Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day Special Edition: The Doughboy

This is, obviously, a pretty new blog covering a complex subject: the history of Southern California's forgotten French community.

I originally intended to write about people/places/things more or less in order, and had planned to make Jean Louis Vignes the focus of today's entry.

Vignes is far and away one of Frenchtown's most important figures. But he can wait a little longer.

There are three reasons for this:

1. Today is Memorial Day.

2. Pershing Square is getting a major renovation in the near future (from a Paris-based firm, no less).

3. Pershing Square is home to a very important, and widely ignored, war memorial.

As my dear readers will discover in future entries, LA's French community has a history of strong support for both France and the United States in times of war (by the way, can we please retire that stereotype already?). This was especially apparent during World War I.

The 1918 Los Angeles City Directory (i.e. phone book) lists French organizations of support: the French Ambulance Service is listed at the same address as the Alliance Francaise (still active today in a different location), and the French Society for Relief of Wounded Soldiers was just three blocks away. Since phone books tend to be compiled in advance, these organizations were likely founded in or before 1917, when the US entered World War I.

France's busiest supporter in Los Angeles at the time was very likely Lucien Napoleon Brunswig (who will get his own entry later). Born in Montmedy, France, Brunswig moved to Los Angeles in 1903 and founded a very successful pharmaceutical company.  He then went on to become the busiest pharmacist in the city's 234 years of history.

Besides running LA's largest wholesale medicinal supplier, Brunswig served as president of the Alliance Francaise, founded the Cercle Catholique Francaise (which aided new immigrants from France), and was active in the California State Society. During the war, his efforts included the American Committee for Devastated France and the Maisons-Claires (which supported 64 war orphans in Trinity-sur-Mer, France).

Brunswig took his efforts a step further by returning to war-torn France in 1917, spending eight months in the country and writing about the experience, in spite of being 63 years old. (Another French Angeleno, Georges Le Mesnager, juggled four jobs - vineyard owner, court translator, notary, and editor of the Francophone newspaper Le Progrés - and stepped away to fight for France in World War I. He was 64 at the time - too old to be an officer - so he re-enlisted as a private. Le Mesnager later acted as a French army liaison to Gen. Pershing himself.)

In 1923, the Soldier Monument Committee of the Association of the Army of the United States was founded, with the goal of raising funds to erect a memorial to Los Angeles residents who had died in World War I. Lucien Brunswig served as vice chair of the Committee.

The statue, known as "The Doughboy", was commissioned from sculptor Humberto Pedretti and dedicated July 4, 1924, in Pershing Square (renamed in 1918; originally Los Angeles Park).

In 1927, the French Veterans of the World War added to the statue, giving it a bronze relief of a French helmet and an olive branch. Photos of the Doughboy (and the relief) can be seen here.

For his considerable efforts, Brunswig was awarded the Legion d'Honneur - France's highest order for both civil and military merits. Sadly, Brunswig did not live to see the Allied victory in World War II; he passed away in 1943.

I am not now, nor will I ever be, in the military. But I am a firm believer in showing appreciation for those who put themselves in harm's way to keep the rest of us safe.

Pershing Square has been widely disliked for quite some time now - not enough shade, not inviting, etc. I have seen Agence Ter's concept artwork for redeveloping the park, and I think it's going to be stunning.

But I am worried about the fate of the Doughboy.

In 1924, the Doughboy was installed at the park's northwest corner, meant to be its gateway work of art. Currently, it stands in the Palm Court.

Few modern-day Angelenos have any idea the statue is even there. I suspect the number who have taken the time to appreciate it is even lower. My dad, who attended USC and worked downtown for well over a decade, didn't know the Doughboy existed until I told him about it. My grandfather, a French-American war veteran (specifically, a tank commander in France under Patton) and a vocal believer in supporting other veterans, probably only saw it on a onetime visit to Pershing Square (which, to a family living in then-suburban Santa Monica, was a pretty scary neighborhood at the time).

Throw in the fact that horrible people like to vandalize war memorials, throw in the fact that irreplaceable works of art are too often destroyed on purpose, and add the fact that too many Angelenos know nothing about the city's frequently-erased history and don't care enough to learn about it.

