Sunday, November 19, 2017

Getting Ready for StaRGazing 2018!

I'm still bummed about the French Hospital.

However, I am pleased to announce that I will be giving another Frenchtown lecture at Greater Los Angeles Area Mensa's 2018 Regional Gathering on Presidents' Day weekend.

This won't be a rehash of my first lecture. I'll have more time to speak, which means I can cover more people and places. Also, since the RG is taking place in San Pedro, I will be covering the South Bay's forgotten French citizens (something I haven't had time to squeeze into previous talks).

Book your hotel room and get your ticket SOON if you want to attend - the discounted rooms are going fast.

As of this writing, I'm scheduled to speak in the Doubletree's Catalina ballroom at 3:20 pm on Saturday, February 17, 2018.

See you soon!

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Fate of the French Hospital

The Pacific Alliance Medical Center, formerly the French Hospital, is closing next month.

Putting aside the fate of one of the last surviving relics of LA's obliterated French community (I'm sure I don't need to comment on how I feel about THAT), there is the issue of downtown LA still needing hospital facilities.

When the hospital changed hands in 1989, it came very close to closing entirely, and was saved by a hardworking team of medical professionals, local Chinatown residents, and a generous benefactor in Japan. Other downtown-area hospitals (chief amongst them Linda Vista) closed entirely.

The French Hospital survived some of downtown's darkest days...only to be felled 28 years later by the cost of earthquake retrofitting (as I don't have a legal or medical background, I don't feel qualified to comment on the lawsuit mentioned in the linked article).

What will happen to the building? I wish I knew.*

The Joan of Arc statue outside is landmarked. The hospital building itself, curiously, is not (in spite of being LA's second-oldest surviving hospital**...and in spite of the long-empty Japanese Hospital in Boyle Heights being landmarked).

For once, I don't have any pithy commentary to add. I'm too sad.

*I know it's not the original building from 1869. However...Chinatown legend has it that part of the original adobe hospital building is encased somewhere within the current facility's walls. If the building ends up falling to the wrecking ball and a section of 158-year-old adobe wall turns up, SOMEBODY PLEASE TELL ME. If it still exists (and I realize this is an extreme long shot), it belongs in a museum. (Even if it's badly damaged and looks like hell, if it's survived at all, it's still part of our heritage and still worth saving.)

**The article claims the French Hospital is LA's oldest. It's not - St. Vincent's is older. Also, the hospital was established in 1869, making it 158 years old, not 157 as the article claims.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Lost LA: I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down

Dear KCET/Lost LA:

I like you guys. I really do. But this is the SECOND time you've gotten mustard up my nose (French idiom - you guys are smart; I trust you to look it up).

I previously called out a Lost LA writer for excluding BOTH the Circle Catholique Francais AND the  French Benevolent Society - LA's first benevolent society and one of its longest-lasting - from an article on historic immigrant support societies.

I contacted KCET about this glaring omission on August 3, 2016, but didn't get a response until October 21. (Really? Come on. Not cool.)

I'm sure you can understand how this course of action might lead some readers to think the omissions were deliberate. (Especially since the FBS was the city's oldest benevolent society, supported a large ethnic enclave in addition to admitting non-French patients, established the city's second-oldest hospital - which remains open under another name - and existed until 1989.)

I'm reasonably forgiving. I am not, however, a doormat.

Way back in March, I posted an entry on Raymond Alexandre's Roundhouse - LA's first known example of fantasy architecture (which went on to become its first amusement park and first kindergarten).

Guess what I saw earlier tonight? You guys just ran your OWN entry on the Roundhouse. 

I read your articles regularly. For the most part, I enjoy them.

But may I please ask for a little consideration?

Take a long, hard look at a map of Los Angeles - preferably on Google, since it lists the city's historically ethnic neighborhoods by name.

Every other ethnic enclave in the city still has a home. Mine was weakened by Prohibition, bulldozed, slashed in half by a freeway, and paved over in the name of progress before either of my parents were born. I will never truly be able to walk Frenchtown's streets - what does remain of the enclave has been largely transformed into Little Tokyo and Chinatown.

LA's forgotten French may just be article fodder to some writers, but they are the extended family I don't have. I make no apologies for being fiercely protective of Frenchtown and its citizens.

I use this blog to fight a nearly impossible battle: keeping Frenchtown's memories alive and giving French Angelenos their due.

As much as I appreciate seeing LA's French history recognized, sometimes it can be hard not to feel like my toes are being stepped on. Other writers have deliberately omitted French contributions to LA history, stolen article ideas I'd pitched to the same publications that employ them, stolen content from this blog, and published articles with a downright offensive number of factual errors.

