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.


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. 

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. Interestingly, he was taken not to the Calabasas homestead, but to his house downtown (did that alleged mistress care for him in his final hours?). 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 (since it listed both of her parents by name). 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, and died a few months later, in 1906. Juan and his family inherited the house (take THAT, Miguel). Espiritu is buried at Mission San Fernando (where she was born and educated). 

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?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Come Hear Me Speak at uRGe!

I am thrilled to announce that I will be giving a presentation on Southern California's forgotten French roots at San Diego Mensa's uRGe Regional Gathering at the Ivy Palm Resort in Palm Springs on Memorial Day weekend.

In addition to the topics I've already covered in this blog, I will be talking about:

- The San Diego County settlement founded by two French families (unless you've lived there, you probably don't know this)
- The French Basque family whose orange grove took up much of modern-day Fullerton
- The most important French immigrant to Southern California you've never heard of (you will be shocked you don't already know this)
- How a first-generation French American unwittingly had a hand in shaping a very famous Southern California landmark
- Where the original Frenchtown was located (yes, I'm finally going to reveal The Map)
- Southern California's forgotten Francophone newspapers
- The forgotten Frenchman of early Riverside
- The French-speaking Swiss immigrant who founded California's oldest corporation
- The inventor of the French Dip sandwich (hint: it wasn't Cole's)
- French figures of early Hollywood
- Where to find the forgotten French today

...and who knows what else? Every story I find in the course of my research leads to more stories.

My talk is scheduled for Saturday morning. I can't wait!

Friday, April 28, 2017

We're Still Here, Part 2: Chinatown


Moving on to another of LA's older neighborhoods...

The French community was, as I've noted previously, originally concentrated in an area that is now split between Little Tokyo and the old industrial core. But as newcomers continued to arrive from France, the neighborhood grew...into what is now part of Chinatown.


Not too far from Bauchet Street, Mesnager Street intersects with Naud Street.


Joan of Arc, erected in 1964, still stands proud outside the old French Hospital.


The French Hospital, founded in 1869 by the French Benevolent Society, still exists. The original adobe building and wood-framed nurses' dormitory were replaced long ago. (A portion of the original hospital is rumored to be entombed somewhere inside the hospital's walls.)


Poor Joan almost seems lost outside the modern-day Pacific Alliance Medical Center, as the French Hospital has been known since 1989.


Angels Walk information stanchion outside the hospital. Note the references to LA's French mayors, the water system, Le Progrés, and French being more commonly spoken than English.


A very brief history of the hospital - and references to our names appearing on many of LA's street signs.


What's this? Another Angels Walk stanchion?


Note references to the Fritz houses. Philippe Fritz, a carpenter from Alsace-Lorraine, built three houses next to each other for his family. One house was later moved to Wilshire and Normandie (and is, of course, no longer there, either).


Same stanchion, outside the Chinatown Heritage and Visitors Center. Look, it's Mayor Beaudry!


More on the water system. Until well into the twentieth century, French Angelenos were instrumental in bringing water to Los Angeles residents.


One of the Fritz houses.


Another angle on the same house. (You know this house is no longer French-owned because French people don't let their paint peel like that. Shame on the historical society.)


The second house.


Another angle on the second house. I suspect the railing was added later. While my people are quite fond of lacy ironwork, this doesn't look original or consistent with the first house.


A wider angle on the first house. Now this is the home of a carpenter.


And where are the Fritz houses? Bernard Street! Jean Bernard held a grant deed for this part of town, and ran a brickyard nearby.

Edited to add (7/1/17): If you've seen La La Land, you've seen Bernard Street - sort of. In the scene with Mia leaving a voicemail for Sebastian, she does walk down Bernard Street (you can see the street sign and the Chinese-themed motel on the corner). Mia is walking opposite the Fritz houses. It's such a wasted opportunity to show another aspect of LA's culture and charm, but sadly, French Angelenos receive little to no representation anywhere (let alone in an Oscar-winning film).

Sunday, April 16, 2017

We're Still Here, Part 1: Olvera Street and LA's Old Pueblo

The acknowledged foremost authority on Frenchtown, Helene Demeestre, has called at least one of her Frenchtown lectures "Without a Trace".

