On June 6 for Mary Epperson Day, artists Judy Wynn and Laura and Jennifer Norton once again transformed Epperson’s Etude Studio. A swirling keyboard and other designs decorate it.
Etude hasn’t always been a music studio, and since its start as a small trailer in the 1950s, has been a house and store, with additions over the years.
Used as a music studio by Epperson from 1982 until 2012, when she quit teaching, the building will be demolished in the near future. Epperson transferred ownership of Etude to the Homer Council on the Arts, which has its office next door.
“It’s just not a viable building anymore and it needs to come down,” said HCOA executive director Gail Edgerly.
Next Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., HCOA plans an informal public meeting to discuss plans for its property, its buildings and the organization’s structure. One proposal is to “daylight” Woodard Creek, uncover the creek where it goes under HCOA’s back lot.
The origins of the Etude building are unclear. Mike Pate, who owned the HCOA building when it was run as Pate Insurance, lived with his family in a cabin behind HCOA when he was a boy in the 1950s. He remembered a family, the Roehls, lived in a trailer, the first structure on the Etude Studio lot. Pate doesn’t remember when that trailer went in, though.
At some point, a log building was added to the front of the trailer. That was the state of the building when, in 1974, Maynard and Mari-Ann Gross bought a business, Kenai Communications, known as K-Comm, from Charles Williams. K-Comm sold mainly marine electronics, Gross said.
The Gross family had fallen in love with Homer and were trying to figure out how to move up from Santa Barbara, Calif., and make a living. The deal included the store and the trailer behind it. The family stayed in the trailer and put in another addition on front and built the current façade. Gross sold the business in December 1977 after he got a job with Homer Electric Association and the family moved to a bigger house. Don Scherck bought the business, but Gross didn’t know how long he had it. At some point the owners defaulted on a loan and a bank took over the building. The bank put it up for auction.
Jack and Mary Epperson moved to Homer in 1954, first living in Ninilchik. In 1982, Mary had been the city of Homer treasurer. She had been teaching piano and wanted a studio.
“I knew I had to go high,” she said of bidding at the auction. “My husband and I mortgaged our homestead in Anchor Point.”
“Etude” is a musical term for a composition written to learn a specific technique.
“I named it ‘Etude’ because that was the purpose of the building, to study,” Epperson said.
With another piano teacher, Karen Maloney, Epperson taught in the studio. Other musicians would join her over the years, including guitar teachers Matt Yaki and Eric Fenger and piano teacher Carol Comfort. It became not just a studio, but a place for generations of music lovers to meet.
Gross said he was struck by how expanding K-Comm he created a facility Epperson later had to teach music.
“I feel like we’re part of the history,” he said.
“Parents came with their children,” Epperson said. “Karen Maloney and I taught all these little kids. Currently, all those little kids are in their 40s.”
Epperson helped found HCOA and volunteered for the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra and Pier One Theatre, selling tickets at Etude.
Young student musicians coming through town on their way to commercial fishing sometimes stayed at Etude.
“One fellow, Steve Pradell, he lived in my trailer,” Epperson said. “I took a call once for a wedding. I took him to the church. He played the wedding march backwards and then I sat there waiting for the bride to hurry up so I could take him (Pradell) to the plane because his boat was waiting for fishing.”
The big flood of October 2002 almost wiped out Etude when Woodard Creek turned into a roaring little river. Janet Bowen, then the HCOA director, remembered that.
“In minutes, people were arriving to help. It was really scary. ‘Your building was going to pass over,’” she told Epperson at Mary Epperson Day, “And now it’s time to pass over. We saved it once.”
The building could be saved again — at least part of it. The latest enhancement was intended to be a transition to tearing down the building, Edgerly said. After people saw the art, some floated the idea of maybe saving the front façade and using it as a backdrop for outdoor concerts. That’s an idea Epperson said she’d like.
That would take a community effort and fundraising, Edgerly said.
“It really is pretty cool what’s on that wall right now,” Edgerly said.“Anything’s possible if there’s enough money behind it. … If there was willingness and community and community help, willingness to take leadership, we’d be willing to deal with it.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Homer Council on the Arts informal meeting
5:30 p.m. June 24
Homer Council on the Arts, 344 W. Pioneer Ave.
To discuss plans for the HCOA building, the property and Woodard Creek that flows behind it.
Formerly Kenai Communications
315 W. Pioneer Ave.
Built (trailer): 1950s
Built (log cabin addition): unknown
Kenai Communications (K-Comm) started: unknown.
Owned by Charles Williams until 1974
Owned by Maynard and Mari-Anne Gross 1974-1977
Addition added 1974
Sold to Don Scherck, 1977
Purchased by Mary Epperson 1982, name changed to Etude Studio
Etude Studio closed June 2012