Your article was thorough and well-researched (I could only find one error: M. Alexandre's first name was Raymond, not Ramon). But when I see the obscure subject of a niche blog entry (mine) crop up somewhere else, I have to wonder where the idea originated (wouldn't you?).

I would never knowingly step on another historian's toes. All I ask is that the same courtesy be extended in return. Putain, j'en ai marre. 

And as long as I'm on my soapbox, I would like to politely, but firmly, remind everyone who does read this of something I've said before (and will politely, but firmly, repeat until everyone gets it):

We were here, too.

We have been here since 1827.

We made a LOT of contributions to Los Angeles that helped take it from dusty pueblo to world-class city.

We matter just as much as every other ethnic group in Los Angeles.

Don't sell us short.

Sincerely,

C.C. de Vere

Thursday, October 19, 2017

We're Still Here, Part 6: Hollywood and West Hollywood

Back in the day, Hollywood and West Hollywood were mostly farmland and well outside of Los Angeles proper.

Today, nothing remains of the farm north of Gower Street where Joseph Mascarel grew tomatoes and other vegetables. René Blondeau's tavern, rented to early filmmakers who used it as Hollywood's first film studio, was torn down long ago to make room for Gower Gulch Plaza (what IS it with Gower Street and erased history?).

But there are still remnants of the area's connections to France (and French-speaking Belgium).

Early Hollywood booster Daeida Wilcox was so keen to bring culture to the new town that she approached French artist Paul de Longpré, offering three lots of her own property for a home, studio, art gallery, and expansive flower gardens. The de Longpré estate was such a popular tourist attraction that the Pacific Electric Railway's fabled Balloon Route had to add a trolley spur on nearby Ivar Avenue to handle the crowds.

The Mission Revival house (designed by Québecois architect Louis Bourgeois - do not confuse with French artist Louise Bourgeois) is long gone. Commercial buildings and a parking facility now stand on the site (Cahuenga Boulevard north of Hollywood Boulevard).

But, six blocks southwest...


...De Longpré Park is open from dawn to dusk...


...on De Longpré Avenue.

In a more touristy part of Hollywood, the Walk of Fame pays tribute to some of the entertainment industry's biggest French (and French-American) names.

Leslie Caron
Louis Jourdan
Pierre Cossette
Maurice Tournier
Sarah Bernhardt
Pierre Monteux
Walt Disney (What? He totally counts)
Sharon Gless. As in, THAT Gless family.
Roy Disney
Adolphe Menjou
Claudette Colbert
Franchot Tone
Laura La Plante
Robert Goulet
Dorothy Lamour
Filmmaking pioneer Auguste Lumiere. (Why is his name spelled incorrectly?)
Nanette Fabray
Maurice Chevalier
Renée Adorée
The other filmmaking brother, Louis Lumiere.
Rudy Vallee
Not pictured (due to construction chaos, vendor carts, or sluggish tourists): Joan Blondell, Henri Rene, Jean Renoir (son of painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, dubbed "the greatest of all directors" by Orson Welles), and Rod La Rocque.


Musso & Frank Grill, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood, has French roots. Founded in 1919 by Frank Toulet, the restaurant was called Francois, or Frank's Café, until Toulet took on Joseph Musso as a business partner. The menu, created long ago by their (French) chef Jean Rue, has changed very little in the past 98 years.


Hat tip to my mom's family...


Normandie Avenue, one of the longest streets in Los Angeles County at 22.5 miles, stretches from Hollywood to Harbor City. It's not a coincidence that Normandie Avenue, named for a coastal, seafaring province, got its name while Joseph Mascarel - a career sailor - served as Mayor of Los Angeles.


Close to where Hollywood and Los Feliz meet Griffith Park, there is a Ponet Drive. (Don't try to drive in this neighborhood...just don't. No parking, no stopping, super skinny roads clearly meant only for residents. Just trust me when I say it's there.)

Speaking of Victor Ponet...

Victor Ponet - cabinetmaker, city undertaker, Belgian vice consul, President of the Evergreen Cemetery Association, vendor of whatever else he could sell from his coffin showroom - retired to a farm that made up much of modern-day West Hollywood. In those days, however, it was definitely still the country.

Victor donated the land and original building for St. Victor Catholic Church, which remains active to this day.


Victor's descendants, the Montgomery family, developed Sunset Plaza on land inherited from Victor.





