By Debra Prinzing
8:27 AM PST, December 14, 2012
It's fitting that Hillary Danner is raising her son and daughter in a century-old Arts and Crafts home in the Sycamore Grove area of Highland Park. Built in 1904, the timber-and-stone residence has a grand staircase, a huge covered porch and a curious pedigree, a hint of which comes in the giant "La Boheme" inscription on the wood panel of the living room fireplace.
The inscription has special meaning to Danner, who grew up in a 1869 Victorian home in Englewood, N.J., that was restored by her parents, actor Harry Danner and opera director Dorothy Danner. Harry, a tenor, coincidentally performed in productions of "La Boheme" all over the country, and when Hillary was young, she was cast in the opera, playing young Emma.
The Liddell "La Boheme" House, as it's called, will be one of six properties on the Highland Park Heritage Trust's bimonthly walking tour of historic homes Saturday.
Through her research, Danner discovered that her house was constructed a few years after "La Boheme" was first staged in Los Angeles. It's quite possible that the opera may have inspired the builder or the original residents to add the fireplace inscription.
Today the house is filled with family antiques, mostly from her paternal grandmother, Katharine Danner, who died at the age of 96 in 2006. Though some younger folks feel bogged down by heirlooms, trapped by the weight of family history and expectations, Danner's house feels very much like a celebration of the old -- at this time of year, a holiday home that glows with the presence of family, through keepsakes and memories.
Since Danner moved into the house in 2006, she also has planted an organic vegetable garden, installed a greenhouse, inherited a pet rooster named George and tended to the fruit trees that a prior owner planted on the hillside leading down to the street. Her 10-year-old son, Danner Renfro, and 5-year-old daughter, Emma Renfro, have been able to see their urban orchard yield figs, plums, Satsumas, Meyer lemons, guavas, apples, almonds and peaches, plus Concord and Thompson grapes.
To keep up with the ripening fruit, Danner taught herself how to make jelly and jam, working at a Viking range in an otherwise vintage-flavored kitchen. Her first batches were adapted from basic jelly instructions in the "Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving."
The former actress parlayed those early experiments into Jenkins Jellies, a line of spreads made with business partner Maria Newman. The company's most popular product, Hell Fire Pepper Jelly, is a blend of seven peppers that has an off-the-charts, hot-and-sweet flavor. Danner and Newman recently gathered their favorite hot-pepper jelly recipes into a cookbook, "Sweet Heat" ($15.95, St. Lynn's Press).
In the forward to the book, Danner's cousin Gwyneth Paltrow recalled the family gatherings of their childhood: "Hillary and I always had this in common, and do to this day ... cooking for people we love, eating, hanging out as a family. It's how we were raised. It's what we do."
What: The bimonthly Highland Park Heritage Trust walking tour, which explores the architectural and social history of one of Los Angeles’ oldest neighborhoods
When: Guided tour runs 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday. The tours for 2013 are scheduled for Feb. 23, April 27, June 29, Aug. 24, Oct. 26 and Dec. 21
Where: Start at the band shell at Sycamore Grove Park, 4600 Figueroa St., Los Angeles
Information: (323) 908-4127, www.hpht.org
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