Tuesday, August 7, 2018

S'il Vous Plaît: Need Your Help, Readers!

Dear Readers:

I don't like to ask for help quite this often (in all fairness, the disappearance of Jeanne d'Arc DID make me panic). But I have two very important requests.

First: are there any attorneys, or at least a law student or two, in the house? I'm trying to solve a mystery and have a few questions about business-related law. I'll guest-list you for whatever my next event ends up being. Email losfrangeles (at) gmail (dot) com if you can spare a few minutes. (On the subject of events, if anyone is looking for a speaker, I do have some weekend availability throughout the year.)

Second: my next LAVA Sunday Salon, along with all other Sunday Salons, has been postponed until further notice. But, it's for a good reason - the organizers are hard at work on getting Times Mirror Square landmarked. Which means they could really use some extra help saving other threatened historic sites around LA. Send a letter, send an email, sign a petition, make a phone call - please just take a few minutes to do something. (If I hear anything on how you can help protect Times Mirror Square specifically, I'll update this entry.)

Times Mirror Square's location does hold some significance relevant to this blog: the land was previously owned by sheep baron Pierre Larronde (who had a business block there), and the Nadeau Hotel previously stood on the site. Both the Larronde block and Nadeau Hotel were torn down in the 1930s to make way for the Times building. It especially annoys me that pretty much everything Remi Nadeau built has fallen to the wrecking ball. But what's done is done, and it doesn't make the Times building any less important.

Merci beaucoup!

C.C. de V.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Hang In There, Joan*

How do you make a nerdy history blogger panic? Make her favorite landmark disappear.

A couple of days ago, I reported that the Jeanne d'Arc statue that has stood outside the French Hospital since 1964 had been removed.

An overlooked statue without any historic/cultural monument status, representing a little-known, largely-vanished community, outside a defunct hospital facility. Those are not promising odds. Those are especially not promising odds in Los Angeles, which is notorious for eating its own history on a regular basis.

Would poor Jeanne end up in a scrap heap? Would she be dumped and forgotten in a cavernous warehouse like the one at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark? For three days, I couldn't stop worrying about her.

I am relieved to report that although Jeanne has been removed from the site she occupied for 54 years, she is safe.

Some of the information I have requested is very likely to take at least a couple of weeks to make its way to me. But I'll share what I do know.

The French Benevolent Society, which retained ownership of the land underneath the hospital when it became Pacific Alliance Medical Center, recently sold the entire site.** Presumably, the new owners had no use for Jeanne.

I reached out to the FBS' representative in the sale. I was told that the statue had been donated to Children's Hospital.

I contacted Children's Hospital to confirm this. They don't yet have any plans for Jeanne, but did confirm that they have the statue and will keep me posted.

Hang in there, Jeanne. We'll see you again, old friend.

*Yes, that was a Frozen reference. My blog, my rules.

**The FBS paid $5,000 for the hospital site (four lots totaling 2.5 acres) in 1869. The site sold for $33 MILLION. I heard Chinatown property values were higher than ever, but still...wow!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Where Is Jeanne d'Arc? Où Est Jeanne d'Arc?



One French national hero. Female, age 54. Approximately 10 feet tall including the base. Last seen in front of the former French Hospital in Los Angeles.

This blog began when I found a seemingly out-of-place statue of Jeanne d'Arc on Google Maps while searching for a long-lost Chinatown restaurant.

The French Hospital was the first of well over 400 French-associated sites I have plotted on a Google map. Jeanne d'Arc has stood guard outside since July 1964. This blog would not exist without her.

And now she is missing.

Regular reader Jérome reached out to let me know about Jeanne's disappearance. I don't go downtown very often, so I have no idea when she vanished.

When the French Benevolent Society sold the hospital building in 1989, it retained ownership of the land on which the hospital sits. I found a mailing address for them, although I don't know how current it is, and I have sent them a letter. Hopefully it's the right address and hopefully they respond.

