“Mr. Hank” Barto, has recorded a music CD that he plans to sell on the Internet.
“It’s very expensive,” he said. Barto explained that he had to pay $400 in royalties to the writers of 14 songs.
“Mr. Hank,” as people call him, is better known locally as a real estate man. He has two offices in the Seal Beach Village shopping center, commonly (if inaccurately) known as the Leisure World center. Barto specializes in Leisure World units. He also lives in the retirement community—though he is far from being either retired or retiring.
He has been a musician all his life and did not become a full time real estate agent until the 1980s.
Music isn’t a sideline for Barto; it is a passion that began when he was a boy in Holland.
World War II was raging throughout the world. His father was in the so-called black market. “Everyone was in the black market in those days,” Barto said.
His mother bought him an accordion and paid someone to give him private lessons. When he was 12, he started playing the piano. He played Jazz more than anything else. He took piano lessons for a few months, but described himself as mostly self-taught.
Just as his mother introduced him to music, it was his mother who introduced him to the idea of going to America. Barto said the Holland economy wasn’t great and that it would be good for him to find his fortune in a new home.
Barto said he had to wait two-and-a-half years to go to the United States because of the immigration quota system.
It was 1945.
The boat trip to America took seven days. From New York, he took a three-day bus ride to his new hometown—Salt Lake City, Utah.
“No, it was not fun,” he said.
His first job was playing piano at an after-hours Jazz club in the “dry” community. He said life in Salt Lake was a lot like Prohibition. People would come to the club and bring their own drinks.
“All the big stars would come to our club after hours,” Barto said. Nat King Cole was just one of the celebrities that Barto entertained on the piano.
That gig lasted until Barto became one of history’s first rockers. “I had a chance to come to Long Beach in a Rock and Roll band in 1957,” he said.
That was the same year he met his future wife Shirley. Frequent guests of the Old Ranch Country Club might know her: she is currently the club’s membership director. At one point, Hank Barto performed regularly at the country club. That particular gig lasted 15 years.
It was during the 1950s that he did a school show at the radio station at Cal State Long Beach. The shows were taped and later played to elementary school students. One of the teachers complained about the show’s host. Barto had a foreign accent and the teacher did not like that.
He married Shirley in 1959. (They are still together a half-century later.) He also started playing piano bars throughout the Orange County and Long Beach areas.
In 1964, he opened the Sheraton Beach Inn in Huntington Beach and worked there for a couple of years.
In 1969, he was working the Disneyland Hotel by day and piano bars by night. “I was making pretty good money and needed a write-off and that’s how I got started in real estate,” he said.
He got the idea when he heard a woman he described as a beautiful brunette talking about taking a depreciation deduction on a four-plex that she owned in Fullerton. Barto told his wife that real estate might be something to get into for the tax benefits. He did not see real estate as a career, but as a side business to his music.
Over time, he bought more and more real estate. He decided to get a real estate license. He continued playing piano and began singing.
During a brief period when he was out of work, he was offered a job at a Costa Mesa piano bar that required him to sing.
“I was forced to sing,” he said.
So, he sang.
He also continued to work in real estate.
“I’m trying to combine the piano playing and the real estate,” he said.
In 1984, he and his wife bought their first Leisure World unit and has been living in the so-called retirement community ever since.
He did not however, retire.
In 1985, Barto and his wife opened up a Long Beach restaurant that offered fine dining.
It was sometime during that decade that the full time music man and part time real estate agent became a full time seller of property and a part time performer.
For a time, he did an annual show in Leisure World. He still plays in the Dixieland band.
Meanwhile, he is doing reasonably well in a business that has seen hard times in a bad economy. “Mr. Hank” now has two real estate offices about 25 feet apart in the Seal Beach Village shopping center.
He also has 10 Oktoberfest music jobs lined up for the coming month. He has his lederhosen ready.
“I look like a fool,” he said.
He is also making plans to market his music CD. It will be sold online.
“Music is really kind of my life,” Barto said.