Monday, August 21, 2017

Excerpts from "Frenchtown! The Musical": Part 1

I am pleased - thrilled, really - to announce that I will be speaking at LAVA's monthly Sunday Salon on September 24. It's a free event, but space is limited. Get your tickets now!

There isn't really a musical about Frenchtown (unless I decide to write more...) - this just came to me.

(The curtain opens on a stage split between two different locations and two different years.

Stage Right, a marquee reads "Exposition Park, 1870". The scene is a bedroom in the Lachenais house. A Spanish guitar sits on the narrow single bed.

Stage Left, a marquee reads "Calabasas, 1880". The scene is the parlor in the grand Leonis adobe, complete with a piano. The window is wide open.

Serafina Lachenais enters, stage right. She sits on the bed and picks up the guitar.

Marcelina Leonis enters, stage left. She sits at the piano.

Both girls begin to play their instruments.)

Song: "My Daddy is a Monster"

Serafina: They say my daddy is a monster

I know that they are right

When I was eight he killed a man

And ran off into the night

Marcelina: They say my daddy is a monster

I know it must be true

He's greedy and self-serving

And trigger-happy too

Serafina: Some say I was lucky to be adopted

But this is rotten luck

My mom is dead, my dad's a psycho

And I feel so stuck

Marcelina: He hates my big half-brother

Won't let him in the house

Scares everyone who works for him

And gets judge and jury soused

Serafina: Wicked

Marcelina: Brutal

Serafina: Evil

Marcelina: Cruel

Serafina: Scary

Marcelina: Vicious

Serafina: Rotten

Marcelina: Malicious

Serafina: Mom was scared of Dad

Their relationship was grim

Everybody thinks he killed her

And I wouldn't put it past him

Marcelina: Daddy only loves three things

Money, booze, and me

He treats my mother like the help

And only married her for money

Serafina: Murdered Mr. Deleval

Blinded someone with a gunshot

Beat that Tongva man to death

(Spoken) Unfortunately, Daddy's all I've got

Marcelina: Daddy rules the western Valley

Fear's the biggest reason

No matter what the calendar says

(Spoken) In Calabasas, murder is in season

Serafina: Life is tough

Marcelina: It's quite restricting

Serafina: I feel so torn

Marcelina: It's so conflicting

Serafina and Marcelina (together): When your daddy is a monster.

Voice (offstage): Serafina! Serafina, come quickly! Your father's been arrested!

Serafina: Again?! What's he done now?

Voice: He shot the man next door!

Serafina (crying softly, defeated): Daddy. No.

(Serafina exits, stage right. Juan Menendez appears, stage left, and is visible through the open parlor window.)

Juan (through window): Hey, little sister. Are you feeling any better?

Marcelina: Hey, big brother. This headache just won't go away. And now my back hurts.

Juan: You're sweating.

Marcelina: That's odd. I'm freezing.

(Miguel Leonis enters, stage left, behind Juan. He is visible through the parlor window.)

Miguel: How many times do I have to tell you to stay off the damn porch?! (Threatens Juan with a revolver.)

Marcelina: Daddy, no! (Jumps to her feet, gets woozy, and collapses.)

(Curtain falls.)

Monday, August 14, 2017

We're Still Here, Part 3C: The Le Mesnager Barn

On the northernmost edges of Glendale, just past the Crescenta Highlands neighborhood, intrepid explorers will find Deukmejian Wilderness Park.

This nature park preserves 702 acres of wilderness, including the Le Mesnager family's former vineyard. (I'm at a loss as to why it was named after an elected official instead of the family that owned and worked the land for the better part of a century, but I'll take what I can get.)

The Le Mesnager family owned and lived in this barn (converted to a farmhouse by Georges' oldest son Louis after fire/flood damage) until the late 1960s. It's conveniently located close to the park's entrance, right next to the parking lot.


What's that in front of the barn?


Grapes! Yes indeed, they're used to make wine.


The barn is right next to this little amphitheater.


Seen from the back.


It's tricky to get a good angle on the barn when you can't get too close.


Don't let the sign fool you - I snapped these pictures in May. The barn's conversion/remodel was still clearly underway.