Someone, somewhere, knows where she is. If you are that person, PLEASE TELL ME. If you know anything at all, PLEASE TELL ME. Comment below, or email losfrangeles at gmail dot com. I can't stand the thought of Jeanne vanishing forever. She was one of the last remaining scraps of Frenchtown and now she's disappeared too.


C'est une héroÏne nationale française. Elle est âgée de 54 ans. Elle mesure environ 10 pieds (3 mètres). Elle a été vue pour la dernière fois devant l’Hôpital Français de Los Angeles. Mais où est donc Jeanne d’Arc?

L’Hôpital Français a été le premier de plus de 400 sites Français que j’ai compilé sur une carte Google. Jeanne d’Arc y montait la garde depuis juillet 1964. Ce blog n’existerai pas sans elle.

Et à présent, elle n’est plus là.

Un de mes lecteurs, Jérôme, m’a fait part sa disparition. Je ne vais pas très souvent à Downtown, alors je ne sais pas quand elle a disparu exactement.

Lorsque la Société Française de bienfaisance à vendu le bâtiment de l'hôpital en 1989, elle est restée propriétaire du terrain sur lequel se trouvait l'hôpital. J'ai bien trouvé une adresse postale, mais je ne sais pas si elle est toujours courante, je leur ai envoyé une lettre. J'espère que l’adresse est encore valide et qu’ils me répondront. 

Quelqu'un, quelque part, doit bien savoir où elle se trouve. Si vous êtes cette personne, S'IL VOUS PLAÎT, DITES LE MOI. Si vous savez quelque chose, S'IL VOUS PLAÎT, DITES LE MOI.  Laissez un commentaire ci-dessous, ou par courriel à losfrangeles@gmail.com. Je n’arrive pas à me faire à l'idée que Jeanne puisse avoir disparue pour toujours. Elle était l'une des rares relique de Frenchtown et elle a disparue elle aussi a présent. 

Friday, July 6, 2018

Ildevert Dehail Starts Over...Again

Many of the people who have moved to Los Angeles over the years were in search of a new opportunity, or at least a fresh start.

One of those people was Ildevert Dehail.

Dehail was born in Orne, Basse-Normandie, in 1848. Like all other able-bodied French men of the time, he began compulsory military service at age 18 in 1866. While he was away, his mother died.

The Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870. Dehail was taken prisoner twice during the war and later court-martialed when he disappeared for a few days and was unable to explain the absence. When he was finally able to return home, he discovered his father had died.

In 1874, Dehail boarded a ship to New York. The ship sank, taking all of Dehail's money and belongings with it.

Dehail married Alice Ferendon (who was born in Illinois to French parents) in 1878, moved to Leadville, Colorado, and went into the meat business with a partner. Unfortunately, the firm of Wilbraham & Dehail was located at 109-111 Chestnut Street. Most of that side of the street, for almost an entire block, was destroyed in a fire in 1882.

The Dehails didn't leave Colorado right away - Ildevert became a U.S. citizen there in 1886. But a year later, the Dehails had started over in Los Angeles with Alice running a boarding house and Ildevert working as a painter. Dehail House stood on 1st Street in what is now Little Tokyo (at the time, it was on the edge of the oldest part of Frenchtown).* Ildevert seems to have given up painting to join his wife in the lodging business within a year of arriving. Census and voter records indicate that Ildevert went on to become a real estate speculator and building contractor. He passed away in San Francisco in 1918, and is buried in Forest Lawn (Glendale) alongside Alice, who outlived him by nine years.

Le Guide claims that many of Dehail's buildings in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego were still standing. Since the book was published in 1932, and since Los Angeles County's building records only go back to 1905 (when they exist at all), I can't say for certain if any of Dehail's buildings are still standing in 2018, a full century after his death. If nothing else, the Dehails' streak of misfortunes seems to have ended when they moved to LA.

