There are many forms of culture in Highland Park, at least if its boundaries are taken loosely.
Some things look brighter for Bill Warren, the Highland Park stationer and cultural booster, than they did the last time his name came up here.
That was in December, when Warren was brooding over the future of the Highland Park Symphony, which was threatening to expire after he had nursed it through several lean seasons.
The first good news is that it now appears Warren’s hair was never quite as gray as his circumstances made it seem a few months ago.
More important, through hard work and some good fortune Warren has put together a slender financing package to let the symphony play again.
That will be at 3 p.m. Sunday in the Franklin High School auditorium. The orchestra will play Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte Overture,” Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” and Beethoven’s “Pastoral” symphony.
Admission is free. During intermission a tea will be hosted by Los Angeles City Council members Richard Alatorre and Gloria Molina, who both get some of the credit for this year’s resuscitation of the symphony.
“The city bailed us out,” Warren said sonorously, as prelude and finale to the story.
The two council officials came up with grants. And the city’s Cultural Affairs Department, which used to chip in a share of the cost of each of the symphony’s four annual concerts, agreed to maintain its grant even if the association was able to mount only a single concert.
Fair enough, Warren thought. That would at least provide a proper ending for the Highland Park Cultural Festival, an annual three-day event that begins Friday.
This 5-year-old institution was founded by Warren and his late wife, Bernice, to show that Highland Park is a place of culture, even if that fact is not widely known throughout the city.
As this year’s program illustrates, there are many forms of culture in Highland Park, at least, if its boundaries are taken loosely. There is intellectual culture, represented by Occidental College. There is historical culture in the Casa de Adobe, the Lumis Home and Heritage Square. There is artistic culture in the Highland Park Dance and Theatre School, the Judson Stained Glass Studios and the environmental art of Marie Ucci.
There is also a basically Midwestern culture of the kind Warren brought with him from Indiana when he moved in many years ago. It is represented by the opening ceremony of family entertainment by the Ministerial Fellowship of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, an event that is free, like almost everything in the festival.
Highland Park, Warren boasts with authority in his voice, has more churches per capita than any other community he knows of.
It is now rich also in ethnic culture, which unfortunately is not as evident in the program as Warren would like.
In past years, the tours included the impressive Buddhist temple off Figueroa. This year, though, the festival’s delegation paid a visit there and couldn’t find anyone who spoke English. The monk they used to deal with evidently had moved to another temple.
A sense of Highland Park’s deepest cultural asset was inescapable last week as Warren set out on foot from his stationery store on Figueroa Street near Avenue 54 to distribute his flyers.
First he walked into Seymour’s 64-year-old jewelry store and left off a handful, along with a friendly greeting for its new owner, Gary Hartounian.
Then he hit Benson’s television shop. The conversation there went something like this:
“Would you give some of these to your customers?”
“I’d be glad to.”
“You’re a gentleman and a scholar.”
Warren repeated that phrase at most of his stops. These included Mae, the manager at the Owl Drug Store; Laura at her cafe, which was full, and a young Latino man who manages the old-fashioned looking Highland Park Hardware.
The hardware manager said business was good and asked how things were for Warren.
“I can’t complain,” Warren said. “It doesn’t do me any good.”
Warren left the last of his flyers at two clothing stores, both run by Vietnamese merchants. The first, he pointed out, had recently been redecorated in a modish style, which seemed to please him. Inside, thumping disco music forced him to shout his message to a young woman dressed in the latest fashion. She nodded her acceptance of the flyers.
Warren refrained from addressing her as a gentleman and a scholar.
But he resumed the practice at the next store, where a quiet man in polyester slacks oversaw a more stolid line of clothing.
The two men knew each other by sight but shook hands and exchanged names for the first time.
Back at his store, Warren handed out more flyers to a young woman in jeans who bounced in.
She was the owner of the Highland Park Dance Theatre School and had come to buy sundries.
Highland Park may be changing. But it’s still one of those rare spots where there is culture in everyday life.