I have officially been to the coolest private residence in L.A. It is not a mansion in Bel Air, or a penthouse downtown, or a modern masterpiece in Malibu. It is a cozy, enchanted cottage on a transitioning stretch of Figueroa Street in Highland Park. From Sycamore Grove Park across the street, it looks leafy and lovely, but nothing compared to the artistic wonderland that awaits one inside.
I am greeted at the unique metal gate (which displays the house's numerical address using pool balls) by the jovial Troy Evans, who has owned the home with wife Heather since 1996. "Do you like the gate?" he asks, as we walk through a front garden filled with potted plants, happy flowers and homemade ornaments. "I have to brag, here is the artist herself." He presents a beaming Heather, who stands on the porch to greet me. We walk into the front parlor, an Arts and Crafts stunner filled with artwork, books and contented warmth. Everywhere there are reminders of Edwin and Anna Hiner, the couple who built this house in 1922 -- paintings, a cornet, photos, and sheet music. Troy points out an original wall mural depicting a group of Rocco beauties playing musical instruments. It was painted by the local artist Jay Steven Ward. He holds up an old copy of Etude magazine that he found in an antique shop on vacation -- it is the same picture, which he surmises the Hiners asked Ward to copy.
We proceed through the bright, antique filled kitchen to the backyard, which is magical. There is a pond with fountains made from brass horns. There is a birdhouse that is painted black, with the word "Nevermore" stenciled on it in white. A tepee, handmade by Troy and decorated with sketches of brightly colored fish, houses Heather's blacksmith shop. Tools and artwork are scattered all around. "Sousa Nook," a cabin like structure constructed by the Hiners, now Troy's workspace, is filled with sewing machines and scraps of leather. Outside, I ask if a particular piece of grillwork is Heather's. "No," she explains, "someone brought it to me. People bring me things all the time, odds and ends that they think I might like to use." As I chat with this devoted, talented couple, I think of the words of columnist Lee Shipeey, who visited the home over 80 years ago. He called the Hiners' residence "the house that love built." 1
Dr. Hiner has a history that is replete with incident, drama and fame. A quarter century ago, his Third Regiment Band concert was heard by President McKinley, and Mrs. McKinley showed her appreciation by presenting Dr. Hiner with a beautiful bouquet of roses. His musical ability is known from coast to coast.--Los Angeles Times, March 17, 1923 2
When Dr. Edwin M. Hiner and his wife, Anna, arrived in Los Angeles around 1919, they were already in the middle of two long and distinguished careers. "Doc" Hiner, born in Kansas in 1872, was a noted Kansas City band leader, cornet master, and teacher who had led his Third Regiment Band to the Spanish American War. He worked for a time as a dentist to supplement his income. Lee Shipeey, an L.A. Times columnist and native of Kansas City, remembered that "as a kid we were ready at any time to walk a mile to hear 'Doc' Hiner's band" play evening concerts in various public parks. Anna Hiner was a noted soprano and favored soloist of John Phillip Sousa, the famed military composer of such patriotic tunes as "Stars and Stripes Forever." Sousa was a great friend of the couple (he called Dr. Hiner "my brilliant young friend") and visited them frequently. He dedicated his composition, "The American Girl," to Anna. 3
Not long after the Hiners came to town, The Los Angeles Times heralded their arrival:
Dr. E.M. Hiner has been interested in band work and has directed bands all his life, starting at the age of 15. For 30 years he conducted Hiner's Band of Kansas City. He is the head of Hiner's Band School in Kansas City, the biggest institution of its kind in the country and now is in charge of the Los Angeles branch. He has instructed some of the world's greatest artists in band playing and possesses one of the largest band libraries in existence. The dream of his life is to develop the world's greatest brass band [...] He feels that Los Angeles is destined to become the art and music center of the world and hence has chosen this section of the country for the concentration of his efforts toward the goal of his dreams. 4
The Hiners soon became part of the thriving Los Angeles music scene. Hiner opened a school and put new bands together, including a cornet quartet. His bands, which often included Anna as a soloist, were featured frequently on KHJ, the L.A. Times Radio Station. They played music as varied as "Dixie," "In the Cathedral," and "Joy to the World," along with many Sousa marches. Dr. Hiner's version of "Taps" was often singled out for particular praise. So was Anna's singing voice, which a reviewer called "a merry voice, a voice of pleasing range and power, a voice of unusual personality [...] Not only is her voice an asset, but also her smile." 5 In 1924, The Los Angeles Times reported on one radio concert rhapsodically:
Under a big white tent on the roof of the Time's building, thirty five musicians under the direction of Dr. E.M. Hiner yesterday morning gave a band concert in commemoration of Armistice Day. The music touched and thrilled the hearts of thousands of listeners throughout Radioland, inspiring new patriotism and love for those principles which are rooted in the hearts of every American man and woman. Sousa's stirring march "Stars and Stripes Forever" opened the program [...] In the great coliseum of Los Angeles, where people were gathering for the celebration and services to take place later in the day, the thousands who were there rose to their feet as Dr. Hiner's band sent out the opening bars of the "Star Spangled Banner." The western electric public address system installed in the coliseum was reproducing with tremendous volume the program broadcast by KHJ. 6
In 1922, the Hiners constructed a two story Arts and Crafts bungalow on a lot next to a spring, in the heart of Highland Park. They hired the architect Carl Boller, a fellow Kansas City native best known for his designs of movie houses. Highland Park fit the Hiners like a glove. Since the 1880s, the neighborhood had been known for its bohemian population, which included many artists, professors and writers. Sycamore Grove Park played host to many outdoor concerts, while much of the neighborhood's social life centered around the nearby Southwest Museum. The Hiners would soon become a vital part of the cultural whirl of Highland Park, bringing music and artistry to the neighborhood for decades to come.