When the barn is re-opened to the public (and when I have time to drive waaaaaaay out to the furthest edges of the Valley - seriously, getting here took forever), I will be back to take better pictures.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

We're Still Here, Part 3B: Rancho Los Encinos

Moving on to the next historic location in the Valley, we find a very special property that many Angelenos don't even know exists. 

Los Encinos State Historic Park is all that remains of Rancho Los Encinos (sometimes called Rancho El Encino). The original rancho was established by Francisco Reyes (first alcalde, or mayor, of Los Angeles), re-granted to three Tongva ranchers by Pio Pico (Reyes allegedly mistreated his Native American ranch hands), sold to the de la Osa family, and sold to a Yankee named Thompson...who sold it to Philippe and Eugene Garnier in 1869.

The Garnier brothers were the first of four French Basque families to own the property. 


Philippe Garnier, Gaston Oxarat, Simon Gless, and Domingo Amestoy.


Former residents. Note the prevalence of Basque surnames.


The original de la Osa adobe house. This is the second oldest structure in the Valley - and the only one that is pretty much unaltered.


Philippe Garnier's shaving stand.


Gaston Oxarat's saddle. This finely tooled piece was originally covered with tiny silver conchas (shells).


Juanita Amestoy wore this beautiful gown when she married Simon Gless.


Don Vicente de la Osa had previously turned the adobe into a stagecoach stop and roadside inn. The Garnier brothers, being from France, kicked the hospitality up a notch.


The Garniers had one of the adobe's rooms painted with beautifully detailed faux marbre panels.


Can you believe some idiot PLASTERED OVER these stunning walls? For over a century, no one knew this fine paint job was even there.


Try, if you can, to let your imagination fill in the blanks. It's a beautiful room now - it must have looked even better then.


I do hope someone else takes the time to notice that the plastic food on the table is French in theme. (Why is there a red candle? Did red paraffin even exist in the 1870s?)


The Northridge earthquake of 1994 severely damaged the adobe (one outer wall caved in, requiring extensive repairs). However, there was one silver lining: the earthquake may have damaged the house, but it shook much of the offending plaster right off the salon's walls. As you can see, some of the faux marbre is still covered by plaster. There is a good reason for this: the adobe is very old and very delicate. Some things are best left alone, even if they're not perfect.


What's that next to the adobe?


It's a French farmhouse!

No joke: the Garnier brothers built this two-story limestone house, said to be a copy of the family home in France, to house their employees. They also built a brick-lined pond shaped like a Spanish guitar to collect water from the natural spring on the property.

The Garniers hit tough times: they overextended themselves financially, the wool market collapsed, and Miguel Leonis, the worst neighbor any Valleyite ever had, tried to intimidate the brothers out of their home by burning their wheat fields and beating their ranch hands. They lost the rancho to foreclosure in 1878, and it passed to Gaston Oxarat.

Gaston Oxarat, in turn, left the rancho to his nephew, Simon Gless. Legend has it that one day, Gless bought a large block of ice downtown and, upon returning to the rancho, found that it had already melted away. This was too much for Gless (I can't blame him one bit, since I know how hot it gets in the Valley - and this was long before air conditioning or swimming pools). He decided to sell the property and move to Boyle Heights (the Gless farmhouse in Boyle Heights is, incredibly, also still standing).

Simon Gless was married to Juanita Amestoy, and her father Dominique already had significant land holdings elsewhere in Los Angeles County. Dominique, commonly called "Don Domingo", smartly snapped up Rancho Los Encinos. Other members of the Amestoy family lived on the property until 1945. 

The Amestoys began to sell off bits of the rancho in the early 20th century, but it wasn't until after World War II that the bulk of it was subdivided into modern-day Encino and Sherman Oaks (my neighborhood).

Supposedly, the adobe was used as a sales office for the new housing tracts and (what else...) subsequently slated for demolition. Concerned neighbors fought hard to have the buildings preserved (thank God).

The last remaining scrap of Rancho Los Encinos has been a California state historic park since 1949 and can be visited Wednesday through Sunday, 10am to 5pm (excluding holidays). There is a pedestrian entrance on Ventura Boulevard, but virtually no one seems to notice it is even there.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

We're Still Here, Part 3A: The Leonis Adobe Museum

In the old part of Calabasas, there is a surviving remnant of LA's Wild West past.

I don't mean all the cutesy, faux-Western storefronts. I mean the Leonis Adobe Museum.

