For most of us, searching for our dream house consists of finding a place in a neighborhood we like, with enough space for our stuff and the usual checklist — parking, nice kitchen, a yard.
But in the case of Charon (pronounced Sharon) Nogues, the search was much more complex and aspirational. Nogues and her ex-husband, Reid Maxwell (who called themselves "the Church of Fashion" in the early days, touting recycled arts, activism and music events), along with Long Beach-based vintage clothing store proprietress Johanna Moynahan, were looking for a live-in space that could function creatively as well, a place to inspire and enhance their art collective and events. When they came across a charm-soaked, two-story Victorian on a commercial strip in Lincoln Heights, a former real estate office, the trio dubbed it HM 157 and transformed it into one of the most unique and lively underground party plots and artist residences in Los Angeles.
HM 157 (the "HM" is short for "Historical Monument" — and yes, the house is one, so designated in 1976) has seen a flurry of subversive rock shows, cool screenings, psychedelic dance parties, potlucks and community activist gatherings since it opened in 2007. Jabberjaw’s Michelle Carr (who lived there briefly) hosted a bacchanal called Dadaismus that still gets talked about in scenester circles, while their square dances with Cory Marie Podeilski and Triple Chicken Foot sparked the East L.A. square dance scene, first with Farmlab's underpass dances and now at Metabolic Studio.
Things at HM 157 were rolling along until May of last year, when a fire struck the backyard area, destroying the belongings and work of several artists who lived there, as well as the area where most of their events had been held. Rebuilding has been tough, and re-establishing events there a challenge at times.
“I wish that I had time here to officially thank everyone who helped us recover and rebuild,” says Nogues, from behind the bar during a recent cabaret-meets-dance party from San Francisco called Lush. “The flipside of the coin is that the fire also cleared the slate and allowed us to rebuild this back area slowly. We still have a lot of work to do on the new stage as far as lighting, sound-gear preservation and a new artist greenroom is concerned.”
I’ve been to HM 157 many times over the years and the back patio does look decidedly different these days. But it’s also more spacious and inviting than ever, with ample seating throughout and a teepee that for now seems to function as the green room. Charon’s husband, Gaston Nogues, an architect and installation artist who used to work with Frank Gehry, is currently in charge of the design, and her ex-husband Maxwell continues to work on the venue as well.
Though Nogues is one of the most stylishly chic and forward-thinking gals I know, she’s got a hippie-esque sensibility when it comes to life, which translates to the interactions and good vibes at 157 in many ways. It’s something you can just feel when you enter and hang out there, and it’s pretty magical.
Originally from Detroit, Nogues’ backround is as wildly diverse as the shindigs she hosts. She and a punk rock boyfriend hopped on a bus to Southern California in ’87 and never looked back. For more than a decade she lived in Long Beach and worked mainly as a bartender at places like Fern's Cocktails and the 3636 Club. Later, she moved to San Francisco, where she did more bartending and joined Blood & Butter, an all-female production company that put on arty affairs in places like Cafe du Nord and the Blue Bar at the Black Cat.
After she got pregnant with her first son (she now has a second son with Gaston), she and Maxwell moved to L.A., and she went on to co-create the bohemian spa called Nitespa in Venice. But she craved more collective experiences and interactions with artists. She finally found it all in HM 157, which became not only a place for weirdo soirees but an official 501(c)(3) cultural arts center as well.
“We’ve been molded by every single one of the artists we’ve worked with," says Nogues. “There’s too many to list, but the one-woman task force/graphic artist Wendy Lee Watson deserves big thanks … Leanne Pedante, Carmen Park [aka the Mystery Machine] and Jeff Boynton pop to mind. Right now we have two wonderful German artists living here that work the door and help me at the bar, and the amazing electronic duo L.A. Drones from Spain.” She plan to post more about all of their current and past residents on HM 157's recently revamped website soon.
“Initially we tried to rent art space with 24-hour access, but getting artists to pay rent on time was impossible until they actually moved in,” explains Nogues about the space’s early incarnation and set-up. "I didn't get to live here till my husband Gaston and our son Daniel moved into the attic in October 2015. But either way my goal has always been to make this a sustainable place. We want to give new performers the chance to perform and offer offbeat entertainment."
Though events at HM 157 can have the feel of a private house party, Nogues stresses that it's a professionally run operation. "We hire a full paid staff and put in countless hours to get the space prepped and attract people to show up," she says. "Sad to say, but we often only break even and even lose money hosting band nights.”
With other DIY venues like the Smell and Pehrspace about to lose their longtime homes, it would appear that underground spots in Los Angeles are struggling to find solid ground right now, and HM 157 is, too. Those of us who appreciate alternative nightlife sort of just assume these places will always be there, but they depend on the support of those who get it and appreciate it. Especially in these days of gentrification, big developers, money-hungry landlords and soulless, Vegas-style club conglomerates, treasures like HM 157 must be valued and frequented to survive.
Thankfully Nogues isn’t giving up yet, and she’s got much she still wants to do. “After we revamp the space inside and out, I'd love to start hosting weird weddings officiated by L.A. cult heroes like Don Bolles and feature the great dance bands and DJs we know and love,” she says. “We have grand plans to create an outdoor kitchen and wrap-around shade structures, and we intend on majorly 'greening' the back space and focusing on healthy refreshment options and environment.”
Some of these ideas will be on display at HM 157’s ninth anniversary bash on Friday, Aug. 12. Called Cloud 9, it’ll be a “heavenly surrealist fantasy costume party,” which Nogues says has been the bash she’s always wanted to throw. “The secret theme is actually ‘dreams coming true,’” she reveals.
And Nogues clearly has more dreams to fulfill here. Workshops, lectures, local curators taking over the space, kids’ events — she wants to do it all here, and if what she’s accomplished so far is any indication, she will. Either way, she’s already made history and thrown monumental events that have not only lived up to the house’s name, but made it a home for art in every form possible.
[Update Aug. 25, 2016: An earlier version of this article failed to credit Johanna Moynahan as a co-founder of HM 157. We regret the error.]
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HM 157, 3110 N. Broadway, Lincoln Heights; (562) 895-9399, hm157.org.
Los Angeles native Lina Lecaro has been covering L.A. nightlife since she started as a teen intern at L.A. Weekly (fake ID in tow) nearly two decades ago. She went on to write her own column, "Nightranger," for the print edition of the Weekly for six years. Read her "Lina in L.A." interviews for the latest nightlife news, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
More from Lina Lecaro:
Goths, Galleries and Gentrification: The Year in L.A. Nightlife
Everyone From L7 to Nirvana (Yes, That Nirvana) Played '90s DIY Venue Jabberjaw
A Q&A With Gun N' Roses' Duff McKagan