Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Frenchtown vs. the Vice District

This entry is going to discuss some of old LA's unsavory history. Let's just get that out of the way.

I've mentioned previously that generally speaking, the French citizens of Los Angeles were a law-abiding bunch. There's a reason Michel Lachenais was lynched by a largely French-speaking mob.

Early LA's vice district stood east of Olvera Street and the Plaza. It was torn down, along with the original Chinatown, to make way for Union Station.

Frenchtown was south/southeast of the vice district. One old map shows brothels within half a block of the Hotel de France in either direction. (The Hotel de France stood on the northeast corner of Alameda and Aliso - the hub of French Los Angeles.)

The vice district was the domain of Bartolo Ballerino, a Chilean immigrant of Italian descent. He wore several hats - crime boss, slumlord, and most notoriously, pimp.

Ballerino arrived sometime in the 1850s. After making some money as a vintner, he began buying up already-aging housing along and east of Alameda Street, and turned the area into one big open-air brothel. Frenchtown, just to the south, was growing exponentially due to a large wave of French and French-speaking immigrants.

Ballerino's business partner was a Frenchman from Alsace-Lorraine, formerly one of the world's very best wrestlers, by the name of Theobald Bauer. In fact, one of the vice district's passages was named Bauer Alley. The fact that the brothel district was often called "Little Paree" may not be coincidental. (Bauer reportedly told his family back in France that he had gone into the hotel business and owned the best hotel in town. He most assuredly had not and did not.)

A news article from 1900 strongly implies that Bauer, who by that time no longer ran Little Paree, still wielded a lot of power. The article names three different men, all with French surnames (one with a known address in Frenchtown), who had been charged with vagrancy and were suspected of, ahem, trafficking women. Bauer bailed out two of the men and made an appearance in the courtroom. (It gets worse: one of the men had recently arrived from Belgium with a young woman, who he placed in one of Little Paree's cribs. Her family repeatedly wrote to the Belgian consul requesting her safe return, stressing that the newcomer had lured her to Los Angeles under false pretenses and that she had only recently been released from a mental hospital.)

Just one year later, an article on Bauer claimed that he drank, from opening to closing, on a daily basis, at every bar around Alameda and Aliso. Bauer had made a lot of money on Little Paree, but also spent it as fast as he earned it. Unable to handle his own money responsibly after his wife died (she had always managed his finances very carefully), Bauer sold out to a prominent Chinatown pimp in an arrangement that gave him $5 a day for life, and proceeded to spend the rest of his life drinking away that daily $5.

And Bauer wasn't the only French pimp in the red-light district. Jean Rappet, a dark, black-eyed Frenchman with moles on both cheeks, ran 32 cribs and owned the Basket Saloon at 719 N. Alameda Street along with his wife Blanche. When the police began to crack down on vice in 1893 and took issue with saloons allowing prostitutes to mix with customers, Rappet simply made the saloon men-only. Rappet then fixed up an electric buzzer system that allowed the prostitutes (or their clients) to order drinks without having to leave the crib. The Los Angeles Herald decried this, as Rappet was effectively serving alcohol in 33 places instead of just one, and couldn't possibly keep a good eye on his customers' level of intoxication. The matter was referred to the City Attorney and Rappet faced the very real threat of losing his liquor license.

The Rappets had bought some time, but they would have to face the music ten years later in December 1903. The city finally cracked down on the vice district once and for all, issuing warrants for all the crib owners. Jean had the good sense to turn himself in. Blanche was the last pimp to be arrested.

The Rappets couldn't pay their lease once the police had arrested or driven away all the prostitutes. One of the property owners, George Shaffer, suggested the Rappets convert the cribs into a hotel. Jean Rappet declined, and the lease was canceled.

In March 1904, the Rappet cribs were demolished. This had nothing to do with the crackdown - the Shaffer family decided they would only rent their land for industrial purposes going forward and planned to build warehouses on the site. The Ballerino cribs, by contrast, were reopened before too long.

Speaking of which, Maria Amparo Ballerino sued her husband for divorce in the 1890s - not because of his line of work, but because of a neighboring lady "causing trouble". The court system denied her petition for divorce, but the Ballerinos did separate. After this, the womanizing Bartolo Ballerino would fall into a pattern of luring young women with false promises. In particular, he would hire them as housekeepers, woo them, and dispose of them when he tired of them.

