My grandmother, Irene, was beyond surprised when she realized she had a granddaughter who was interested in her family’s history. Her parents had a museum that began in their home and later required construction of a larger building to house the exhibits. Most of the collection was sold to another local museum before I was able to get in on the action but she did retain several items of interest.
Some of my earliest memories involved playing with literal museum pieces from the pioneer days on the prairie. I learned how to do a lot of basic activities of daily life using those pieces. Irene had a set of irons in various sizes for pressing different sizes of fabric. So the one you would use to iron bedding would be different from the one for a child’s dress. I remember her showing me how to heat the iron over the fireplace. She gave me some linen handkerchiefs to practice with and despite being as careful as a grade schooler could be, I burned my hand. That led to a First Aid lesson on current burn remedies as well as the methods used by pioneers and how she saw things evolve throughout her life.
Irene was a practical person and she made notes when I expressed interest in a particular photo or piece of china. She made sure I took those items with me when I left for college and I’ve been dragging them around for nearly 30 years. One of those cherished items was a photo of Irene at four years of age with her sister, her grandmother, and her uncle’s girlfriend. I only knew the girlfriend’s first and last names and that she was from California. Her name was relatively common and I didn’t think I stood a snowball’s chance in Hell of ever learning anything more about her.
I began a newspaper search for the girlfriend and was overwhelmed by the number of results found. Then I saw one that listed the correct name with the middle initial V and thought if only I could be so lucky. So I looked into this person with the middle name Veronica and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t her.
Veronica’s father was a retired railroad official who took a job in Long Beach as Vice President for a startup brokerage. He was also an original trustee for the brand-new and totally badass all co-op Sovereign Apartments, where he owned a large flat. The family came from Kansas and lived in Kansas City for a while before moving to California. One of Veronica’s sisters married a well-known Kansas City musician and composer and I recently learned the sister was a musician herself. Now I know how Veronica met my grandmother’s uncle.
The late teens and early 1920s were huge for people in the Kansas City entertainment scene moving to the Los Angeles area. Dr. E M. Hiner was a dentist and celebrated bandleader who had a successful music school and was tight with John Philip Sousa. Dr. Hiner moved to LA in 1919 and ultimately founded the music department at what is now UCLA. His former home on Figueroa Street is included in a tour of historic properties and there is a bandshell dedicated to Hiner and Sousa in a park across the street.
Irene’s uncle moved to LA at the same time as Veronica and her family in 1920. Veronica’s brother-in-law had his own orchestra which was featured in “La Fiesta” at the Million Dollar Theatre. By 1932, he was playing in the RKO Hillstreet Theater Orchestra. As the Great Depression progressed, he found steady work as a WPA musician. His nephew was a Hollywood radio performer who later became an insurance adjuster and convicted jewel thief. I know Irene’s uncle played professionally in the LA area but that’s about all I know. Many of the American Federation of Musicians Local No. 47’s records were destroyed by fire around 1970 so I may never learn more about his career.
For now, I have this band photo taken by Hollywood photographer Albert Witzel.
Although I can make a couple guesses, the only person I can identify with certainty is the gentleman in the back row, third from left. Help me ID any of the others and I’ll buy you a beer…or twelve.
I’ll up the ante if you correctly identify this car.
I don’t think I ask for much but this is turning into the brickiest of brick walls. It really shouldn’t be such a problem. After all, it’s only been 100 years.
Help me out, people. I’ve reached out to nearly everyone I can think of and haven’t received many replies. I’m starting to run out of ideas.