*On a personal note, although I am well aware of how much has been demolished, redeveloped, and forgotten, I am always surprised to find yet another Frenchtown site in a familiar part of LA. I know that part of Little Tokyo pretty well and my jaw STILL dropped at the thought of a French-owned boarding house a stone's throw from the Space Shuttle Challenger monument.

Monday, June 25, 2018

A Little More About the Verlaques

Regular readers (all three of you, ha) may recall my long day trip to the backcountry town of Ramona, which boasted two French families - the Verlaques and the Etcheverrys - among its initial settlers.

I recently made a return trip to Ramona. Before I could even walk through the Woodward Museum's gate, something caught my eye.

Like most people of French extraction, I LOVE public art. And like most Angelenos, I love a good mural.

The town of Ramona boasts 17 murals paying tribute to its history. Mural #12 recalls the Verlaque family's store.

Wait, what?! 

The last time I visited, I asked the docent on duty if she knew anything else about the Verlaque family (there wasn't much in my notes). Perhaps she was unaware that the old wooden building right next to the museum grounds had been a business owned by the Verlaques. Or that the far side of the building had a mural honoring its history.

No matter. This time I saw the mural.

Family patriarch Theophile was a sheep rancher, but Jeff Verlaque was a shopkeeper.

The store doubled as a post office and stagecoach stop (shades of the Garnier brothers at Rancho Los Encinos). Crucially,  it was on the way to the town of Julian, which had a minor gold rush of its own. 

Artist's rendering of the store's merchandise.

The building, now with the address of 629 Main Street, hasn't changed much (it currently houses the Reds Whites and Brews wine bar and an antique store). Just don't expect to see a stagecoach parked out front.

One little discrepancy is gnawing away at my mind. The Verlaques' adobe house, built in 1886, is said to be the oldest permanent structure in Ramona. Yet the store was supposedly opened in 1884. I will need to contact the historical society about this...

Saturday, June 9, 2018

A Brief History of Philippe Mathieu and the French Dip

Neon blade sign at Philippe the Original.
Philippe Mathieu started out working in a deli in his native France. By the time he retired, he'd invented a quintessential LA dish that has been imitated many, many times - but never really duplicated. (Give it up, Cole's - no one believes you. More on that in a minute.)

After a stint owning a deli on Alameda, Philippe and his brother Arbin opened the New Poodle Dog restaurant on Spring Street in 1911 (if it existed today, it would be just southwest of City Hall). The name was likely a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Old Poodle Dog restaurant in San Francisco. The New Poodle Dog closed in 1913, and the Mathieu brothers opened another white-tablecloth restaurant on Alameda Street just south of Aliso Street - the heart of Frenchtown.

Frenchtown had more than a few nicer French restaurants, however, and Philippe had a talent for simpler, but still well-prepared, food. Philippe opened his namesake restaurant on Alameda Street, south of Temple, in 1908. If it existed today, it would be firmly in the middle of Little Tokyo, but at the time, it was the center of Frenchtown's original core.

Philippe's customers often referred to him as "Frenchy", and took to calling the restaurant "Frenchy's".

You know where this is going, right?

Philippe moved his eatery to 246 Aliso Street (south of Los Angeles Street) in 1918 (again, still in Frenchtown's original footprint). That year, he began serving the sandwich we now call the French Dip.

The story of how the sandwich came to be invented varies, depending on who told it and when. I won't rehash any of the origin stories here, but I will refer you to Eater LA's commentary on a Thrillist piece examining who really invented the French Dip. (Read both. Trust me.)

I'll add a little food for thought (pun intended) to both publications' conclusions (spoiler alert: the evidence gives Philippe's a stronger and far more logical claim): imitators typically pale in comparison to originators. Every so often, someone (food blogger, local magazine, travel writer) will sample both, or ask local eaters for their pick of the two French Dips. Philippe's always wins taste tests easily and always wins polls by a landslide.

By the way, I have no personal stake in this and can't offer a firsthand opinion on either version of the sandwich (I don't eat meat). I do, however, believe in giving credit where credit is due.

