Monday, November 8, 2021

BREAKING: Gless Farmhouse At Risk!

I was shocked and dismayed to hear from my pals at Esotouric that the landmarked 1887 Gless farmhouse just flipped. I had to see it to believe it.

When I wrote about Simon Gless 22 months ago, the house had been a boarding house for many years.

The story of the Gless farmhouse is the story of Boyle Heights in a nutshell: a well-to-do French Basque family's farmhouse, then for a number of years the Hebrew Shelter Home and Asylum, then divided into apartments and lived in by mariachi musicians (the house is spitting distance from Mariachi Plaza).

Boyle Heights residents have been fighting back against gentrification for years (listen to Smoke Screen: The Sellout). But it’s very hard to fight against opportunists with deep pockets (especially if they play a little too nicely with City Hall).

The Gless house, long lived in by low-income renters, has most recently been operating as a hotel. Where are the tenants? Where could they realistically afford to go, with rents spiking in Boyle Heights and neighborhoods like it?

The house, listed as an “investment opportunity”, has now sold for over $1.8 million. Whoever bought it may very well intend to make a lot more than that.

I am very worried about this house. Yes, it was landmarked (Boyle Heights residents pushed to landmark several buildings in the neighborhood to guard against developers tearing them down). But landmarking isn’t enough to save a building. In Los Angeles, landmarking a building doesn’t actually prevent demolition. It adds a couple of extra requirements and allows the city to delay demolition for up to a year. That’s IT. Landmarks can indeed be demolished, and sometimes, it does happen.

Don’t get me started on the fact that illegal demolition takes place on an all-too-frequent basis in LA, with the perpetrators almost always going unpunished. It’s entirely possible that a bulldozer will just show up one day, sans permit, and knock down the house, with zero consequences for anyone involved.

The Gless house, therefore, could very well be demolished and replaced. I doubt the largely working-class people of Boyle Heights will be able to afford to live in whatever might replace it. 

Do I even need to comment on the house formerly being billed as “Mariachi Plaza Hotel” when whoever turned it into a hotel displaced mariachis to do so? (There’s a reason one of the characters on Netflix’s series “Gentefied” is a mariachi living in a van with his young son, unable to find an affordable apartment.)

Does anyone out there know Sharon Gless or her management team? Sharon is Simon Gless’ great-granddaughter and had a hand in getting the house landmarked in the first place.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

A Very Brief History of French Bakeries in Old Los Angeles

Once upon a time, a long long time ago by Los Angeles standards, the city was just a tiny pueblo that lacked a proper bakery.

You might assume that the first bakeries in Los Angeles specialized in Mexican baked goods. You would, however, be mistaken. For LA's first 72 years of existence, the ONLY bread baked in the city was French bread.

In those very early days, Andre Mano and Pierre Domegue set up shop in the Plaza area, baking French sourdough around the corner from the Plaza Church. 

Andre Mano was born in France around 1809, is listed in the 1850 Federal census as a baker, and shared a house with 28-year-old Pedro Dornes (or Domec), a cooper who was also from France. Ten years later, the 1860 census still listed Andre as a baker, with another French housemate, laborer Martin Echepare.

Little seems to be known about Pierre Domegue, except that he was married to, and also baked bread with, a Native American woman whose name and nation aren't mentioned in the few sources I've found. 

Joseph Lelong, who set up shop in 1851, inexplicably named his French bakery after Swedish opera superstar Jenny Lind. There was a Lelong Block on Spring, south of Fifth, at least as late as 1890. If Lelong did indeed own property on that block (tax assessments suggest he had assets), he would have counted two other French bakers (Augustus Ulyard and Louis Mesmer) and a French grocer (Auguste Chauvin) as his neighbors. 

Lelong was the busiest baker in town...for a couple of years, anyway. He faced strong competition when Augustus Ulyard arrived in 1853. Ulyard, born in Philadelphia to French parents, started out with French bread, but soon added German and American breads and pastries, appealing to the growing Yankee and German communities. Ulyard added fresh crackers in 1860, filling another market gap (crackers shipped from San Bernardino or San Francisco tended to arrive stale). The former site of his bakery is now home to the Alexandria Hotel.

Ulyard eventually retired from baking, selling his bakery to Louis Mesmer. 

As Louis Mesmer merits his own entry, I'll restrict this to his activities as a baker. 

Besides the former Ulyard bakery, Louis Mesmer owned the New York Bakery at Sixth and Spring (the very first Ralphs Bros. Grocery stood next door). Mesmer, a devout Catholic, was the first baker in Los Angeles to bake matzo for the local Jewish community.