At least one of these young women, Jeanne Uhalt, was a new arrival from France. Ballerino asked her to marry him (fifty times, she claimed) and began to introduce her as his bride-to-be. He told her that he had been previously married, but withheld the fact that the courts had denied his wife's divorce petition.

He also hired Mlle. Uhalt as his housekeeper, but never did get around to paying her wages. She was understandably quite upset to discover that her employer was the biggest pimp in town. She was also quite upset about not being able to line up a different job and being snubbed by all her friends.

After three years as Ballerino's unpaid housekeeper, Jeanne asked him to set the wedding date. He finally had to come clean - he was still legally married. With no chance of respectable marriage prospects and no chance of getting another job, Jeanne Uhalt sued Ballerino for breach of promise and demanded three years of back pay in a separate complaint. She left Los Angeles for greener pastures in Australia, but returned for court. Unfortunately the court ruled that she hadn't sufficiently proven her case.

Jeanne contested Ballerino's will when he died a few years later. Ballerino had left multiple wills, one of which named her as a beneficiary. (He also claimed to have buried $500,000 in cash, allegedly for Maria, but refused to tell her where it was. The money, which may have been buried in a suburban lot he owned, has never been found, but it would not be out of character for Ballerino to lie. It's possible the money never existed and he made up the entire story to torment Maria.) Another will named Ballerino's nurse as the beneficiary (again, he had a habit of making promises to young women). Ballerino's wife and children, all disinherited, contested the will. It isn't clear if Jeanne ever got a cent.

Ballerino did get taken down a peg by another woman from Frenchtown, however.

Felix Clavere and his wife Marianne owned and operated Clavere House, a saloon and boarding house at 226 Aliso Street.

Ballerino had been getting a little too friendly with Marianne's 22-year-old sister, and suggested that she move in with him. The Los Angeles Herald reported that she relayed the story to Marianne instead.

Marianne Clavere promptly went to see Ballerino, insisting he talk with her outside. Ballerino finally relented and met with her out in the street. Marianne demanded Ballerino explain himself. When he could not do so to Marianne's satisfaction, she gave him a serious thrashing with her bare hands and a horsewhip. Ballerino sustained two black eyes and a severely bruised face (and, presumably, some markings from the horsewhip).

Felix, who had accompanied his wife to ensure her safety, reportedly watched the entire beating.

In an interesting twist, Marianne Clavere's maiden name was Marianne Uhalt.

Was Jeanne Marianne's little sister? I have been unable to find a family tree, and the details of Jeanne's story don't quite match the story of Ballerino's walloping. That said, Jeanne was about the right age, the time frame is about right, Uhalt is a rather uncommon surname, and Los Angeles was still a small city. It's very likely they were sisters or at least related in some way.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: don't mess with French women. We may be small (except for Marianne Uhalt Clavere, who was described as stout), but we can still inflict a lot of damage when the situation calls for it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

FOUND: Vintage Pictures of Taix

Recently, I asked for any vintage pictures of Taix that might be out there - it's an old restaurant; there had to be some. But they still proved maddeningly elusive.

More recently, the Getty shared a massive archive of photographer Ed Ruscha's pictures of buildings in Los Angeles.

The Sunset Boulevard series from 1974 includes several pictures of Taix.

This picture of the pharmacy that stood next door shows the porte-cochere creeping into the frame.

Keep clicking through the pictures - this view shows that the facade is pretty much unchanged, apart from one of the signs. 

Keep going until you get to this picture - when did that rooftop sign disappear?!

Thank heaven for Ed Ruscha, for the Getty, and for the friends who shared these (hi guys). I'm told the pictures will help with the landmarking process, as they prove the building hasn't changed.

Friday, September 4, 2020

To Los Angeles On Her 239th Birthday

Dear Los Angeles:

Whether September 4, 1781 was your exact founding date has been the subject of some debate, but no one alive today was there to see it, so like most Angelenos I'm content to consider today your birthday.

I know. It's a weird birthday and you can't celebrate like usual. Hopefully next year will be better. And ten years after that, your 250th should really be a big deal.

I think of you often, Los Angeles. I may live in a suburb (for reasons beyond the scope of this entry), but you've certainly been on my mind today. And it's because you're not okay.

I care about you, Los Angeles. I am bothered by the fact that you're not being looked after as well as you should be (with the exception of your wealthiest areas, you've been dirty and suffering from some degree of deferred maintenance for my entire life) and I am bothered that we keep losing so much of what makes you great to apathy, corruption, and greed. I am especially not happy with the poor stewardship you've been subjected to for all of this century and too much of the last one. It's not right and you deserve better.

