On August 25, Hermosa Beach resident Lowell Stirratt celebrated 100th his birthday and entered an elite group of people who have been alive a century.
“I’ve lived to be 100 because I don’t sweat the small stuff,” Stirratt said. “Laugh and be happy. If you become unhappy, move. I’ve done that a number of times.”
According to the U.S. Census, only 1.73 people out of 10,000 people live to be centenarians. Over his birthday weekend, his daughter Kathy Ochner, 63, hosted a party at her home in San Pedro and invited all of his remaining friends and relatives to celebrate the milestone. Ochner hired a limo to get him from his house to the party location, but he refused the chauffer service.
“I drove myself,” Stirratt said, matter-of-factly.
Over 84 people attended the party to celebrate Stirratt’s 100-year success.
“I just enjoyed swapping stories and seeing everybody,” Stirratt said. “You know, some of them I wouldn’t have recognized if I saw them on the street because they’ve changed so much.”
Stirratt has five grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild on the way.
“My two brothers and sister have all passed on, and my two sons,” Stirratt said. “And so I’m pretty much up there at the top of the heap.”
Stirratt was born in 1913 and grew up on a farm near Prescott, Wisconsin. Growing up he worked the farm, outlived the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and survived polio. After moving to Minnesota with his wife Clara, he worked at the White Motor Company for three years and continued on to work at over 17 other mechanically-centered jobs throughout his lifetime. After his kids were born, most of his family had left the Midwest and moved to California. Following his family’s lead, Stirratt moved to Hermosa Beach in 1952 with their four children, Linda, Kathy, Roland and Vernon.
“We got tired of July, August and winter in Minnesota, and so it just happened that we decided we were going to come here, not knowing how we were going to manage that,” Stirrat said. “A man came into [the White Motor Company] and bought two tractor-trailer rigs and he was looking for someone to drive one so the salesman hooked him up with me and I agreed to drive his truck out here if he would leave me room enough for my furniture. And that’s just what we did.”
The family of five drove the almost 2,000-mile long trip, trading off the four kids between the tractor-trailer rig and a new 1950 Dodge Wayfarer.
“We rented a house three blocks back from the beach,” said Stirrat. “The rent was reasonable, you wouldn’t believe the price – I think it was $90 a month. Then when I bought this house the payment was $68 a month.”
He added that at the time, his job at an iron works shop in Redondo Beach paid him $1.25 an hour.
“It wasn’t a heck of a lot of money, but like I said, everything was relative. It all worked out,” said Stirrat.
He moved his family to a home near Prospect Avenue on Golden Avenue three years after moving to Hermosa Beach and hasn’t moved since.
“You couldn’t roller skate on the road. It was just a plain ole dirt street,” Stirrat said, about the first few years in North Hermosa. “When we moved here there was a vacant lot on the corner and a small house where that big apartment is going up.”
He also had a view that stretched all the way from Palos Verdes to Malibu. Now a large ‘mega-mansion’ blocks his view.
“The biggest change in Hermosa Beach is probably the mansionization of the city,” Stirrat said, while looking at the neighbor’s homes. “When you drove along Prospect Avenue there were just little houses along the way. Now they’re all big apartments and huge houses. The same thing will happen here when we’re through with this house; two big buildings will go up. We’re getting squeezed out.”
His wife Clara died of cancer in 1978. Shortly after he met his second wife, Gloria, now 90. They will be married for 35 years in October.
After retiring at the age of 70, Stirrat has kept busy.
“It’s impossible for me to sit still and just read or doing nothing,” said Stirrat. “I have a real nice little shop in the garage so I would make all kinds of stuff down there.”
A favorite project of his is a small 1930s Allis Chalmers tractor that he built from scratch and used to ride in parades around the South Bay. Dotted around his yard are years of projects that sprouted from scrap in his garage.
“I still have livestock,” he said while walking down the driveway to his workshop, pointing to two metal pigs made of gas tanks, a funnel, glass bottles and other unidentifiable parts.
On the porch in his backyard he also has a homemade treadmill, a small German-style house-turned fountain and a bench made to look like half of a covered wagon.
“He stays busy, he’s always doing something,” Ochner said while pointing out more homemade inventions, like a drum.
“I was sitting watching the symphony one day and thought, ‘I wonder why nobody has a metal violin, somebody’s gotta have that!’ So I made one,” Stirrat said. “I’m probably the only person with a metal violin.”
His musical invention, a true-to-size violin made of aluminum that he has dubbed an ‘Alumiviol,’ sounds almost identical to a violin, only a little more metallic and sharp. Only two parts of his invention are made from actual violin parts – the strings and the chin rest. The bridge, which holds up the strings, features a drilled letter A and instead of being on the top of the violin, the decorative but functional F holes are drilled circles along the edge of the instrument for better stability, Stirrat said. The bow, with “hair” made from screen door wire, pulls across the strings almost exactly like a traditional horse hair bow.
Stirrat’s hobbies don’t focus strictly on mechanical feats. Outside his home nailed to a tree he’s secured a glass-fronted box with a scroll of original poetry for the neighbor kids to read.
“It’s been up there for maybe five years or so,” Stirrat said. “You see, that’s just it. I’m an outgoing person so that’s probably one of the reasons I put it out there because I have all these poems in this book and nobody sees ‘em.”
The skill for writing poetry, he said, runs in the family.
“My Aunt Maude Doolittle wrote poems and my mother also wrote a few so it musta been passed down to me,” said Stirrat. “I started writing them maybe 12 years ago. I just got to thinking about stuff, about the farm and different things like where I’d been and the thoughts would just sorta run through my head, so I wrote them down.”
Stirrat and Gloria added that they have lived in Hermosa Beach for so long because it’s a small community.
“You get to know your neighbors and the weather never gets too hot and we always have a nice sea breeze,” said Stirrat. “It’s a pretty much a pleasant place to live. So that’s about it, I guess.” ER