Los Angeles gained an army camp in 1861 in case local Confederate sympathizers revolted (Southern California had a lot of ex-Southern residents, and Los Angeles in particular leaned Confederate during the Civil War). An army marches on its stomach, and Camp Latham needed baked goods. Louis Mesmer got the contract, and erected a bakery at the camp along Ballona Creek (he also sold baked goods to neighboring rancheros). He was still operating the New York Bakery downtown. When Camp Latham moved to Highland Park, he supplied baked goods from the New York Bakery instead of building another bakery location.

Sometime around 1870, the Taix family arrived in Los Angeles. The Taix French Bread Bakery opened its doors in 1882 at 321 Commercial Street. Later, Adrian and Joaquin Taix owned The French Bakery at 1550 West Pico Boulevard. When the family tore down their bakery in 1912 to build the Champ d'Or Hotel (which would house the original Taix restaurant beginning in 1927), the Taix bakery moved, ending up in Northeast Los Angeles.

Dominique Foix, born in Haut-Garonne, arrived in 1882. He established a tannery and saddlery in his Macy Street home, later founding Foix French Baking Company downtown in 1886 and delivering bread door to door with a horse-drawn wagon. Foix soon moved his bakery into the oldest industrial building in the city - a three-story brick building erected by Abel Stearns in 1831. Foix often traded goods with customers who were short on cash, and received so many live frogs as payments that he was able to start a frog farm and sell frogs' legs to the many French restaurants in town. This led to Foix supplying bread to restaurants, which necessitated moving the bakery into a bigger facility in Highland Park. The bakery's flour came from Capitol Mills, housed in the oldest industrial building in the city - a three-story brick flour mill erected by Abel Stearns in 1831.

Foix turned over the bakery to his son in his later years, and Foix's grandsons were running the bakery at least as late as 1941. That same year, a broken water main below Elysian Park's reservoir flooded the bakery. Louis Foix evacuated all 15 employees, but the water and mud ruined 6000 pounds of flour. The bakery unfortunately seems to have closed down in the 1990s.

French Basque immigrant Jean-Baptiste Garacochea founded the National French Bakery in 1908, later changing the name to Pioneer French Baking Company. Pioneer operated in Venice from 1920 to 2006, operated by several generations of the Garacochea family. Great-grandsons John Baptiste and Charlie Garacochea co-own the Etxea Basque Bakery, which supplies bread to restaurants.

To hell with counting carbs - good French bread is an LA tradition! Pass the sourdough.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Erasing Frenchtown in Maps

I have been mapping historic French LA for 8.5 years.

It's harder than it looks. Among the many, MANY changes to the street grid, the intersection of Alameda and Aliso was erased, with Aliso rerouted into Commercial at Alameda Street in the 1950s to accommodate the 101 Freeway.

I get a lot of questions about this, and I think it's easier to explain with maps.

Aliso Street always had a bend in it - now it's more of a long diagonal. Here we see, from top to bottom, Main, Los Angeles, and Alameda Streets intersecting with Aliso. This is from 1894.

Alameda and Aliso streets, 1894

As you can see, Aliso and Commercial Streets are still parallel (and would be for about another 60 years), and Frenchtown still had plenty of houses.

Map showing Alameda, Aliso, and Commercial Streets, 1894.

This 1894 map detail shows the Maier and Zobelein brewery, formerly the El Aliso winery, in the top left corner. By this point, Jean-Louis Vignes' vineyard (formerly ground zero for the French community in LA) had been thoroughly developed into a mostly-residential neighborhood, and was still full of French residents like the Ducommuns, the Lazards, and Joseph Mascarel (who died in his Lazard Street home just a few years after this map was made). Maier and Zobelein was rebranded as Brew 102 in the 1940s, with the brewery tanks easily visible from the freeway and in photos.

Zoom in and you can see that Ducommun Street (misspelled here as "Ducummen") and Lazard Street were once two separate streets. Today, it's all Ducommun and it no longer reaches all the way to Alameda Street.

Alameda, Aliso, Commercial, Vignes, Lazard, and Ducommun Streets

Republished in 1923, this map detail shows Aliso and Commercial are still parallel. Lazard Street is now Ducommun, which may be related to the fact that Ducommun Industries was, by then, headquartered along Ducommun Street (a bus parking facility now occupies the old Ducommun Yard).

Alameda, Aliso, Commercial, and Ducommun Streets

North of Aliso, Marchesseault, Apablaza, Napier, and Juan Streets still existed in 1923, although multiple corrections to this map (originally published in 1906) show Old Chinatown/Little Paree gradually being torn down. Today, this is Union Station, the Metropolitan Water District, a park, and (what else...) a parking lot.

This revision, added in December 1937, shows Union Station in place of Old Chinatown/Little Paree, and shows the rerouting of Bauchet Street and the disappearance of Marchesseault Street (renamed East Sunset Boulevard). A local Chinatown historian once told me that if you could walk Marchesseault Street today, you'd more or less be walking into Union Station's front door.