I am very worried that the Doughboy won't survive the redevelopment of Pershing Square. And if any work of art should be in a park renamed for Gen. John J. Pershing, it's the Doughboy - a 92-year-old monument to the Angelenos who lost their lives in a terrible war. (Agence Ter's plans include a "sculptural promenade", but I have yet to see anything specific about the Doughboy.)

I will be unable to pay the Doughboy a visit today, as I must go to work and won't have time to go downtown. But if you can make it, leave a red poppy at the statue's base for me.

Incidentally, Remi Nadeau - one of the most important Angelenos you've never heard of (he will get a VERY long entry later) - lived across the street from Pershing Square. The Biltmore Hotel was built on the site of his former home. And to make things even more interesting...the land was part of the Bellevue Terrace tract, developed by French-Canadian mayor/entrpreneur Prudent Beaudry in the 1860s.

P.S. The former Alliance Francaise/French Ambulance Service building was replaced by the United Artists Theater, built in 1927. The site is currently Ace Hotel's Los Angeles location.

Monday, May 23, 2016

LA's First Frenchman: Louis Bauchet

Quick history lesson:

After French emperor Napoleon had his dérriere handed to him at Waterloo in 1815, a lot of French soldiers found themselves out of work.

Meanwhile, Mexico was in the midst of a revolution.

Contact between Mexico and France wasn't terribly new; in 1808, France invaded Mexico. That same year, Spanish kings Carlos IV and Ferdinand VII both abdicated (due to the Napoleonic Wars); Napoleon gave his brother Joseph the Spanish crown.

This did not go over well with everyone in Spanish America.

Mexico City's city council declared sovereignty in the absence of the true king. Things got messy. Long story short, Mexico sought independence from Spain.

Slight problem: Mexico needed more soldiers to successfully take on Spain.

When Napoleon was defeated and exiled, a solution presented itself: Mexico hired unemployed French soldiers.

One former Napoleonic Guard who fought in the revolution was Louis Auguste Bauchet (sometimes spelled "Bouchette"), born July 17, 1785 in Marne, France. Mexico - rich in land but poor in cash from the war - paid its French mercenaries in land grants.

In 1827, Bauchet made his way north to a little town of just under 700 - El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de la Reina de los Angeles. Bauchet established a vineyard in 1831 (making him one of two contenders for California's first true vintner - the other is Jean Louis Vignes), and also made barrels.

Bauchet lived another 20 years, passing on October 24, 1847, in Los Angeles at the age of 62. Ancestry.com records disagree on when and where he was married (it could have been Spain, Mexico, or Los Angeles; the year could have been 1831, 1832, or 1836), but his living relatives seem to agree that his wife's name was Maria Basilia Alanis (or Alaniz). The likeliest scenario seems to be Los Angeles in 1831 or 1832 - he had a vineyard to run; why leave town for a wedding? The 1850 census indicates Maria was born in California, suggesting she was a local. As for the year, Louis and Maria's son Luis Guadalupe Bauchet was born December 13, 1832. Two siblings followed - sister Maria de Jesus Bauchet (1835-1864), and brother Luis Rafael "Ralph" Santos Bauchet (1836-1920), who became a farmer.

The 1890 city directory lists Louis G. Bauchet, painter, living at 22 Date Street, and the 1891 census gives the address of 730 Date Street. (Both locations are proving hard to pin down, since Date Street seems to have vanished. I found an old sketch of Lovers' Lane - Date Street's original name - but can't find a modern street matching its approximate location and shape.) I can find no record of his death; after 1891, no further records exist (nor have I been able to find any Bauchet gravesites...yet).

The Bauchet family's name and long-forgotten vineyard live on via Bauchet Street, which is in fact three odd stretches of road (one of them is not connected to the other two) in a grim part of downtown that most Angelenos rarely think of and never visit.

Specifically, Bauchet Street is home to the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, the LA Central Men's Jail, the Central Arraignment Court, the LA County Public Defender's office, LA County Pretrial Services, the LA County Sheriff's Department, and some bail bonds offices.

Very little is known about Bauchet, but we do know he was a career soldier and a businessman. I wonder what he'd think of his former vineyard housing jail facilities.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

France and the Founding of Los Angeles

The French have loved California ever since they found out it existed.