Saturday, September 30, 2017

We're Still Here, Part 5: The Natural History Museum

It may seem odd to some of my readers that the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County would have, let alone display, anything related to the city's French community. The words "Natural History Museum" tend to conjure up images of rocks, dinosaur bones, and dioramas of taxidermy wildlife. (Yes, the museum has plenty of those things too, but that's beside the point.)

When it opened in 1913, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County was named the Museum of History, Science, and Art (Le Guide calls it "our County Museum", and I'm sure I don't need to point out that Los Angeles' population was about the same size as Anaheim's is today). The museum's art department spun off into the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and moved to Wilshire Boulevard in 1965. Today, the Museum's emphasis is firmly on science, but our history remains - in the "Becoming Los Angeles" exhibit.

And there are some nice surprises in store for French Angelenos.

General John C. Frémont is said to have signed the treaty ending the Mexican-American War at this humble kitchen table.
Jean-Louis Vignes' brandy still and strainer
The father of French migration to California used this brandy still and strainer. They're intact (if slightly battered) and safe in a glass case. I'm amazed these humble items survived when so much of our history has been demolished, paved over, renamed, or actively erased.

Charles Ducommun's scales and shotgun
Charles Ducommun was a half-blind smallpox survivor when he loaded up a donkey with as much as it could carry and WALKED from Arkansas to California, with this shotgun for protection. Incredibly, in spite of his reduced eyesight, the Swiss-born, French-speaking Ducommun continued to ply his trade as a watchmaker, opening a combination jewelry/hardware store. Ducommun's store grew into Ducommun Industries, a defense/aerospace supplier and California's oldest corporation.

I can't even tell you how much time I spent staring into that case, in awe of the fact that California's oldest corporation began with that tiny set of jeweler's scales.

Original log pipe, wrapped in heavy-duty wire
Jean-Louis Sainsevain and the ill-fated Mayor Damien Marchesseault tried to solve LA's water problems with pipes made from hollow logs. It backfired horribly (over and over...), but at least their struggle is remembered in the Museum. (The artifact information doesn't list them by name, but at least there's a surviving log pipe on display. And if you're reading this blog, you probably already know I'm used to this sort of thing.)

Feliciana Yndart, painted by Henri Penelon
In the 1950s, Henri Penelon's granddaughter took two of his paintings to the Museum to donate them.  Less than a century after his death, no one at the Museum had any idea who he was. I can only imagine how badly that must have stung.

Don Vicente Lugo, painted by Henri Penelon
Today, the Museum's Seaver Center for Western History Research owns thirteen of Penelon's surviving paintings. I wasn't expecting to see any of them on display and yet...there they were!


Don Francisco Sepulveda, painted by Henri Penelon
I have yet to visit the Seaver Center, but will be reaching out to them to do further research.

Animator's desk, chair, and multiplane camera - developed by Walt Disney
Few people realize that Walt Disney had French ancestry. "Disney" is a corruption of "D'Isigny", after Isigny-sur-Mer in Normandy. I have never considered it a coincidence that Disney's Los Feliz home was influenced by traditional Norman architecture.

And then there's the city model.

Built in the 1930s as a WPA project, the model is an amazing tool for seeing what downtown looked like before freeways sliced right through Frenchtown (and a couple of Beaudry tracts). 


Do note that the street we now call "Paseo de la Plaza" was labeled "Sunset Boulevard" on the model. You read it here first: Marchesseault Street was (at one point) renamed Sunset Boulevard.

Beaudry Avenue on the model.
Pershing Square as it appeared before that hideous redesign in the 1950s.
Do note the tiny Doughboy statue in the upper right corner.
Sadly not on display: a portrait of Francoise Bry Henriot, who emigrated from French-speaking Switzerland, married a French-born gardener, and established LA's first French-language private school. (Le Guide makes reference to Mme. Henriot's portrait hanging in the Museum. I can only presume it was moved to storage long ago.)

Nonetheless...can you imagine the tears of joy that seeing this exhibit brought to this French/Quebecois/Anglo-Norman Angeleno's eyes? (Who am I kidding? I'm crying as I write this.) For the first time in my life, I felt represented and acknowledged in my hometown. I have argued that we deserve our own museum (and my position on the matter isn't going to change), but just for one afternoon, it was as if the city had tapped my shoulder and whispered into my ear "I hear you".

Monday, September 25, 2017

Thank You LAVA Attendees!

LAVA's September Sunday Salon was yesterday. I was absolutely thrilled to give my talk and participate in the walking tour (and with a sold-out audience!).

THANK YOU for coming.

Pictures from the Salon can be seen here, and when the video is available, I will update this with a link.