Venturing northeast to where Frenchtown, the Plaza, and Old Chinatown formerly collided, we can see that Sanchez Street used to be longer. The Jennette Block, which housed the Hotel du Lion d'Or and the Hotel de Paris at different times, is now gone, along with the western wing of the Garnier Block. (The Garnier Block houses the Chinese American Museum, and ironically now needs to be expanded because too much of the building was lopped off in 1953 and the Museum needs more space. Oh, the irony.) Note that the Pico House is still called the National Hotel here.

This map is from 1953. Here we see one-third of Sanchez Street missing - lost to the 101 (Hollywood) Freeway. Today, Arcadia Street stands between Sanchez and the freeway and Market no longer exists. Look for the words "being dismantled" - much of what is still shown was gone within five years. 

One more snippet from 1953 - this is closer to today's street grid, except widening of the freeway bumped this section of Aliso further south. El Aliso (the tree itself, not the winery where it stood) was about where Vignes Street dead-ends at Commercial Street today (and, again, this section is now Commercial Street).

Want to see the current street grid laid out over the old one? Wikimedia’s got you covered. (While I firmly believe that Wikipedia is unreliable and should not be used for serious research, this map corresponds with what you’ll see in old maps of LA.)

When the original street grid has been altered to this extent, mapping French LA is a bigger challenge than everyone thinks it is. On top of that, LA added numbering fairly late. I do still plan to reveal the Great Big Map of French LA someday; I'm just not sure when (or if) I'll ever be "done" enough. 

Thursday, October 7, 2021

The French Hospital in Maps

I've previously covered the French Hospital's long history, so I won't rehash it here. 

The building was originally a two-story adobe, shown here on an 1894 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map: 

Image of French Hospital building footprint on map

The hospital was rebuilt in 1915, to the highest standards of then-modern medicine, under the leadership of Louis Sentous Jr. This time, it had a longer, narrower design:

Footprint of French Hospital, 1953

Another wing was added in 1926.

An expansion was approved in 1985. The wings at the back of the building must have been rebuilt between 1953 and 1985, based on the building's current footprint (and the wood-framed nurses' home has long since disappeared). The building's current owners and operators, Allied Pacific, have kept the historic building and reopened it as an urgent care center.

The building changes...the signage and ownership changes...Jeanne d'Arc vanished from the front lawn...still, the hospital persists.

Up next: mapping the erasure of French LA.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Standing Up to City Council

Los Angeles is just as corrupt now as it was when Frank Shaw's goons were harassing reformers like Clifford Clinton.

Regular readers know that I was not called on for public comment during the Taix landmarking hearing. I wasn't the only member of the public who wasn't called.

This isn't an isolated event, either. The same thing happened with the Stires Staircase Bungalow Court and, more recently, the Chili Bowl.

This is a blatant violation of the Brown Act. Every member of the City Council is complicit (shame on all of them).

The LA Conservancy has filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court. Put very simply, a judge can legally require the City to obey state law.

Read more here and sign the petition. There's a link to tip off the Feds, too, if you happen to be privy to anything illegal on a Federal level.

I'll be able to post more regularly once I get my internet access sorted. Coming soon: a study in the many, many changes to the French Hospital over the years.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

The Mysterious Michel Clos

Per the request of new reader Lauren M., I have been looking into Mike Clos, brother of Adelina Clos Leonis. Unfortunately, he’s a little tricky to pin down.

Michel Lorretto Clos was born September 29, 1878 - one of five brothers (and one sister, Adelina). His name was sometimes listed as "Miguel" (his mother, Refugia Acevedo Clos, was from Mexico), but he was usually referred to simply as "Mike" and signed his name as “Mike Lorretto Clos”. He was of medium height and stout build, with brown hair and dark brown eyes. The Clos family had a sheep ranch near Lake Hughes.

The 1913 city directory lists Mike's occupation as "stockbuyer", with an address at 1361 E. 22nd Street. It isn't clear if the listing means "stockbuyer" as in "stockbroker" or as in a purchaser of livestock (ranching was still a thing in Southern California). Since Mike grew up on a ranch and became a rancher himself, my money is on the latter.

Mike registered for the World War One draft, giving his occupation as a mixer at the Globe Milling Company, located in modern-day Little Tokyo. The mill produced more flour than any other mill in Los Angeles.

Mike's address was listed as 1361 E. 22nd Street, three miles from his workplace. The Central Park Recreation Center now occupies the site. A 1922 listing puts Mike at 417 W. 51st Street.

Mike changed careers again in the 1920s - a voter registration list from 1924 gives his occupation as "rancher", along with the curious address of "10801 Englewood Avenue". Since Los Angeles doesn't have an Englewood Avenue, and since the list is for a specific voting precinct that does list multiple voters on Inglewood Avenue, I suspect this is a misspelling of "Inglewood". Inglewood was, of course, a former rancho that had belonged to Remi Nadeau, and it wasn't quite as built up then as it is now. 