I worry about you, Los Angeles. I worry about Angelenos who are struggling to survive on the street, or who are facing that prospect. I worry about you when a fire breaks out, and if a big enough earthquake hits (I haven't forgotten the 1994 Northridge quake), I'll worry then too. I worry about you when civilians clash with law enforcement. I worry that a certain subsection of the population - the people who just want to watch the world burn - hasn't learned anything from the 1871 Chinese Massacre, the 1965 Watts Riots, or the 1992 riots, and won't learn anything from 2020.

I weep for you, Los Angeles. I weep for the shameful and cruel way homeless Angelenos are treated. I weep for your public schools that are mediocre at best and shouldn't be. I weep for our losses - LACMA, Bunker Hill, pre-concrete Pershing Square. I weep for every exhausted commuter who can't live close to work due to finances or safety issues and rarely sees their loved ones. I weep for every Angeleno who doesn't have the right look or the right brand and thinks they're not enough (and I know a thing or two about this - I'm a pale, dark-haired, curvy Valley Girl who plays with scale models).

I pray for you, Los Angeles. I pray for civility, understanding, and peace between Angelenos. I pray that we'll stop losing the best of you to corruption, bribery, massive egos, and political favors. I pray for developers to think more like Prudent Beaudry (who developed for the wealthy, the working class, and everyone in between) and less like the people who plan to replace the Viper Room with a 15-story tower. I pray that we can save more of what makes you unique and special. I pray that the neglected Pico House doesn't rot from the inside out. I pray you'll have good, honest, and competent leadership in the near future, since in your 239 years of history you've had a lot of bad mayors and a lot of bad council members, and the people currently in charge are grossly unfit to care for you.

I love you, Los Angeles. Which is why I'm scared for you.

On this day I'm reminded of a scene from "Penny Dreadful: City of Angels". Tiago asks Lewis how they're going to save Los Angeles. Lewis responds that they're just trying to survive her. But how will you survive, Los Angeles?

My grandparents loved you so much. My parents say you used to be a great place to live. No one wants to see you turn into New York (both in terms of ugly skyscrapers and in terms of crime rate and livability).

Happy birthday, Los Angeles. May you rise from the ashes of 2020, no matter how impossible it seems (even Hurricane Katrina couldn't kill New Orleans).

With love from one of your millions of kids,


Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Downfall of J.B. Monette

Most recently, we met Ora E. Monette, a banker and attorney of Huguenot extraction. He might not necessarily have been the perfect husband, but he was by all accounts a respected citizen.

His cousin, however, fell from grace after moving to Los Angeles.

Ora's cousin J.B. Monette had lived in other areas of California before (census records indicate he returned to his native Ohio for a time). He accepted a position at the California State Life Insurance Company in Sacramento and claimed he was granted a $150 advance (about $4,000 today, possibly for relocation costs), with the understanding that it would be deducted from his future commissions.

J.B. was soon offered a better position at the Southwestern National Life Insurance Company in Los Angeles. He packed up his family, moved south, and quickly became well-known in polite society.

About a month after moving to Los Angeles, on July 12, 1911, J.B. Monette was having lunch with new business associates at the posh Sierra Madre Club (composed mostly of successful oil and mining men). Deputy Sheriff Dave Lorimer entered the club, brandishing a warrant from Sacramento, arrested J.B. Monette, and took him to the County Jail.

J.B.'s employer in Sacramento was none too happy about the $150 he hadn't paid back, and they were having him charged with embezzlement.

J.B. was unfazed, telling the Los Angeles Herald that he intended to pay back the California State Life Insurance Company and had promised to do so later, but explained that he was broke at the moment.

He added "I think the only legal action they can have against me would be a civil suit to force me to refund the money, and this criminal action will surely result in my dismissal, although it may cause me considerable inconvenience and loss of prestige with those who do not understand the circumstances."

I understand these circumstances: J.B. was hobnobbing with the city's elite, but somehow couldn't make so much as a partial payment of what he owed his prior employer. Surely he could have arranged to make small regular payments?

J.B. was also ineligible for bail in Los Angeles, since he couldn't be bailed out until he had been arraigned in Sacramento, and had to wait for an officer to escort him.

However, when a sheriff's deputy did arrive from Sacramento, there was a technical error in the warrant preventing the transfer. J.B. was released on habeas corpus, with the embezzlement charge still pending.