Work and Love and Enthusiasm
Passing the northern end of Sycamore Grove yesterday, our attention was arrested by a house which seemed to suggest that friendly, simple and very artistic people dwelt there. While we paused, irresolute, a burst of music came from somewhere in the rear. Not radio music but real honest-to-goodness human music. That settled it. We rang the bell. But we got no answer. So we strolled around the house. There half a dozen earnest young men were exercising band instruments, led by an older man who fairly exuded energy and enthusiasm. But at sight of us he stopped. "Why, hello, Lee!" he exclaimed. "I've been wondering if you'd ever find me. I've been intending to call you up -- but have been too all fired busy." "We didn't know you were here," we explained. "We were just attracted by the house and grounds." "Hooray!" cried the doctor. "That pleases us a lot, for Mama and I built this all by ourselves. We drove over into the Arroyo with an old car and brought all the stones for it, and then helped build it, too." 7
The Hiner house was not only a personal home, it was also Dr. Hiner's music school. Most days, boys and girls could be found in the front parlor or backyard, learning to play instruments under Dr. Hiner's loving instruction. The Hiners could often be found across the street at Sycamore Grove Park where they provided music for events such as the annual state picnic for 15,000 Missouri natives, and the annual "Over Seventy Folks Society" reunion. His band led the Easter sunrise service at the Southwest Museum, serenading a crowd of 5,000 with the "Hallelujah Chorus." Dr. Hiner also helped teach schoolchildren at the Museum's twice monthly music appreciation club. He founded the music department at the Los Angeles Normal School, which eventually became UCLA. His teaching methods extended into shaping his students' moral character, and he often utilized them in the improvement of his home:
Everything else here is built by us [Doc and Anna], with the help of some of my boys. I just don't teach boys to play instruments. I teach 'em to work and save money [...] We build all our music racks, our walks, our seats, our barbeque ovens. I give extra instructions to the boys for helping me build things and they all feel it is their place. See our assembly hall over there, Sousa Nook we call it. We built that and Sousa came out to dedicate it. When I bought this place nine years ago it was a public dump, and it's cost mighty little to make it what it is. Just work and love and enthusiasm. I couldn't saw a board when we started. I hadn't an idea of how to mix concrete or lay cement. I've learned so that now my boys learn music and manual training together.8
Of course, the Hiners' world was much larger than the cozy neighborhood of Highland Park. The KHJ children's hour frequently featured kids trained by Hiner, playing both classical and popular selections. Hiner's band performed in Pershing Square, the fiesta room at the Ambassador, and after their great friend Sousa's death in 1932, a memorial concert at the Hotel Rosslyn, featuring musicians who had played under the legendary composer. Perhaps one of Anna's most interesting performances was as Wagner's tragic Brunhilda, staged in Westlake Park. Accompanied by her husband's band, she sang a battle cry from a "burning" boat in the middle of the park's lake, as spectators in canoes rowed all around.
During World War II, over 100 of "Doc's" students were in army bands. This made him extremely happy. Interviewed at his home, Hiner told a reporter that he believed that this "war's great march" had yet to be written. "All the war songs written this time have been thrown together primarily to sell," he explained. "There hasn't been any real inspiration in back of them. You have to have a lot of inspiration to write a march." 9 Surprisingly, the grand old bandmaster seems to have written only one tune in his life, a "rollicking number" called "Seabiscuit," in honor of the famous racehorse.
In September 1947, the 75 year old Hiner played a special afternoon concert at Sycamore Grove Park, where he had entertained so many people for so many years. He died at his beloved house in 1948. Anna lived in "the house that love built" until her death in 1969. After that, Everett Moore, her son from a previous marriage, became the owner of the house. He lived there until his death in the early 1990s.
"Many a Saturday, I lay on the lawn of Sycamore Grove opposite Dr. Hiner's house and listened to his band rehearsing the Sousa Marches. I never will forget him standing under the shade of the great oak tree in his shirt sleeves directing the band"--Frederick Morrison, 1972 10
By the time Everett died, Highland Park had long since become a troubled neighborhood. The Hiner house was designated a Historic Cultural Landmark by the city in 1972, which helped save it from destruction. When Troy and Heather bought the home, they lovingly restored it and revitalized the grounds.
Over the past few years, Highland Park has also been restored and revitalized. Many young, artistic people are moving into the neighborhood, drawn to the wide array of fixer-upper historic homes and the area's creative vibe. In 2005, the outdoor theater in the park was renamed the Sousa-Hiner Bandshell, in honor of the friendship between the two men. After the dedication ceremony, Troy and Heather hosted a party at their storied home. With tears in his eyes, Troy told me how several of Hiner's former students, now in their 70s and 80s, had come to the house. All had worked as professional musicians. One, who had been paralyzed since he was a child, told of how Hiner had carried him to his chair for his lessons. As the students reminisced, the artistic past and present of this enchanted home were together under one very merry roof.
Special thanks to Heather and Troy!
1 "KHJ peace day music charms" Los Angeles Times, November 12, 1923
2 "Irish night of KHJ" Los Angeles Times, March 17, 1923
3 "Lee Side of L.A." Los Angeles Times Jan 20 ,1943
4 "KHJ peace day music charms" Los Angeles Times, November 12, 1923
5 Irish night of KHJ" Los Angeles Times, March 17, 1923
6 "KHJ peace day music charms" Los Angeles Times, November 12, 1923national songs by radio)
7 "Lee Side of L.A." Los Angeles Times, Jan 10 1929
9 "Band expert says wars march still unwritten" Los Angeles Times, March 20, 1943
10 "Cultural Heritage Board" Los Angeles Times November 26, 1972