Philippe packed up and moved up the street (to 364 Aliso) in 1925. But he, personally, didn't stay for very long.

Philippe (whose grandson described him to the LA Times as frugal) had promised his wife that he'd retire when he turned 50. He did indeed retire in 1927 at age 50, selling the restaurant to the Martin brothers and moving back to France with his wife.

But the restaurant, by far one of the very oldest in Los Angeles, had one more move to make. Freeway construction forced Philippe's to relocate to its present location, just north of Union Station on the southern edge of Chinatown (again, formerly a French neighborhood).

Los Angeles Magazine recently explored how to correctly pronounce the restaurant's name. What they don't seem to notice is that pronunciation seems to vary based on the speaker's background. Philippe's grandson uses the French pronunciation (no surprise here), and Emeril Lagasse isn't TOO far off. Most Angelenos who didn't grow up speaking French use the Hispanicized pronunciation "Felipe's".

It's worth noting, of course, that many early Angelenos adopted, or at least sometimes used, Spanish versions of their names. To give just a few examples from Frenchtown: Louis Bauchet was typically listed in records as Luis, Jean-Louis Vignes was "Don Luis del Aliso", Pierre Sainsevain was commonly referred to as "Don Pedro", and Henri Penelon was often called "Horacio" or "Honore". Mispronouncing "Philippe" as "Felipe" is, in a way, fitting for one of LA's oldest restaurants.

(In the interest of full disclosure, my parents used to go to Philippe the Original on dates.)

Monday, May 28, 2018

Memorial Day Special Edition: French Angelenos in World War One

"War is the business of the French, and they do it very well."

                                                                               - Rudyard Kipling

World War One began in 1914.

The United States of America initially stayed out of the conflict, only entering the war in 1917.

Los Angeles' French community, however, rushed to the aid of their homeland.

The 1918 Los Angeles City Directory (i.e. phone book) lists a French Ambulance Service sharing space with the Alliance Francaise (the location is now Ace Hotel Los Angeles). Three blocks away, there was a French Society for the Relief of Wounded Soldiers. Since phone books are compiled in advance, the Ambulance Service and Society likely existed prior to 1918. (Note to self: check the 1915-1917 city directories the next time I'm deep in the bowels of Central Library. I can't believe I forgot to do that this time.)

Most notably, Georges Le Mesnager - 64 years old in 1914 - stepped away from all four of his jobs and his large family to go back to France and enlist in the French Army. He earned several medals for bravery, was wounded five times, and eventually acted as a special liaison to General Pershing. (Mesnager noted that his fellow French soldiers doubted the arriving American troops would be of much help. He assured them otherwise.) His last task before retiring to the Verdugo Hills was to establish a society for Los Angeles' French war veterans (presumably, there were enough French veterans of war in LA to merit founding such a society).

Dr. Kate Brousseau, a busy psychologist and professor, took a two-year sabbatical to put her French fluency and Ph.D to work in war-torn France. Dr. Brousseau, who was 55 when she left California, spent 1917 and 1918 examining French women called into war service and working with French soldiers in Lorraine, French-occupied Germany, and war-torn northern France. When the war ended, she helped to rehabilitate traumatized soldiers (today we'd call it treating PTSD).

And then there was Lucien Napoleon Brunswig.

Brunswig, a pharmacist by trade, was already active in immigrant support societies and social organizations when the war began. He soon became active in the American Committee for Devastated France and the Maisons-Claires (which supported French war orphans). In 1917 at the age of 63, Brunswig spent eight months in France, writing about his experiences. After the war, he vice-chaired the committee that placed the Doughboy statue in Pershing Square. (Brunswig, like Remi Nadeau, deserves his own biography. But give me time.)

Pershing Square is slated for a renovation. Happily, I have been informed that the Doughboy will remain in the park.

Take a moment to remember all the good people who have died in conflict. And take a moment to remember the French and French-speaking Angelenos who walked away from everything to do whatever they could.