where he’s taught countless San Pedro kids (and adults) the art of the violin. From the bay window in his living room you can see the Angels Gate Lighthouse, two San Pedro stalwarts, both approaching a major life milestone.
When asked about all the changes he’s seen just in San Pedro, the first thing he mentions is the razing of Beacon Street in downtown, even though he was in his 60s when the bulldozers came through in the 1970s.
“There were a lot of changes here that I’m not too crazy about,” he says. “The fact that the downtown district is gone. You know, we used to have great clothing stores here.”
Hall will tell you how he remembers when the Palos Verdes hill was nothing but farmland, or how a dime could buy you a burger and soda on Pacific Ave. “Those were good days,” he says.
Today, as Hall approaches his 100th birthday, you can still find him playing violin at The Whale and Ale in downtown or entertaining the residents at the Harbor Terrace retirement community. Every Saturday night, his neighbors come over to his house and bring wine and snacks as they sit around the coffee table telling stories to each other. “We talk about old times,” he says.
Even though his active lifestyle may be a clue, when asked what his secret to reaching 100 is, Hall pauses to think for a second. He may have been asked this before, but his answer takes some thought.
“Study music because you’ll live longer,” he says. “Oh, and chardonnay.”
He has a glass of it every night. spt