With all due respect to Dr. Demeestre, if you can't find traces of Frenchtown in modern-day Los Angeles, you haven't looked hard enough by a LONG shot.

Recently, I was fortunate to get a Saturday off work and spent it exploring the old Pueblo and nearby Chinatown. This is what you'll find if you make the same trip.

Damien Marchesseault, progressive six-term mayor, is remembered in a plaque outside the Biscailuz building. (Am I alone in thinking it's weird that the plaque is in English and Spanish, but seems to be missing a French translation?) The inscription references the nearest street being named after Marchesseault, which it was. However (insult to injury here), Marchesseault Street was renamed Paseo de la Plaza sometime after this plaque was installed.

Rest in peace, Mr. Mayor. And this plaque should really have a French translation...

Union Station, opposite the Pueblo. Jean-Louis Vignes once owned the site and grew grapes here.

Plaque outside the Garner building. At a time when the United States government didn't believe Asians were human beings and anti-Chinese sentiments ran high, Philippe Garnier built this building specifically to rent to Chinese tenants (the Chinese-American community used this building continuously from 1890 to 1953). Today, it is the last surviving relic of LA's original Chinatown. (The plaque is in English and Chinese, but once again, seems to be missing a French translation.) 

Plaque on the wall of the Garnier building.

Do note the "P. Garnier 1890" relief.

LA's oldest Masonic hall. Sources disagree on whether Jean-Louis Sainsevain was grand master of LA's oldest lodge or not. We do know, however, that Judge Julius Brousseau was a high-ranking Mason.
The Pico House doesn't seem that big when you're right in front of it, but it seems enormous from across the plaza. French hotelier Pascale Ballade owned the Pico House for a time and threw the centennial to end all centennials here when the French Republic turned 100 in 1892.

Brunswig building (do not confuse with Brunswig Square in Little Tokyo) on the left, Garnier block (do not confuse with Garnier building) on right.

Garnier Block.

Brunswig building.

Inside the Garnier building, which now houses the Chinese American Museum.

There are too many clues to list, but there is plenty of hard evidence that much of old Chinatown was part of a French neighborhood first.

Back view of Garnier building. The building was much larger many years ago - only the last sections on the right are original.

Biscailuz building. Eugene Biscailuz, of French Basque extraction, was a respected lawman for many years in LA, and helped establish the California Highway Patrol.

La Placita and its unforgivably ugly faux-Byzantine mosaic. Up until the late 1930s, that exact spot contained LA's first public art - a mural of the Madonna and Child. The mosaic went up in 1981. (Somewhere, Henri Penelon is quietly crying into a glass of Sainsevain Brothers wine.) Oh, and let's not forget that La Placita's first TWO resident priests were from France!


And now...prepare for the shock of a lifetime.

As of this writing, if you visit the old Avila Adobe on Olvera Street, you just might stumble upon something unexpected...

...an exhibit about the struggle for water services in early LA.

I had no idea it was even there. It's not advertised, and most of it is gated off. But the first part, which concerns the Sainsevains, Beaudrys, Solomon Lazard, Mayor Marchesseault (etc.), was open.

Water permit signed by water overseer and mayor Damien Marchesseault.

Jean-Louis Sainsevain - engineer and Marchesseault's business partner.

Early map showing the old water system.

Jean-Louis Sainsevain's water wheel, feeding water into the Sainsevain Reservoir (now a closed-off old park called Radio Hill Gardens).

How it worked.

Dr. John Griffin (an Anglo with a background in public health), Prudent Beaudry (French Canadian), and Solomon Lazard (French) - partners in the Los Angeles City Water Company. Many of the LACWC's early employees were French as well.

You had NO idea. did you? Most Angelenos don't.

The old Plaza with the original LACWC building - fittingly located on Marchesseault Street.

Bauchet Street, near Union Station. You know who Louis Bauchet is.

Philippe the Original! Don't worry, I will write about Philippe Mathieu in the future. This is not the location where the French dip sandwich was invented (that one was torn down for development purposes), but on a personal note, my parents used to go on dates here.

Classic neon sign at Philippe's.
Corner of Mesnager Street and Naud Street. You had NO idea this was here, did you?
So as you can see...we haven't really vanished "without a trace", as Dr. Demeestre puts it. There is a wealth of clues. You just have to spend some time looking for them.