By around 9 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4, there's a crowd settling into the cozy couches and chairs that fill the backyard of HM157. Charon Nogues, who has spent the past decade organizing events at the old Lincoln Heights mansion, is behind the bar, dressed in a vintage-looking minidress and cowboy shirt, her blond hair mostly covered by a beret. It's her going-away party, but it's also business as usual at the artist residence/event space. Soon, Nogues runs up to the backyard stage, instructing everyone to head inside for a show.
HM157 is a relic of early Los Angeles, a rambling Victorian house located in the city's first suburb. Nogues and co-founder Reid Maxwell initially set up the large house as a residence for artists, and the revolving group of people who have lived here shaped its existence. It was a college student living at HM157 who initially started throwing shows. Soon, fringe music and arts performances became the house's calling card. Prince Poppycock, who rose to national attention via America's Got Talent, has performed here. So has electro performance art darling Geneva Jacuzzi. Tonight, Poppy Jean Crawford is kicking off the night with a dark and dirge-y set inside HM157's living room.
A bit later, back outside, a band called Fake News plays a set of post-punk–inspired rock, and Healing Gems sound as if they honed their style after listening to mid–20th century exotica records. Over the years, HM157 has become the home of various DIY hybrid music and art scenes, with lineups as eclectic as the mishmash of vintage finds and art projects that fill the home.
“I like things that aren't too pitch-perfect,” says one of the show's attendees, Adam Brooks, who fronts local band Egrets on Ergot and has played the venue multiple times, “Everything seems to happen organically here, as far as how they decorate and cultivate an environment.”
In a way, HM157 is also a remnant of mid-2000s L.A., when gentrification was Silver Lake's problem and, elsewhere, art and music were flourishing in the most unusual settings. But times change and that's part of the reason behind Nogues' going-away party.
Two days before the party, Nogues and I meet in Chinatown to chat before she bikes her way through town to hang posters for the upcoming Druid Film Festival. She's repping HM157 with an orange T-shirt marked by a haunted house–style illustration of the venue, created by Micah Nelson of the band Insects vs. Robots. Halloween is a couple days behind us, but her shirt is still in that spooky spirit. “That's kind of our mode of operation all year-round,” she says.
Nogues is counting the days — 29, to be precise — until she and her youngest son head to Detroit and prepare for the rest of her family to follow. She's looking forward to seasons and the opportunities available in Detroit.
“I'm 47, and at this juncture, I need to put my energy toward permanent things,” she says. “HM157 doesn't belong to me or anyone that lives there.” The building, she notes, is leased.
In Detroit, she can buy a house and work on the land-based nonprofit she's planning to launch with a partner. Plus, Detroit is her hometown. “I keep missing all the weddings and graduations,” she says, “but I never miss a funeral.”
Nogues first moved to California in 1987, spending time in Long Beach before moving to San Francisco. She headed south again in 2002 and HM157 began to take shape five years after that. She's been a part of the house's development since the beginning, and began living there with her family three years ago.
Although it will continue to host events
Live music cemented HM157's reputation, but it has also hosted film festivals, various classes and fundraisers for local organizations, including nearby Abraham Lincoln High School. In 2014, the house earned nonprofit status. A year later, it was struck with a setback when a fire broke out in the backyard. No one was hurt, but rebuilding the backyard performance area was a labor-intensive process that took many months.
While Nogues has been instrumental in the operations at HM157, running the house and getting the shows together has been a joint effort for the larger collective of artists who have called it home. When Michelle Carr, who co-owned Jabberjaw in the 1990s and founded the burlesque company Velvet Hammer, lived at HM157, the venue became known for variety shows. Currently, it's home to SMiLE! events run by resident and DJ Neil Martinson. Local synth duo L.A. Drones also are part of the current group of HM157 residents as well as frequent performers.
Nogues' departure isn't the end of HM157. What happens next depends on the remaining residents, and Nogues indicates that others would like to continue hosting events, albeit with less frequency.
“HM157 is going to slow down,” Nogues writes in a message sent after our initial interview. “The residents and the neighborhood need a long, meaningful break. It’s become a painful grind for everyone involved. HM157 was built in 1886. It was designed as a single-family home, not to host high-volume events frequently. The space and sound system require a complete overhaul.”
Nogues adds that the HM157 board of directors — Carmen Morales, Wendy Lee Watson and Sevin Riley — intend to continue the nonprofit's community-minded projects, and that Riley is starting a workshop in entrepreneurship for local teens. She also notes that HM157 residents Neil Martinson, L.A. Drones and Christof Certik are interested in continuing events. HM157 co-founder Reid Maxwell is still part of the collective as well.
As for Nogues, in addition to starting a nonprofit in Detroit, she hopes to return to her own art practice. Before HM157 became all-consuming, she was also a performance artist. “I stopped being an artist and ended up becoming an arts facilitator,” she says. Nogues says that she hopes the move — and Detroit's long winters — will free up her time to get back into creative projects.
She adds, “I see Grandma Moses as my inspiration.”
HM157 hosts the Druid Film Festival on Saturday, Nov. 11. Elle Belle, Jeff Beam and Bloodweiser play on Sunday, Nov. 12. More info at HM157.org.
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