When he took control of Rancho El Escorpion, Miguel Leonis found a dilapidated, long-abandoned adobe house on the grounds. He and his wife Espiritu restored and expanded the house, making it their home.

In 1962, the house - abandoned and left to rot all over again - was slated to be torn down. Why? To build a parking lot for a proposed supermarket. (Gee, can you tell paving paradise to put up ANOTHER $#@%^&* PARKING LOT is a pet peeve of mine?)

Thankfully, the Cultural Heritage Board made sure it didn't happen. The Leonis Adobe Museum is Los Angeles' Historic-Cultural Monument #1.


Photos of the house before it was restored (for the second time) in the 1960s.



Miguel dreamed of his own empire. To modern Angelenos, this may seem like a humble starter home for such an ambitious man, but it was a much simpler time.


The furnishings in the house, while period-appropriate, aren't original. But since Marcelina Leonis played the piano (and may well have played one like this), I'm including it here.


Proof that the Leonises were on speaking terms at one point. (Yes, the posing looks a bit forced. But it's impossible to say whether this is due to the nature of photography in the Victorian era or due to Miguel being a horrible person and a worse husband.)


There are mannequins throughout the house in period attire. These two, seen in the kitchen, strongly resemble Miguel and Espiritu.


If you're not looking at a huge (fake) side of beef, are you even in a historic ranch house pantry?


The house's staircase was originally outside, Miguel expanded the house to enclose it (but it's not hard to tell this was once an exterior feature). The picture above the table is of Espiritu in her later years.





I'm sorely tempted to call this style "cowboy Victorian".


Espiritu's red velvet canopy bed was re-created from contemporary accounts. The trunk seen here is the only original item in the house (it was one of a set of three owned by Espiritu).


Miguel added the second-story veranda.


I'm pretty sure every French Basque in the Valley raised sheep at one point. Yes, there are live farm animals at the museum! (Why the heck not...it's Calabasas.)


Rear of the house, snapped from the chicken coops.


This angle on the house shows the expansions better.


The Plummer House, moved here from Hollywood, serves as the museum's visitor center. Fittingly, Espiritu was good friends with Maria Cecilia Plummer.

This is just a taste...I took over 80 pictures of the house and grounds! Whenever you're in Calabasas, check it out for yourself.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Monster of Calabasas: Michel "Don Miguel" Leonis


Michel "Don Miguel" Leonis, date unknown

I’m not going to mince words. Michel Leonis, a six-foot-four-inch, 220-pound French Basque dubbed “Don Miguel” out of fear rather than respect, was a human stain.

No one can say for sure why Leonis left France's Basque region for California. Some sources say that he was a smuggler wanted by both the French AND Spanish authorities. Others say that his penchant for illegal activity back in France shamed his powerful family so much that his father demanded he leave. We may never know the truth, but either way, he was not one of the good guys.

When he arrived in 1854, Leonis worked as a foreman on Rancho El Escorpion in the western San Fernando Valley. Some say that he was illiterate and only spoke Basque; others say he could manage limited amounts of Spanish and English. (His friendships with George Le Mesnager and Joseph Mascarel suggest that he could, at bare minimum, converse in French.) 

Interestingly, Woodland Hills' continuation school was formerly called Miguel Leonis High School (it closed in 2015). But regardless of how educated Don Miguel might have been, within a few years he’d bought out his employer’s half of the rancho.

The other half of the rancho belonged to a Chumash widow named Espiritu Chijulla Menendez. 

You know where this is going, right?


Espíritu Chijulla Leonis

Leonis married Espiritu in a traditional Chumash ceremony in 1859, took over her half of the rancho, raised sheep on it…and added to his land holdings many times over through threats, violence, and nuisance lawsuits. He was dubbed the “King of Calabasas”, but he owned or controlled most of the western San Fernando Valley and part of Ventura County. He also had a house and orchard downtown (he may have kept a mistress there) - the Aliso Village apartments now stand on the site. He confided in the few people he was close to that he wanted to build his own empire that could last forever. 



This is the Leonis adobe. Humble home for a man who dreamed of an empire.

The house was old and abandoned when Leonis stumbled upon it one day. He fixed it up, enclosed the back staircase, added the veranda...and never, EVER allowed Juan Menendez, Espiritu's son from her first marriage, inside the house. Instead, Leonis relegated young Juan to the barn.