Little did the city's elite know that J.B.'s personal life was no better off.

On the night of August 6, J.B. called his wife Frances. She and their son Jack had been living separately from J.B. - in fact, J.B. was already living at the Van Nuys Hotel at the time of his arrest. Frances had also filed for divorce.

J.B. spoke to her about his recent arrest and asked for a reconciliation. Frances wasn't having it and refused to speak to him.

J.B. called back, pleading with Frances. She again refused to speak to him.

J.B. then went to the house and attacked Frances.

Five-year-old Jack made it to the telephone, called the nearby University police station, and told them his mother was being beaten.

The police arrived and arrested J.B. so quickly that none of the neighbors noticed anything was wrong.

J.B. was again unable to procure bail, although this time it had nothing to do with jurisdiction.

Frances Monette told City Prosecutor Guy Eddie and Police Captain A.J. Bradish that if Jack had not called for help, she would probably have died.

Jack Monette was hailed as a hero by the Sacramento Union. His father faded into obscurity.

Friday, August 28, 2020

SIGNAL BOOST: 1960s-1980s Pictures of Taix Needed!

Hi Everyone,

The Historic-Cultural Monument application for Taix has been submitted. However, the Office of Historic Resources is requesting additional historic photos of the restaurant's exterior, dating from when the Taix family took it over.

Unfortunately, all my pictures of Taix on Sunset were taken in the last few years, and thus won't be too helpful for the purposes of getting Taix landmarked.

I know many of my dear readers have enjoyed Taix's hospitality over the years, and I'm hoping one or more of you might have some appropriately vintage photos of Taix's Sunset Boulevard location, taken after the Taix family took over the building in 1962.

If you have any such pictures, please contact Friends of Taix on Facebook.

If you are not on Facebook, no problem - email me (losfrangeles at gmail dot com) and I will forward them on to the right people.



P.S. An additional merci to Sandi of Avoiding Regret for linking my Taix entry.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

One Workaholic Banker and One Block in Koreatown

In the heart of Koreatown, six-tenths of a mile south of the Wiltern, is a side street that is easy to miss.

Monette Place is tiny. It's a narrow side street running between Western and Oxford, just above Olympic, and is only one block long.

Monette Place in Koreatown

The 1850 census lists a French-born watchmaker, Benjamin Monette. However, Monette Place was most likely named after a local banker, Ora E. Monette, who formerly lived not too far away at 350 Oxford Street.

Ora Eugene Monette was born in 1873 to a family of Huguenot extraction in Monnett, Ohio. He opened a law office in Toledo, but joined his father, Mervin, and a few business partners in a lease on a mine in Goldfield, Nevada.

Mervin Monette hit the jackpot. The mine produced the largest gold ore shipment on record at the time.

Ora joined his father in California, using his understanding of corporate law and banking to invest their new wealth in several bank mergers. If you've ever wondered how the Bank of Italy came to be called Bank of America...wonder no more.

Monette was active on the board of the Los Angeles Public Library, and served as its president for twenty years (1916-1936) until his death. Under his leadership, the library was modernized, and instituted a system for transferring books between branches (something that is still practiced, although I'm not sure LAPL is doing inter-library loan during COVID). He also served as president of the Huguenot Society, president of the Sons of the Revolution, and president of the Chamber of Commerce. He was a highly sought-after public speaker, and promoted sales of Olympic pins as treasurer of the 1932 Olympic Finance Committee.

Monette also had a vast genealogical library (more than 1,000 titles including books, journals, and other publications), which his widow and daughter donated to the Los Angeles Public Library in the 1950s. He was the author of several of the books.

Monette was married three times - first to fellow Ohioan Ella Elizabeth Crim in 1891. Ella was a decade older than Ora, and held rather radical views for the time (free love, universal suffrage, birth control). She also divorced him.

Ora's second wife, Carrie Lucile Janeway, also from Ohio, married him in 1895. It isn't clear when their marriage ended, but a 1909 newspaper blurb does reference a "Mrs. Ora Monnette" returning from a trip to her hometown of Columbus.

In 1917, Ora married Helen Kull, who had left her native Pittsburgh in search of secretarial work in Los Angeles. Their only child, also named Helen, became a licensed pilot and a librarian, and married Michel Amestoy.

Regardless of impressive accomplishments, no one is perfect. And in 1922, Ora was the subject of a minor scandal when Helen filed for legal separation.

