Life & How To Live It

Harry Hall, photographed at his home on May 10, 2013 (photo by Joshua Stecker)

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.”

Home

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

San Pedro’s Living Treasures

On March 1, the San Pedro Historic Downtown Waterfront District will host the Living Treasures Dinner at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown San Pedro, kicking off the year-long celebration of our port town’s 125th anniversary. While there are plenty of living treasures in San Pedro who could be on this list, the following select few are being honored for their contributions to our community.

(photos by Joleen D'Rage)

Jean Wilder

Jean Acalin Wilder has lived her entire life in San Pedro. She was born in 1928 to Italian and Dalmatian parents. She lives in a beautiful 100-year old Craftsman house built in 1913 that has a spectacular view of the Cabrillo Beach breakwater. The home sits on two lots in the Point Fermin area that was given to her husband’s family by George H. Peck, one of San Pedro’s notable real estate developers. Jean and her husband, Charles Wilder Jr., had six children together – five boys and one girl, all of which were born at the old, brick, San Pedro Hospital.


Joe Marino

Joe Marino moved to San Pedro with his family from Rockford, Ill., at the age of 13. Marino, a Sicilian, has lived in town now for more than 72 years, and says he’s “in love with the town of San Pedro and the community at large, as the community has come together to make this a great place to work and live.” Marino spent 48 years as an educator and worked as a local elementary school teacher for 10 years –at Leland, White Point, and Crestwood – and as a school administrator for 25 years. After retiring from the LAUSD, Marino mentored college students studying to be schoolteachers at Cal State Dominguez Hills in 1992, and did so for 13 years. Marino was honored as LAUSD’s Principal of the Year in 1987 and was Honorary Mayor of San Pedro from 1988-1989. Joe is married to his lovely wife, Marian. Together they have two children and three grandchildren.

Harry Hall

Harry Hall will celebrate his 100th birthday this June, which makes Harry and the Angel’s Gate Lighthouse the exact same age. Born and raised in San Pedro, Hall’s parents came from Swedish immigrant families that settled in Minnesota. Hall made it to San Pedro when his family moved there in 1905. At age 9, Harry fell in love with the violin after a salesman knocked on the family door selling violin lessons. This love would lead Hall to become a professional violinist and teacher, teaching lessons at Vine’s Music, Compton College and a private studio in Palos Verdes Estates, just to name a few. He even conducted a 2,000-violin orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl in 1948. Hall married two times, and is twice widowed, but says he feels blessed to have had two wives who both shared his passion for music and his love of San Pedro. Amazingly, Hall is still playing the violin around town. You can find him at such as the Harbor Terrace Retirement Community, First United Methodist Church and a downtown favorite, The Whale and Ale.


Anne Gusha

You can still find Anne Gusha behind the counter of Williams’ Book Store on 6th Street in downtown San Pedro. At 93-years-old (and still counting), the Seattle-born Gusha is best known as the current owner of the historic, and historically independent, bookstore. Soon after she was born, she moved to San Pedro from Washington with her Croatian family in 1920. Gusha first stepped foot in the bookstore when she was eight. In 1941, Gusha began working at the store for then-owner Ethel Williams. When Williams retired in 1980, Gusha and her son, Jerry, took over the store, calling it their own. Gusha has spent much of her time on philanthropic causes, such as Soroptomist International, Los Angeles Harbor, and has worked hard to promote literacy and women’s issues. Anne was married in 1945 and has three children.


Muriel Olguin

Muriel Olguin says that San Pedro “was the best place to raise kids and build careers while living in one of the most beautiful places.” Born in our port town in 1923, Olguin, 89, bounced around the Harbor Area before settling in San Pedro, where she’s lived for the past 65 years. Her life with her late husband, John Olguin, was the stuff of legend and romance novels, and was chronicled in San Pedro Today columnist Jack Baric‘s San Pedro documentary, Port Town, where the couple’s love of sleeping outside under the stars and rowing their 15-foot rowboat to the Isthmus at the West End of Catalina Island was featured. An artist and philanthropist, Olguin completed a Master of Arts degree in 1958, at a time when “mothers didn’t go to college with children and a husband at home,” she says. She was a founding member of the Angel’s Gate Cultural Center, the Rembrandt Crew that started the Palos Verdes Art Center, and with other artists, The Loft in downtown San Pedro. Both Muriel and John Olguin, for the majority of their lives, have immensely and unselfishly contributed to San Pedro and the surrounding communities. Together they had three children and a very active home life in San Pedro.


