Monday, January 15, 2007

Evelyn May Potter

Evelyn May Potter in 1920; this photo was taken for Los Angeles radio station, KFI, from which Evelyn's piano playing was broadcast.

EVELYN MAY POTTER was born on September 17, 1904 in Los Angeles, California. She was one of two daughters born to Milo Dock Potter of Wahoo, Nebraska and Pearl Jessie Rose of Westphalia, Kansas.

From Barbara Jean Smith Parker, Evelyn's daughter:

"It all started with Elbert and Harriet Pinney. They came to California and brought their daughter Emily May along with her children in a covered wagon to Pacoima, California. Once here, Emily and her children planted oranges and had one of the first groves in the area. Grandma (Pearl Jessie Rose) told me that they planted seeds and grew the trees that way. Great Grampa (Dr. Elbert) Pinney settled in San Gabriel, Sierra Madre. There is still a large Victorian house there on Lima Street that he built and lived in. He was a doctor during the Civil War before they came to California, where he continued his practice and worked with Luther Burbank on several projects.

Pearl met Milo Dock Potter when she was 15 and he was 19. He gave her a small ruby engagement ring and they went together for a while before they were married. They married on 9 April, 1902, in San Fernando, California. They had two daughters, Lucille and Evelyn.

The girls grew up in Porterville, Visalia, and Exeter, California. I believe that they lived most of the childhood in Exeter with summers spent at great grandmother Emily’s house in Long Beach, Ca. She lived on only 4 blocks from the ocean so it was a cooler place than where they lived."


"There is a story about this picture (above). Evelyn has on a necklace of pearls and Lucille was upset because she wanted to wear them! This picture was taken in Exeter on the wooden porch in front of the house. The house was really a tent with partial wooden sides and wooden floor. The rest of the sides and roof were canvas. It had a wooden stove so it kept them toasty warm in the winter. Grandpa worked for the railroad and the house was furnished by the company."

Evelyn as a young girl

Lucille and Evelyn in front of Grandma Emily's house on 4th street in Long Beach, CA.

Evelyn (left) and her sister, Lucille

Four Generations
From left, Lucille Potter, Pearl Rose, Emily May Pinney, Evelyn (youngest), Harriet Young Pinney

"When the family moved to Long Beach in 1919, they lived in one of the first houses in Belmont Shore. The address was 4509 E Ocean Blvd. Grandpa had 2 lots, for which he paid 200.00 dollars each. He built a duplex so that the family could live on one side and rent the other. It was small, only 1 bedroom. The girls slept on a Murphy bed in the living room. There was only 1 closet (and is was not very large), but they managed. Evelyn's sister, Lucille, was 1 1/2 years older than Evelyn, but they were in the same class in high school. They both graduated from Poly (Long Beach Polytechnic) High School in 1922. Evelyn was an accomplished pianist and in 1923, she purchased a piano with the money she earned from giving lessons on the small piano in her family's home. The new (used) one was a Cable-Nelson baby grand. It is still in the family. Evelyn took lessons from Abby DeAveritt in downtown Long Beach. He was one of the foremost teachers of piano in the west at the time.

The cost of one lesson was twenty five dollars, which was a lot then. Because of her training and ability she was asked many times to play on the radio. This was quite an honor at that time."

"These are her piano students in 1924. Evelyn is third from the right in the top row. Grandpa built the rock fishpond that they are standing on. (Notice the sparseness of houses in the background.)

Evelyn had a cedar chest (hope chest) that Grandpa (Milo Dock Potter) had purchased for her. He took the red car (trolley) from Long Beach to Los Angeles and carried it all the way on his back from the store to home. Grandpa worked on the electric (or red) cars. Once, while he was working on top of one, he took hold of the wrong part and it sent such a shock through him it threw him off of the top of the car and all of his hair fell out. That is why he was bald. (At least, that is the story that is told.)

In 1926, Evelyn met Walter Hirst Smith, the son of a Long Beach realtor (Percy Hirst Smith). The romance took some twists and turns. Walter was the only son and the middle child of Percy and Bessie Smith. He had two sisters, Dorothy (older) and Winifred, the youngest. He went to private schools and owned a roadster and a sailboat. After high school, he went to work for his father in the real estate business."

Evelyn on her wedding day, 1928

Walter Hirst Smith

On November 10, 1928, Evelyn married Walter Hirst Smith of Long Beach, California. They were married in the All Saints Presbyterian Church in San Diego, California.

Evelyn, Walter and little Barbara Jean

The Smiths moved to Long Beach, where they gave birth to two daughters, Barbara Jean and Elizabeth Ann.

Barbara, Betty, and Evelyn, 1946

In 1942, Evelyn married Jeff Coles. They were married for 5 years. Evelyn was a very talented musician and continued learning new instruments throughout her life. Barbara remembers that around 1944 or 1945, her mother purchased a harp from a Mr. Laughton, a harp maker in the Hollywood Hills. (He made the harp by hand and lived behind the Hollywood Bowl. His son [I believe his name was Denizel Gail Laughton] played for Harpo Marx's parts in some movies of the time.) Evelyn decided to take up the harp, and began taking lessons, even though her duties as a young mother were surely quite time-consuming.

Evelyn and Jeff Coles on their honeymoon (Catalina Island).

Later in life, she and Walter were back together. Walter and Evelyn lived out their years near their daughter, Barbara, and many of their great-grandchildren, in Orange, California. Evelyn died on 6 October 1989, in Orange, California.

Evelyn as Great Grandma Coles at Leslie Parker's fourth birthday party, Villa Park, CA, 1981

Evelyn and Walter Smith visiting new baby great-grandson, Lincoln Parker, August 1983

If you knew Evelyn May Potter and have memories of her, please record them below in the comments section. Let's share what we remember, it brings our ancestors so much closer to us. Please comment!