Theodore de Croix, Captain General of northwestern Mexico under King Carlos III (and a native of Lille, France), recommended founding a pueblo on the banks of the Porciúncula River (now called the Los Angeles River) in 1781. That's right: Los Angeles exists because a guy from Lille told the king of Spain it would be a good place to build a town. (I can't find any evidence that de Croix ever visited Los Angeles himself, but if I do, I'll update this.)

The first French person to visit California (he was, in all likelihood, the first visitor who was not Spanish, Mexican, or Native American) was known only as La Pérouse and visited via the frigate La Boussole in 1786. He recalled the visit in his book Voyage Autour du Monde, published in 1798 in Paris, and referred to California as "defenseless" (not anymore!).

Other French visitors followed.  Most notably, a young apprentice on a ship from Marseilles became enchanted with Southern California when the ship was in the port of San Pedro. His name was Joseph Mascarel. Jean Louis Vignes, a passenger on the same ship, did a little trading in port...but, like Mascarel, fell in love with California.

Remember the names of Mascarel and Vignes...you'll be reading more about them later.

Next entry: LA's first French resident.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Welcome to Frenchtown (1827 - 1989)*

Look at a map of Los Angeles that includes the names of its many neighborhoods. Take the time to scrutinize it thoroughly.

Something is missing. In fact, it has been missing from the urban landscape of my hometown for about seventy years.

Modern Los Angeles is a very big, very diverse city - so much so that it is impossible for this native to imagine LA without its historically ethnic neighborhoods.

Chinatown. Little Tokyo. Little Ethiopia. Little Armenia. Thai Town. Little Bangladesh. Koreatown. Historic Filipinotown. Little Persia (or, if you prefer, Tehrangeles). Not to mention the many African American, Mexican, and Central American enclaves throughout the city and the San Gabriel Valley's huge pan-Asian community.

Take another look at that map. Los Angeles' first ethnic enclave - at one time accounting for an astonishing one in five Angelenos - is missing.

Few Angelenos are even the slightest bit aware that this community ever existed, let alone aware of its many impressive accomplishments.

We grew crops. We raised livestock. We made wine (way back when Napa and Sonoma Counties were mere farmland) - some of which was good enough, even way back then, to send to Europe.

We opened stores and sold hardware, jewelry, picture frames, art, mirrors, clothing, shoes, books, cutlery, perfume, groceries, animal feed, lumber, sewing machines, coffee, toiletries, and bricks. We manufactured everything from soap to coffins.

We developed tracts of land (some of which now account for the few surviving older neighborhoods in the city) and established streetcars. We served as priests, and donated generously to churches.

We established the city's oldest surviving hospital, practiced medicine, taught medicine at what is now USC, dispensed drugs at pharmacies we founded, and tended to the city's deceased.

We founded newspapers in our own language, which was for many years the second most commonly spoken tongue in Los Angeles (after Spanish).

We served our communities on the city council, as Mayors, as Water Overseers (by far the most important position in a parched and growing city), as soldiers in times of war, and on volunteer police and fire patrols. We spent year after year after year trying to bring safe, reliable water to homes and businesses (and eventually succeeded).

We harvested salt, made art, sold tar from the La Brea Tar Pits (for roofing purposes), and baked bread, pies, pastries, and matzo for civilians and the local army camp. We provided ice to saloons from Los Angeles to San Francisco. We ran some of those saloons, and brewed some of the city's beer.

We owned and operated hotels and restaurants, ranging from humble inns to the very finest establishments in Southern California, donated funds to help transform Olvera Street into a tourist attraction, and donated funds for UCLA's original campus. We turned a foul swamp into Los Angeles Park, now Pershing Square (not the ugly modern version everyone hates; blame the 1950s for that), founded the city's meatpacking industry, worked as blacksmiths, invested in real estate, and built Santa Monica's first restaurant, grocery store, and wharf.

We founded one of the city's oldest private schools in addition to the Music Teachers Association and the city's longest-running glee club. We founded a freight company that grew large enough to serve much of the Southwest. We co-founded the Farmers & Merchants Bank. We rented property to our Chinese neighbors, who could not legally own land or buildings at the time.

And in spite of our long list of contributions to the city, virtually no one bothers to remember that we've been a part of Los Angeles (and the rest of Southern California) since 1827.

We are French Angelenos. These are our stories.

*1827 - year LA got its first French resident (Louis Bauchet). 1989 - year the French Benevolent Association sold the French Hospital (now the Pacific Alliance Medical Center).