Leonis had more than 100 employees, including Chumash and Mexican vaqueros whose sole responsibility was to scare off homesteaders who got too close to his property. One dispute resulted in a two-week standoff and culminated in a murder. His own employees were terrified of him. 


At one point, Leonis even tried to force the Garnier brothers, who owned Rancho Los Encinos (modern-day Encino/Sherman Oaks), off of their property. Eugene Garnier testified in court that Leonis' vaqueros had burned their newly planted wheat fields and beaten their employees. He also stated that he was testifying against Leonis only because he was forced to do so. It's not a coincidence that Eugene moved back to France (but we'll get to that when I get to the Garnier brothers).

When intimidation didn’t work, Leonis used the court system. He was a plaintiff in at least thirty property disputes. Just to put that into perspective, fewer than 4,000 people lived in all of LA County - which still included Orange County - in 1860. Leonis managed to sue at least thirty of them. And he wasn’t above bribing judges and juries with food and alcohol.


Marcelina Leonis, date unknown

Leonis did have one Achilles' heel - his daughter Marcelina, born in 1860 and named after Espiritu's aunt. Curiously, in spite of marrying her mother out of convenience, Leonis doted on his daughter and always gave her the best of everything. Marcelina received a better education than either of her parents did, and loved to play the piano. The few available resources on Marcelina state that unlike her father, she adored her mother and her older half-brother. But Marcelina’s life was cut short by smallpox when she was only twenty. For three days after Marcelina’s death, Leonis drank heavily - well, more heavily than usual.

One story states that after losing Marcelina, Leonis attempted to hang himself from a tree behind the adobe, using his horse as a hanging platform. But the horse stubbornly refused to budge. Only when Leonis dismounted did the horse bolt. Leonis was so angry that he allegedly cut off the tree branch from which he'd tried to hang himself.

You’d think that suddenly losing his only child might have prompted Leonis to rethink some of his life choices. But it didn’t.

In September of 1889, Leonis won his first court case since Marcelina’s death. He celebrated his victory in the saloons downtown before heading back to Calabasas. And got himself into what must be the earliest drunk-driving accident in Southern California history.

Somewhere in the Cahuenga Pass, Leonis fell out of his wagon, and its heavy wheels ran right over his face and chest. He was taken to a (coincidentally French-owned) roadhouse on the Valley side of the pass. After three days of agony, the man who had terrorized the western Valley was dead. He was buried at Calvary Cemetery next to Marcelina.

The very next day, Juan finally moved into his mother's house.

You’d think that would be the end of it. But several years earlier, Leonis had hidden the nastiest trick of all up his sleeve.

Leonis married Espiritu for her family’s land, then proceeded to treat her like the help instead of his wife for the next thirty years. He was the third richest person in California when he died. Yet, he left Espiritu a pittance of $5,000, willing the rest of his money and land to his siblings. Adding insult to injury, he referred to Espiritu as his housekeeper, denied that they had ever been married, and left the money with the caveat that she would only get it if she didn’t contest the remainder of the will. 

Espiritu wasn’t well educated, but she wasn’t stupid. And she had suffered enough. She hired the best attorneys in town - Horace Bell and Stephen Mallory White, who had previously represented Miguel in some of his lawsuits.

For five weeks, the case dragged out in court. Witness after witness swore to the court that Leonis and Espiritu either were or weren't married. Espiritu's name was dragged through the mud again and again. One witness even claimed that she had never been married to her first husband and had lived with two other men (an extremely scandalous accusation for the time). Poor Marcelina's headstone was even submitted as evidence. The jury deliberated for less than a day before legally awarding Espiritu the widow’s share of her husband’s estate. 

In spite of her toxic marriage to Miguel, Espiritu did marry for a third time - at the age of 65, to an 18-year-old man. The Los Angeles Times, which had gleefully covered Espiritu's court case in all of its ugly detail, reported on her remarriage with some extremely salty commentary I won't repeat here.

Espiritu had to fight for her house in court again and again for the next 15 years (early LA had plenty of shady characters more than willing to swindle a two-time widow out of her own house), but she won her final case in 1906, and died a few months later. Juan and his family inherited the house (take THAT, Miguel). Espiritu is buried at Mission San Fernando (where she was born and educated). Should you wish to pay your respects, do note that she is interred under her first married name, Menendez.