If you haven't yet heard my special guest appearance on You Can't Eat the Sunshine, you can find the episode here.

I had some questions regarding why certain details were left out of my talk. I gave a longer version of the same talk at a different event in May and the original draft was well over two hours long! I had to cut a LOT of content to get it to one hour, and had to trim it down again (omitting details like Damien Marchesseault's suicide note) to make it a 50-minute talk (and I was aiming for 40).

There is SO much information that if I could include everything, I'd probably still be talking.

That's the beauty of blogging: I can go into as much detail as I want with each entry instead of giving the Cliff's Notes version. (And I promise I'll pitch a book to publishers soon!)

On the subject of books, there were a few questions about one of my resources. Le Guide Francais de Los Angeles et du Sud de la Californie (aka The French in Southern California History and the Southland Today) was published just once, in 1932, in English and in French. It's not easy to find (I spent years looking for a copy), but Central Library has two English-language copies of the book (if I remember correctly, it's in the rare books collection).

I have had multiple requests for a transcript of my talk. If you would like a copy of my notes, you can email me at losfrangeles (at) gmail (dot) com.

However, I must make one request from everyone who requests a copy of my notes.

I have had someone take my blog's content, alter it, and pass it off as their own work (and still manage to make a horrifying number of factual errors...). This person has faced no consequences, and when I complained to the editor, I received no response.

If you wish to share my notes with someone else for any reason, I ask that you link to this blog and credit me.

Time, effort, and money go into this blog. I have limited spare time and spend much of it doing research. I do a lot of driving around (with the exception of the historical photographs, I take my own pictures). I don't make a lot of money, but I've spent a good amount on books (the old, rare ones aren't cheap) and gas.

All I want is to be credited for doing the actual work.

With that out of the way...

Thank you all for coming, and I'm looking forward to returning in the spring (we'll tour a different part of downtown).

Monday, August 28, 2017

We're Still Here, Part 4: Ramona

There are two key areas of Southern California that actually treat their French roots with respect. The first, as I've mentioned, is the San Fernando Valley.

The second - and virtually no outsider knows this - is the tiny town of Ramona.

Situated in northeastern San Diego County, Ramona is an unincorporated town named after Helen Hunt Jackson's famous novel. (By the way, getting there can be a challenge. It's well off the beaten path, and some of the highway signage is confusing and/or missing. Do yourself a HUGE favor and take Highway 67 through Poway. The 78 SEEMS shorter and more direct, but trust me, it's not.)

The town was previously called Nuevo. But don't let the Spanish names fool you - Ramona's deepest roots are heavily French.

Like many other French families who came to Los Angeles, the Verlaque family moved farther afield in search of land. They raised sheep in San Diego, and by 1886 were making a good enough living to build themselves a little place out in the country.


This house - the Verlaque family's country retreat - was the first permanent building in the Ramona area. 

It's also the only known example of a French Colonial house built out of adobe.


The town of Ramona clearly respects its French pioneers.



When Henri Penelon painted the rebuilt Old Plaza Church, he was assisted by 21-year-old Bernard Etcheverry, who had just arrived from France. As you can see, Bernard and his family eventually settled in Ramona.

I should note that the Guy B. Woodward Museum, housed in the Verlaque adobe, does NOT allow photography. I was granted special permission to photograph two items in the museum because they are original to the Verlaque family.


This soup tureen belonged to Elizabeth Verlaque and was used in this house.


To the untrained eye, this might LOOK like any fireplace you'd find in an adobe house's kitchen...


Theophile Verlaque, however, had the roasting spit custom made (in Paris!) for the house. It has a built-in mechanical timer to ensure perfectly cooked meat. What can I say? Even way back in 1886...even in a humble country retreat...we like our food cooked perfectly (and I don't even eat meat).


The Verlaques, like most French families, buried their dead in the local Catholic cemetery. However, San Diego's Calvary Cemetery was turned into Mission Hills Park (previously called Pioneer Park) in the 1970s. They took out the tombstones, but not the bodies (I wonder if Pioneer Park might have been the inspiration for Poltergeist...incidentally, San Diego has quite a long history of flagrantly disrespecting its dead). In any case, two of the Verlaque family's tombstones were salvaged (most of the tombstones were simply thrown into a ditch on the edge of the "park") and can now be found outside the house.


The Etcheverry family home exists only in memories (if I had to take a guess as to why, I'd say it might have something to do with the fact that San Diego County's backcountry is prone to brush fires). But, a few miles south of the Verlaque house, Etcheverry Street still bears the family's name.