Ora had, by all accounts, been very successful as President of the Citizens Trust and Savings Bank of Los Angeles (and went on to hold high offices at several more banks). But one newspaper hinted that there was trouble in paradise, dubbing Helen's complaint "sensational". Allegedly, Ora never allowed Helen to see him during business hours or call him at work, and was in Japan when the bank voted to replace him.

Living separately or not, Ora and Helen remained legally married until Ora's death in 1936, and were jointly honored by at least one social club.

It's said that no one ever lies on their deathbed wishing they'd spent more time at the office. Ora E. Monette, whose work habits allegedly precluded ever taking a single phone call from home, is nonetheless remembered in memorial plaques, the Los Angeles Public Library, Inglewood Park Cemetery, and on a little side street in the middle of Koreatown.

Friday, August 7, 2020

The Lost Legacy of André Briswalter

There was a time when fresh food was rather costly in Los Angeles. The pueblo was hot and dusty, the river periodically burst its banks and flooded, and your neighbor just might illegally divert water from a zanja for their own use. Los Angeles traded with San Bernardino for eggs, crackers, and other foods, but the long and hot wagon trip often meant food was well on its way to spoiling by the time it arrived.

If you had a talent for growing fresh fruit and vegetables, you could make a good living.

André Briswalter arrived in the Pueblo from Alsace in the early 1850s. He rented a plot of land on San Pedro Street, planted vegetables, and sold them door-to-door in a wheelbarrow. With high demand for fresh food and limited competition, he could charge whatever the market would bear.

Briswalter made so much money that he was soon able to buy his own plot of land, followed by a horse and wagon.

André Briswalter planted an orchard in a plot bordered by present-day Main Street, Ninth Street, Los Angeles Street, and Olympic. When I mapped the site I was shocked to realize I knew the area quite well. The California Market Center (my professors informally called it "the Mart") now stands on the site. I couldn't even begin to list how many times I went there as a young design student. Briswalter's fruit trees are long gone, of course, as is the house on the land (where he spent his last years).

Briswalter had another orchard, south of what is now the Wholesale Produce Market. He also began to grow nuts. City directories list Briswalter's longtime home at Washington and Main.

André Briswalter eventually owned a great deal of City and County property, notably much of present-day Playa del Rey.

Briswalter was active socially, belonging to Knights of Pythias Lodge 79, better known as "La Fraternité" due to the lodge being composed of French speakers and conducting everything in French.

André Briswalter died of blood poisoning in 1885. A large cemetery chapel was built at Old Calvary Cemetery in his honor and served as his burial site.

Briswalter left behind an estate valued at $375.407.76 - nearly $11 million in 2020 dollars. (His land holdings, of course, would be much more valuable today due to the higher demand for land in Los Angeles.) That estate was willed to a veritable 'who's who' of 1880s Los Angeles - Isaias Hellman, Henry Hammel, W.H. Denker, Rev. Peter Verdagner, Mary Agnes Christina Mesmer, Louis Mesmer, Mary Collins, and Alice Briswalter Meit.

The will was contested by Caledonia Guirado, who claimed that she had been married to the elder André Briswalter and that he was the father of her son Andre. Investigation showed that ten years before Briswalter died, she had married someone else and had five children with him. She had several other children by what one newspaper politely called "three other irregular connections". The matter took nearly two years to sort out in court, with a jury ruling that Ms. Guirado was not André Briswalter's wife and the boy was not his son. (Sound familiar?)

Regular readers may recall that Tina Mesmer inherited money and land from Briswalter, who was a friend of her father's (curiously, she was the only Mesmer child included in the will). This became a problem after she married Griffith J. Griffith, who would eventually falsely accuse her of poisoning Briswalter and attempting to poison him.

In 1915, St. Peter's Italian Church moved into Briswalter's old chapel, having outgrown a smaller church on North Spring Street (much of modern-day Chinatown was Little Italy then). By 1943, the parish had outgrown Briswalter's chapel and was raising money for a new church.

Ironically, St. Peter's didn't tear down André Briswalter's chapel. They didn't have to - a terrible fire destroyed the building. The current St. Peter's opened its doors in 1947.

It isn't clear if André Briswalter's remains were destroyed in the fire, reinterred at New Calvary, or if they remain onsite at St. Peter's.

An immigrant prospers...his considerable estate is contested...a phony heir pops up...everything he owned or built is long gone...and for extra fun, it's unclear where he's buried.'s another day in Frenchtown.