Mere months before he died, Leonis wrote to his nephew, Jean Baptiste Leonis, asking him to come to California and eventually take over his estate. It didn’t quite work out that way, but by the time J.B. died, he’d established an empire of his own - in addition to one of California’s strangest cities. More on that in a future entry.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

We're Still Here, Part 3: The San Fernando Valley

Continuing my series on surviving places linked to Southern California's forgotten French community, we come to a place that hits close to home.

Because it IS my home. I'm a genuine, authentic Valley girl (hang around me long enough and you just might detect bits of my old accent).

(Well, it was my childhood home, anyway. I've lived in various beach towns continuously since 2001.)

Let's start in Calabasas and work our way east...


Michel Leonis, nicknamed "Don Miguel" out of fear rather than respect, discovered a dilapidated adobe house on the grounds of Rancho El Escorpion (huge naming opportunity missed here: Rancho El Escorpion sounds so much more badass than Calabasas - Spanish for "squashes"). He and his Chumash wife, Espiritu Chijulla, fixed it up (enclosing the rear staircase and adding the balcony), moved in, and lived here until their respective deaths.

The house - long empty and once again severely neglected - was nearly torn down in 1962 for - you guessed it - a supermarket parking lot. Thankfully, it's still with us today.

(I will devote separate entries to Leonis and to the Leonis Adobe Museum.)

Moving east, we find...


Running north-south from Ventura Boulevard to Granada Hills (okay, fine, it's interrupted in a couple of places), Amestoy Avenue was named for another French Basque ranching family - the Amestoys.

(The Amestoys will get their own entry.)

Just a few blocks east of Amestoy Avenue is one of their former homes - Rancho Los Encinos.


Four French Basque families - Garnier, Oxarat, Gless, and Amestoy - owned the rancho in turn. The original adobe is on the right. The two-story house on the left was built by the four Garnier brothers to house the rancho's employees, and is said to be a copy of the family home in France.

Although slightly beyond the scope of this entry, but worth noting, is the fact that Eugene Garnier once testified against Michel Leonis in court. Leonis, a brutal and terrifying thug who added to his vast land holdings through harassment and intimidation, burned the Garniers' newly planted wheat field and beat their employees. Eugene stated in court that he was testifying only because he was forced to do so, and later returned to France. His brother Philippe Garnier, bloody but unbowed, went on to build the Garnier Building and lease it to Chinese tenants.


I include this photo as proof that culture and beauty do, in fact, exist in the Valley if you know where to look. The Garnier brothers were legendary for their hospitality - so much so that Pio Pico's brother Andrés used to bring very special guests all the way to Rancho Los Encinos (from what is now downtown) - ON HORSEBACK. For BREAKFAST.

And those very special guests dined in the Garniers' grand salon, which boasted the most striking faux marbre walls in the history of Los Angeles. (I hope someone else takes the time to notice that the plastic food on the table is French in theme - grapes, brie, asparagus, and crusty-looking bread.)

At some point, an incredibly foolish individual elected to plaster over the faux marbre. The adobe was severely damaged in the Northridge earthquake of 1994, but with one silver lining - much of the plaster covering the salon's elaborately painted walls fell off. (Portions of the offending plaster remain. This is a very delicate old house, and that paint is well over 100 years old. Some things are best left well enough alone.)

(All four families merit, and will get, their own entries. Ditto Los Encinos State Historic Park, where the adobe and the ranch hands' quarters are located.)

The Amestoy family - the last French owners of the rancho - held onto much of the land (including these buildings) until 1944. After World War II, Rancho Los Encinos was subdivided into (what else) Encino and (my neck of the woods) Sherman Oaks.

On a personal note, my mother was completely shocked to learn that the Los Encinos adobe was a) still standing, b), continuously French-owned for much of its existence, c) right above Ventura Boulevard (a thoroughfare my family knows pretty well), and d) less than six miles from our old house in Sherman Oaks. She's said that if she had ANY idea, she would have taken me there when I was a child (in addition to Olvera Street, Chinatown, etc.).

Moving further east...


A street in Mission Hills was named for onetime mayor Joseph Mascarel. I suspect he owned land in the area (he owned significant amounts of land in FOUR counties). Today, he is so little-known that whoever made this sign didn't bother to check the spelling.

