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Jane Hoover, Home Grown
Feature, Transplants

Jane Hoover, Home Grown 

English born Transplant Jane Hoover has been running the Topanga Home Grown gift shop for 24 years. Photo by Claire Fordham

English-born Jane Hoover, 63, has been selling gifts and clothes at Topanga Home Grown for 24 years. Jane’s story is one of perseverance, positivity, an interesting (sometimes weird) childhood, and finding true love.

Jane says she was lucky to get to stay with her mother, whom she describes as wonderful with a cracking sense of humor, after her parents’ divorce. 

The courts ordered Jane’s older brother and sister to stay with their father who was often late picking them up from school. 

A wealthy farmer and landowner in the county of Shropshire (a member of what the Brits call the landed gentry) Major Frederick Hayes, Jane’s father, was something of a ladies man who never wanted children. “He’s got five,” Jane said.

Major Hayes is still alive, aged 99, and married for the third time a few years ago. Wife number three, also named Jane, is younger than his daughter Jane. The major’s two other children were with wife number two, who was his goddaughter.

Although she lived mostly with her mother, Jane stayed with her father regularly. He would send her birthday and Christmas cards every year with twenty pounds inside, along with a slip of paper that read, “With Compliments, Major Hayes.”

After her parents divorced, Jane and her mother lived in a fancy senior living facility, Milland Place Hotel, with her grandparents.

Jane said, “It was amazing. My grandparents had a living room and a bedroom in the hotel. My mum and I had a bedroom and we shared a bathroom with a Miss Sapsworth. I was six and the place fascinated me. The old people were wonderful to me.

“They would ring a massive gong at night to announce dinner was served. The men wore bow ties and suits, and the women wore lace dresses. I had to wear a dress. My grandmother’s table was at the back of the dining room so we had to walk past everyone, ‘Good evening Miss Sapsworth.’ ‘Good evening Mr. Mole,’ to get to our table.”

Jane’s mother married Jane’s godfather, a friend of her father’s, thirty years her mother’s senior. They lived in a little cottage in the south of England. Jane’s stepfather Brigadier Robert George William Melsome MBE, had various jobs, including escorting Her Majesty the Queen around London during official duties.

A young Jane Hoover leading donkey rides at the village fete in Shropshire where she grew up. Photo courtesy of Jane Hoover

Jane’s stepfather taught her to fly-fish and shoot. “We were great outside. At home, he had a hard time with Mum’s affection for me, so I was packed off to boarding school when I was ten. It was hard in the beginning. I wasn’t allowed to make or receive phone calls home until we got to the sixth form. Weekends home were allowed every couple of months. I ended up loving boarding school. I think that’s what made me independent and I can cope with whatever comes at me.”

Jane wanted to go to art school, but her father said no. “He thought it was too hippy-dippy to go to art school. ‘You need to just get married, Jane. You’re just a marriage type.’ I don’t think so!”

Jane worked at Cheam preparatory school briefly (where King Charles III had been a pupil—before Jane’s time) then went to Australia before taking a job as a nanny in Pacific Palisades. Jane met her potential new employer in London for an interview and they discovered they were at the same school together, although they didn’t remember each other. The mum-to-be said, “I hope you don’t know anything about babies.”

“I don’t.”

“Good. I don’t want someone telling me what to do all the time.” 

Immigration was simpler forty years ago. Jane came to America on a six-month visa and a one-way ticket. That job lasted a year before the family moved back to London. Jane married her then boyfriend and became a citizen. The marriage lasted two years.

Jane’s next job was running Sara Boutique on Montana in Santa Monica. That position lasted thirteen years. The store was a mixture of gifts and clothing. Sara and Jane flew to Bali and Mexico to buy stock. “That taught me everything about retail,” said Jane. During that time, Jane married her second husband and they had a son, Chester, who’s now thirty.

When Leslie and Steve Carlson were building Pine Tree Circle in Topanga, Leslie asked Jane if she was interested in going into business with her. “I said ‘yes. That sounds wonderful.’ We decided to revive Topanga Home Grown that had been in a caboose across the street.”

Jane and her husband bought a house in Topanga. But the marriage was not a happy one. She was about to serve her husband divorce papers, when he was involved in a terrible motorcycle crash. Jane spent some years caring for him before they finally divorced.

In 2018, the Carlsons sold Pine Tree Circle to Joseph Daneshgar, who bought it for his son, Nate. “He did raise all our rents, but Nate’s got a good heart. I think we’re his guinea pigs in the property business,” said Jane.

Raising her son and running Topanga Home Grown kept Jane busy, and she was happily single for some years before she found Mr. Right, Mark Centowski, a regular visitor to the store. They began dating in 2015.

“We were going to get married this year, but he sadly passed away from cancer last year. He was 72. We had a wonderful relationship. He was a special man. I’m grateful for every moment we had together. I’m sad and I miss him every day.”

Jane is still living in the Topanga house they shared together for nine years. Jane rented out her house in Woodland Hills when she moved in with Mark and will be moving back into that as she can’t afford to keep living in the Topanga house. 

“There’s a lot of maintenance. Mark said in his will I can live here for up to five years before his children can inherit it, but it’s not my house. It should go to his (adult) children.”

Business at Topanga Home Grown has been up and down, according to Jane. “My store is an eclectic gift store. The premise of it is we try and supply gifts for everyone. While we wrap the gifts people buy, they look for things for themselves.”

Many Topanga residents work in the entertainment industry, and Jane says, since the strikes last year, customers have been buying fewer things, not knowing how long the impacts of the writers’ and actors’ strikes would last or when work would pick up again.

“I love Topanga,” said Jane. “It’s a little like the village where I grew up in England. It’s a good community. People have your back. When my ex-husband was in hospital, I’d come home and find food on the deck. I never knew who left it.”

Managing and running Topanga Home Grown with her two staff, Tarra and Shelly, keeps Jane busy. On her day off from the store, she likes to paint—Jane never went to art school, but she’s a good artist. She also likes to travel and always says yes to invitations from friends to go on trips. She is off to Colorado next. 

Jane went back to England with Mark six years ago. “It was the first time I really sat down and talked with my dad on a one-to-one basis. We had fun and a laugh. There was no point in bringing up the past. It was a great visit. We discovered we both don’t like bananas and are both terrible at maths. Now it’s as good as it can be as a relationship. We speak on the phone.”

Jane’s mother died ten years ago. She had Alzheimers. Jane remembers her mother reading the births, marriages and deaths announcements in the Daily Telegraph. 

“One morning she looked over her newspaper at me and said, ‘Oh look. Your dad got married. Oh look, he had a baby.’ It was all very matter of fact. There was no drama about it. I think if my mum had reacted badly, I might have done.”

Having been through two failed relationships, Jane knows what a good one should be and is grateful she had one with Mark.

“People were very kind after Mark passed. Although some did say strange things in the shop. Some people wondered if I was going to start seeing butterflies. ‘That’ll be Mark’ they said. I didn’t see anything, so I felt a bit of a failure for a while. I thought it’s because I’m British. A frame fell down in the living room and everyone there said, ‘Oh that’s Mark!’ I said, ‘It’s probably a mouse.’ Sure enough, I caught a mouse. Although one very strange thing happened to me that could possibly be Mark.”

“I got a text message from Mark’s phone at seven in the morning, six months after he passed. I thought it’s probably a glitch on the phone. All the photographs of our life together came through from his phone to mine. A lot of our text messages to each other were in there as well, going back years. I’d like to think it isn’t a glitch. I went through them all and I cried. I thanked him. I talk to him all the time. We really were happy. We had a great relationship. You don’t hear of that too often.”

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