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

Garcetti: A Vote For San Pedro

For years, San Pedro has been disillusioned when it comes to getting attention during election season in Los Angeles. In fact, the last time we felt special was when we had both James Hahn serving as the Mayor of Los Angeles and his sister Janice Hahn as our Councilmember. This was our opportunity to truly shine and experience a rebirth for San Pedro and revitalize our downtown and our waterfront.

The momentum shifted when Mayor Hahn lost to current mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and in the past eight years the emphasis on developing our waterfront lost some of the urgency that the project had during Hahn’s term. Although much has been accomplished, there is much more to complete. The question we must ask ourselves when deciding who to vote for in the upcoming Mayoral election is which candidate has the experience to take our waterfront to the next level, as this is really what’s at stake in this election for San Pedro.

Our waterfront has been the lifeblood not only to San Pedro and the Harbor Area, but to the entire Los Angeles region. It is estimated that for every one waterfront job, 10 regional jobs are created. In these tough economic times, it will be essential that the next mayor understands what is required to keep our port competitive as we battle the challenge from a widened Panama Canal, due to open in 2014.

In addition, there is the potential to have a world-class marine research center at City Dock #1 that will provide knowledge-based jobs locally like we have never seen before. A world-class center would put San Pedro on the global stage for ocean research and development as it would be the launching port for many future deep sea explorations. The center would be a catalyst for numerous small businesses to open in support of this new local industry and it would create educational opportunities that would make our waterfront a premiere West Coast hub for oceanography and maritime studies at every level, from kindergarten all the way up to university doctorate programs.

Finally, the next mayor must understand the importance of revitalizing the waterfront with the goal of becoming one of the best and most famous waterfronts in the world. We need a mayor that is not afraid to build our waterfront into becoming an international tourism destination, not just a local attraction for folks that live 30 miles from the water, but even for those that live 30 hours from it.

This is why I am supporting Eric Garcetti to become the next Mayor of Los Angeles. This was a tough decision because I personally like both candidates, but if you equate the future potential of our waterfront as a world destination to what has actually happened in Hollywood with its development over the past 10 years, then you too would support Garcetti.

As a councilman whose district included Hollywood, Garcetti must be admired for the transformation of Tinseltown during his terms, and I believe that the experience and leadership it took to get there is what San Pedro needs in its next mayor. Link this knowledge and experience with the passion, energy, and leadership of our own councilmember, Joe Buscaino, and we have a recipe for success. It is no coincidence that Buscaino has endorsed Garcetti for the May 21 run-off election. It is because they share the same vision for Los Angeles, especially growing our waterfront to become a world destination!

San Pedro is forecasted to be the swing district in this election. So, after all these years after being thought to be the stepchild of the city of Los Angeles, we could be the district that determines the outcome. This is a great position to be in. Eric stated when he was in San Pedro, “A lot of people call this area the tail. I see a different image: If the city of L.A. is like a kite, this is the anchor… The growth of this town began because this harbor was dug.” I couldn’t agree more. spt

Anthony Pirozzi is a member of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and past president of Eastview Little League. He can be contacted at apirozzi@yahoo.com.