Heading further east...


Solomon Lazard was both French and Jewish, and was so popular with Angelenos of all ethnicities that he was nicknamed "Don Solomon" and often acted as floor manager for fandangos. He was the first President of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, co-founded the City Water Company (later LADWP) with Prudent Beaudry and Dr. Griffin, founded the City of Paris department store (which he later sold to his cousins, Eugene and Constant Meyer), and was active in the Golden Rule Lodge and the Hebrew Benevolent Society. Today, he's been reduced to a street sign on a cul-de-sac in San Fernando. (There was a different Lazard Street long ago, and Mayor Mascarel lived there until his death. It was renamed Ducommun Street. I'll explain why when I get to Charles Ducommun.)

Heading even further east, we reach our final stop in the furthest reaches of Glendale...


You know who Georges Le Mesnager was. This stone barn was built for his vineyard, located in what is now Deukmejian Wilderness Park. When it was damaged in a fire, his son converted it into a farmhouse - which the family lived in until the 1960s.

The barn has been undergoing a remodel/conversion into an interpretive center.

I knew nothing about any of these places until I began to research LA's forgotten French history - and one of them was just a few miles from my house. Small wonder that most Angelenos have NO idea about Frenchtown.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Deed Restrictions and the Renaming of Frenchtown

Last weekend, I gave a presentation on the French in Southern California at San Diego Mensa's Regional Gathering in Palm Springs (video coming soon - IF I can get the darn thing uploaded).

The first, and most revealing, question in the Q&A concerned why LA's historically French neighborhoods are now associated with other ethnic groups.

The original Frenchtown - bordered by Main Street, 1st Street, Aliso Street, and the LA River - is now largely split between Little Tokyo and the industrial core, with the Civic Center bleeding into the northern end of the neighborhood.

As Frenchtown expanded to the north, it grew to include modern-day Chinatown. Why is Joan of Arc standing outside Chinatown's only hospital? Because it was the French Hospital until 1989, and until the 1930s, it was a French neighborhood. Naud Junction, the Fritz houses, and Philippe the Original (creators of the French Dip sandwich; in that location since 1951) are all in Chinatown for the very simple reason that it wasn't always Chinatown. (LA's original Chinatown was demolished in 1931 to build Union Station - long after the Sainsevain brothers lost their uncle's vineyard).

Pellissier Square is now called Koreatown. Why? Because much of central LA declined after the 1930s, making it an affordable place for Korean immigrants to live and start businesses by the time the Korean War ended.

They weren't the first Koreans in Los Angeles. Historically, Korean Angelenos tended to live in Bunker Hill.

(Incidentally, "Koreatown" is something of a misnomer. HALF of Koreatown residents are Latino, and only about one-third are Asian. Korean Angelenos do, however, account for most of the area's businesses.)

There are still clues to Koreatown's French origins. Normandie Avenue, one of the longest streets in Los Angeles County (stretching 22.5 miles between Hollywood and Harbor City), runs smack down the middle of Koreatown. The Pellissier Building, including the legendary Wiltern Theatre, proudly towers over Wilshire and Western. And if you look at the neighborhood's architecture - sure, it's largely Art Deco, but some of it is also French-influenced.

In the early days, Los Angeles was a fairly tolerant place. It wasn't a utopia by any means (case in point: the Chinese Massacre of 1871), but Los Angeles was more tolerant of non-WASPs than most North American cities.

By the 1920s, a plague began to infest Los Angeles on a grand scale.

Deed restrictions.

Sometimes called restrictive covenants, deed restrictions barred ethnic and/or religious groups from buying homes in particular areas.

Why? Who would do something so hateful?

Let's start by rewinding the clock to the 1850s.

In 1850, California became a state. Legally, Los Angeles should have started opening public schools at this point (due to separation of church and state), but LAUSD wasn't founded until 1853. By this time, there was a growing number of Protestant families - most of them Yankees - in town. The few schools that did exist in the area were all Catholic, and Protestant parents objected - loudly - to the idea of sending their kids to Catholic schools. (Many Catholic schools do accept non-Catholic students, and many non-Catholic parents may prefer them if the local public schools aren't good enough. But things were a little different 164 years ago.)

Fast-forward to the 1880s.