Matty Domancich

Kuzma Domancich, best known around town as “Matty,” is as true a San Pedran as they come. Born of Croatian parents and raised in San Pedro for the past 90 years, Matty remains one of San Pedro’s greatest, active, goodwill ambassadors. Domancich founded and became the first President of San Pedro High School’s Pirate Booster Club in 1958, an all-volunteer, fundraising organization originally established to provide moral and monetary support to some of the high school’s athletes and their needs. Today, it has expanded its support to include all SPHS sports, academic clubs, theater arts and many other campus-sponsored activities. It is also believed to be the LAUSD’s oldest booster club. Domancich also served as a past Honorary Mayor of San Pedro from 1989-1991 and is a past “Exalted Ruler” of the San Pedro Elks Lodge. If you’re old enough, you may remember Domancich’s two Shell Gas Stations – one on Gaffey St. and the other on Pacific Ave. After Shell told him to stop providing full-service to his customers, Domancich became angry, immediately closed-up shop, and went on to open the Bike Palace. Today, you can find Domancich selling historic photos of San Pedro with the proceeds going to the San Pedro Elks Lodge, who in turn funds scholarships for local students. Domancich was married to his late wife Mary and they had one daughter.


Goldeen Kaloper

Goldeen Kaloper turns 96 this month. Born in Zlarin, Croatia, Kaloper came to the United States with her family at the young age of 12, first settling in Seattle, Wash. In 1942, Kaloper met her second husband and they moved to San Pedro. Both were widows with small infants at the time, and built a long and happy marriage of 65 years. Together, they had five children. She was one of the “cannery girls” and worked there for 24 years. The Kaloper home was a center for hospitality, especially for fishermen whose families were still back in the “old country.” God and family are the two most important things in Kaloper’s life. She believes this is what makes San Pedro great – as long as people have a deep faith, and love for their families, problems can be solved. She says the secret to a long life is, “Eat healthy, wish good for everyone, and God bless my children who take care of me!”


Thelma Gatlin

Thelma Gatlin was born in Shreveport, La. on July 15, 1924. Born Thelma Johnson, she was one of 18 children. Gatlin moved to San Pedro in 1942 to work in the shipyards during World War II. She soon married John Gatlin in 1944 and had they had children. At 88 years of age, Thelma is still very active in the community and serves on several boards, including the Toberman executive board and First Neighborhood Council in San Pedro. In the past, Gatlin served on the first board for the Central Neighborhood Council, and was one of the first recipients of the YWCA’s “Racial Justice Award.” She has also served as the President of the San Pedro YWCA board, President of the Women Church United, Vice President of the Republican Club in San Pedro. Today, you can find Gatlin as an active member of Ocean View Baptist Church.


Helen DiMaggio

Helen DiMaggio is 94-years-old and the wife of the late Neno DiMaggio. Half Mexican and half Croatian, she is the daughter of Andrew & Mary Fistonich who founded Star Fisheries Inc. in 1921. After her father Andrew passed away, her husband Neno assumed leadership of the company. With her husband at the helm, DiMaggio worked behind the scenes for 39 years, along with her sister, Anita Mardesich, who continued in the family business with subsidiary, American Fisheries. DiMaggio has been active in many community groups including San Pedro Peninsula Cancer Guild, Little Sisters of the Poor Auxiliary, the Assistance League of San Pedro, Mary Star of the Sea Church and Holy Trinity Church. She is past president of the prestigious Rotary Ann’s and was an active member of the former Women’s Chamber of Commerce.


Nicoletta “Nikky” Troy

Born in San Pedro on January 12, 1924, 89-year old Nicoletta Troy grew up with four siblings, speaking both Greek and English. Nikki was born at one of the Papadakis family homes, by the help of a midwife, and is cousin to San Pedro community leader, John Papadakis, former owner of Papadakis Taverna. She began working at the age of 12 at her father’s restaurant on Beacon Street, known as the City Hall Café. At just 4′ 10″ tall, she fondly remembers standing on a box in the kitchen to cook hamburgers and hot dogs for their customers. She worked side-by-side with her father until she graduated high school and continued working as a waitress throughout her adult years, at restaurants such as The Fireside, a carhop located on the corner of 6th St. and Gaffey, Cigo’s Restaurant on 9th St. and Pacific, and the legendary Ante’s, from which she retired at age 75.

 

Florence Collins
(no picture available at press time)

Ninety-eight-years-old and still going strong, Florence Collins was born in San Pedro to Italian/Ischian parents on May 28, 1914. She attended Fifth Street School, San Pedro’s original elementary school, which was located where the San Pedro Courthouse sits today. Florence was also in the first graduating class of Dana Middle School. A young wife and mother during the Great Depression, she and her husband, Bill Collins, lived on 9th St., which at the time was referred to as “Dago Flats.” Her husband was a sailor stationed with the Pacific Fleet in San Pedro, which was eventually moved to Pearl Harbor before WWII. His ship, the USS West Virginia, was sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. For two weeks, Collins did not know whether or not her husband had survived. It turns out Bill was knocked unconscious below deck, but was carried up top by a fellow crew member and thrown overboard, which saved his life. Collins has been a lifelong member of Mary Star of the Sea Church, and has several dozen grandchildren, great grand-children and great, great grandchildren, almost all of whom still reside in San Pedro.