A fourth generation is poised to take over Benning Violins in Studio City, where it’s thrived for more than
- Written byLinda Grasso
Eric Benning, clad in his shop apron and perched on a stool, is taking a critical look at a cello that rests in his grip. He pauses patiently to take in the instrument’s multi-toned, shiny finish before picking up a soft cloth, dabbing cream on it and rubbing methodically. The cello is being made for a former member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
“I’m actually trying to take a bit of the sheen off of it. The buyer is going to fly here in a few days to pick it up,” he says.
The cello, priced at $42,000 is a work of fine art. “But it is a useable, functional form of art,” Eric explains. “If you keep it up, it will go up in value.”
Benning Violins is one of the premiere makers of violins, violas and cello in the country, with the heaviest clientele in LA. “We sell to musicians for the LA Philharmonic and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. But we also have people come in from bands—from rock to blues. We sold a cello recently to a musician from Rush, for example.”
Eric represents the third generation of Bennings at this shop, which has been in the same location since 1953. His grandfather Paul emigrated from Germany as an instrument maker, kicking off the business—then named Studio City Music.
Paul’s daughter Nancy married Hans Benning, whom she met while attending a violin-making school in Germany. The couple had three sons, including Eric. Brother Brian is a professional violinist who started playing at age 3. He works at the shop when not performing. The third brother is a sheriff’s deputy.
It must run in the blood. Eric’s two sons seem destined to one day run the family business, which includes repairing and restoring instruments. Nathan, age 14, is in the process of making his first violin, and 15-year-old Garrett is showing talent as a cellist.
Eric says he’s thankful his grandfather bought the land and built the structure in the ‘50s because “we never could afford to be on Ventura Boulevard now.” He figures the family could sell everything and live extravagantly.
Instead they are conservative and keep the biz running—especially, he says, with his sons on the horizon. “It is not about milking the business but rather perpetuating the legacy of it. If all goes well, there could be a fifth generation of Bennings here.”
11340 Ventura Blvd., Studio City
Power, passion and preservation are all part of a contentious fight in Coldwater Canyon—between the powerful Harvard-Westlake School and a committed citizens’ group—over the school’s expansion plans. Still to be determined: whose roar the city will ultimately heed.