When railroads first connected Southern California to the rest of the United States, newcomers flooded the area. Most were WASPs, and the majority were from the Midwest.

Guess where else deed restrictions were common? That's right - the WASPy Midwest. (No offense to any WASPs or Midwesterners who may read this, but I don't believe in hiding the truth. I sure as hell have never pretended French Californians were perfect.)

Before too long, deed restrictions barred people of color from much of the city. Some even excluded Jews, Russians, and Italians. Homeowners' associations and realtors often worked together to keep restricted neighborhoods homogeneous. (My skin is crawling as I write this.)

Excluded ethnic and religious groups, therefore, tended to live in areas that weren't restricted against them.

French Angelenos, however, were a pretty tolerant bunch.

The first baker in the city to make matzo was Louis Mesmer, who was Catholic. His daughter Tina married a Protestant.

Harris Newmark - German and Jewish - was one of Remi Nadeau's best friends.

Prudent Beaudry's sometime business partner Solomon Lazard - French and Jewish - was so popular among Angelenos of all ethnicities that Spanish speakers called him "Don Solomon".

French Basque Philippe Garnier built a commercial building specifically to lease it to Chinese merchants, who weren't considered human beings by the United States government at the time.

No one batted an eye at the fact that quite a few of LA's earlier Frenchmen (including Louis Bauchet, Joseph Mascarel, and Miguel Leonis) married Spanish, Mexican, or Native American women.

Frenchtown didn't have deed restrictions. (It's true that we don't always get along with everyone, but you won't find many French people willing to do something that asinine.)

The original core of Frenchtown was largely taken over by the civic center and industry when the area was redeveloped in the 1920s (and when the 101 sliced through downtown). But part of it became Little Tokyo. Why? No deed restrictions.

In fact, when Japanese American internment emptied Little Tokyo during World War II, African Americans (many working in the defense industry) poured into the neighborhood, and for a time it was known as "Bronzeville". Again, it was still one of the few areas with no deed restrictions. (On a personal note, the original paperwork for my childhood home in Sherman Oaks - built in 1948 - included a restriction against selling to African Americans. No other ethnicities were excluded. Which should give my dear readers a rough idea of what African American home buyers faced at the time - and renters had even fewer choices. Deed restrictions were legally struck down in California in 1947 and nationwide in 1948, but in Los Angeles, they persisted into the 1950s. Nationwide, it was probably worse.)

LA's original Chinatown was emptied and razed to build Union Station. Where did all the Chinese Angelenos go? The area now known as Chinatown was full of French Angelenos first. Wikipedia incorrectly states that it was originally Little Italy. It's true that Italians did live in the neighborhood, but the French arrived before the first Italians did, and made up a larger percentage of the population. Why did the demographics change? No deed restrictions to keep out Chinese residents - or, for that matter, Italian residents. (Catholics of all origins occasionally clashed with Chinese Angelenos over religious differences, but the French community welcomed newcomers from Italy. Case in point: two of the French Benevolent Society's founding members were Italian. And the French Hospital did accept Chinese patients at a time when most hospitals wouldn't.)

LA's Jewish community was largely based in Boyle Heights for many years. Guess who else lived in Boyle Heights back in the day? There were Anglos, sure, but there were also Basque farmers. In fact, Simon Gless' big Victorian house was used as office space for the Hebrew Shelter Home and Asylum for many years (the last time I checked, it was a boarding house for mariachi musicians). Once again - no deed restrictions. (Why does Los Angeles County have so many Jewish residents? Because Jews have, historically, been more welcome in Los Angeles than in many other places. Los Angeles was a tiny frontier town when the first Jewish residents arrived, and in the Old West - where people had to work together to stay alive - how you treated people mattered more than what house of worship you attended.)

I haven't found anything on whether Pellissier Square ever had deed restrictions or not, but there's a reason Korean Angelenos originally clustered in Bunker Hill. Prudent Beaudry - who developed for everyone - developed Bunker Hill. Like Angelino Heights, Bunker Hill was unrestricted.

How did Frenchtown cease to be called Frenchtown?

Simple. As the city expanded westward, and as many French Angelenos moved west or left the city entirely in search of land for grazing livestock/farming/growing grapes, people who weren't welcome in other areas moved to the historically French - and historically unrestricted - neighborhoods.

If you were in the same situation, wouldn't you?