Mike died June 16, 1926. He was only 47. He is buried at Calvary Cemetery with his wife Frances Santa Maria Clos, who passed away later that year. Mike’s headstone identifies him by the French version of his name: Michel L. Clos.

Why did Mike die at such a young age? Why did Frances, twelve years younger, also die so young? With obituaries for both of them proving maddeningly elusive, I can't say. (Yet. I am not a quitter!)

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Do You Hear the People Sing?

On this day in 1789, revolutionaries stormed the Bastille to free political prisoners and raided the Hotel des Invalides in search of weapons. The Third Estate - a whopping 90 percent of France's population - was fed up and fighting back. The French Revolution had begun.*

I had planned to elaborate more on the history of Bastille Day in LA today. In light of recent events, I am saving it for another day.

I hope the city's leaders, if you can even call them that, see this. They all need a very harsh wake-up call.

Eric Garcetti, arguably the worst Mayor of Los Angeles since Frank Shaw, is finally on his way out. He is leaving the city in MUCH worse shape than it was in when he assumed office. (I wonder if his parents ever taught him not to leave a mess for someone else to clean up. But I doubt it.)

That means electing a new Mayor. What if the next one is even worse? 

As President of the City Council, Nury Martinez will probably be the acting Mayor. She has proven ineffective at best, ignores Brown Act requirements, and can't even start a City Council meeting on time.

The remaining Council members all have their own shortcomings. By now, we all know Mitch O'Farrell can be bought. Nithya Raman has deeply disappointed constituents wondering why David Ryu's team got things done, but hers can't seem to return phone calls. There are more people on the Council, of course (and they are ALL complicit in ongoing violations of the Brown Act), but it's late and I'm very, VERY tired.

Speaking of Nithya, why did she win over incumbent David Ryu? Because the people of LA are sick of politicians, sick of broken promises, and sick of poor leadership. They want something better. You'd THINK the rest of the Council would take note and shape up. But so far, they have only gotten more brazen.

I also have serious misgivings about the direction some of LA's law enforcement officers are taking. While I've known enough people in law enforcement to know that some of them are bad and some of them are good, I cannot ignore or excuse bad behavior. I hope the ATF is giving the South LA explosion a thorough investigation, because the sad fact of the matter is that the LAPD has lost much of the community's trust.

Indeed, while discussing the explosion recently, my dad sputtered "I love LA, but it's become a Third World city." (My dad has been grumbling about LA for as long as I can remember. I have never before heard him admit he actually loved the place.)

Thriving cities don't become dystopian hellscapes for no reason. They become that way due to poor leadership and mismanagement.

Los Angeles is notoriously unkind to its own Third Estate (i.e. anyone who isn't rich, powerful, or well-connected). And it is only getting worse. Developers buy off politicians so they can get away with yet another luxury building that fewer and fewer people can afford. Hardworking street vendors often can't afford expensive permits or having their carts confiscated and their wares thrown away, but the city isn't making it any less difficult or less expensive to get permits. Echo Park Lake is fenced off, with even the wheelchair ramp inaccessible (ever hear of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Mitch?).

And then there's the homelessness crisis. The city has now effectively made it illegal to be homeless, has not made any realistic effort to provide sufficient housing or more emergency shelters, has been kicking people out of Project Roomkey hotel rooms with nowhere to go, and reportedly turns a blind eye to abusive behavior at shelters. I'm sure I don't need to comment on the city deliberately removing the hand-washing stations.

Refusing to provide viable and appropriate solutions to a massive and growing problem is a sickening moral failure. People can't live on the street, but the city is now effectively pushing them from one street to the next. That will never solve the problem. The only people who seem to truly care about the homeless are the various grassroots volunteers who distribute frozen water bottles and food, work hard to connect people in a crisis with social services, hold sock drives, etc. 

The city is running full speed in the wrong direction. The people running the city are responsible for that. And before anyone calls this's really not. It's common sense, regardless of political leanings. 

Why do we study history? To learn from it. The people in charge either don't want to learn, or just don't care.

To the city's First Estate (elected officials and city employees of all stripes), I have this to say: You are supposed to be serving the people of the City of Los Angeles. Too many of you are doing it selectively, poorly, or not at all. You are not infallible and you are 100 percent replaceable. Take your work seriously and be better. If you can't or won't do that, quit. Louis XVI wasn't a bad person, but he was unfit to lead, and look where that got him.

Recently, someone changed a Broadway theatre marquee to read "Let's Be A City of Love, Compassion, and Kindness". Beyond the barricade, that's the world I long to see.

*My dad is a descendant of French kings and a distant cousin to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. My mom comes from French peasant stock. My relationship with Bastille Day is...complicated.