Tuesday, September 6, 2022

What Is Going On with the Culver Chateau?

 

The Culver Chateau 

I recently found out the Culver Chateau, said to be built long ago by a French immigrant, may be slated for demolition. 

LADBS' website displays an error message when I try to research the property (truth be told, it usually displays an error message whenever I try to use it for anything). As this is Culver City and not LA proper, ZIMAS has no information.

I have tried contacting whoever is behind the Save the Culver Chateau website, but emails just bounce back as undeliverable.

The Chateau stands at 9035 Poinsettia Court, mysteriously does not appear on Culver City's list of houses despite allegedly meeting the legal criteria, and is said to be slated for a parking facility for Hackman Capital Partners, which is about a three-minute walk away. The house sold for over $4 MILLION in March - considerably over its estimated value of $1.6 million.

Does anyone out there know what is going on? Does anyone know anything about the Chateau at all?

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Charles Chandeau Gets Caught

Although I don’t often tell the tales of people who were only briefly in LA, this one was too good not to share.

Every year, Hollywood hopefuls come to LA with stars in their eyes - in fact, one of my grandparents and their siblings tried to get into silent movies. None of them succeeded, although one did some background work, one had a stint as a horror star’s chauffeur, and another was married to a working actor.

Most dreamers either get regular jobs or go home when they don’t make it. At least one failed entertainer turned to nefarious means instead.

Charles Chandeau, aka Deschnau, aka Chenault, left Quebec for the West Coast in 1920, stopping in Victoria (BC), Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco before landing in LA. (Note: the LA Public Library and Calisphere both give his surname as Deschnau. However, Canadian military records indicate his legal name was Chandeau.)

Chandeau was an actor, but not a successful one. He had never had much money, but he did have a very particular skill set. One that made him a potential nightmare to to the city’s elite.

For years and years, the 50-year-old Chandeau had trained to be a magician. It’s well known that magicians (good ones, not the Gob Bluths of the profession) are masters of sleight-of-hand, misdirection, and illusion. 

He had also spent half of his life studying criminal masterminds, plotting a caper that would baffle the authorities.

Chandeau opened two safety deposit boxes in LA, probably for the purposes of casing the banks. 

Chandeau owned a rather large trunk. It looked like an ordinary trunk. In fact, it was a carefully modified magician’s trunk that Chandeau had originally intended for theatrical use. 

Although Chandeau was clever, he was also arrogant enough to think he wouldn’t get caught. And, like Gob Bluth, he made a huge mistake..

Chandeau needed an accomplice. He took out a classified ad in the newspaper, stating “WANTED - one who can rough it. He may be down and out, but must have left plenty of pep.” Chandeau was inundated with replies from men and boys who clearly understood the ad’s subtext. Detectives found ample proof of this when searching his hotel room.

Someone sent an anonymous tip to the Los Angeles Herald, which put noted private detective Nick Harris on the case.

Chandeau selected Earl Wilson from the stack of respondents. Wilson was just 18, had left home due to family problems, and a broken shoulder had put him out of work.

The plan was simple enough. Chandeau would hide inside the trick trunk, Wilson would have it stored inside the vault at the Hollywood Fireproof Storage Company on Highland Avenue (where early Hollywood’s elite stashed their valuables), and when the employees left, Chandeau would let himself out and loot the place. 

Unfortunately for Chandeau and Wilson, detectives had traced him to a hotel in then-fashionable Westlake and a second hotel on Flower Street. His room was bugged, and detectives could hear the entire plot unfold.

Chandeau rented a room on Wilcox, visited the storage facility, and spoke with the manager about rates, leaving a box of “valuables” that really contained shredded paper. He claimed to have a trunk full of ore that he would bring over the next day, stating that he wasn’t sure how long he’d be in town and that he might need to store it for a day or a month.

Wilson hired a transfer man (i.e. mover) to move the trick trunk to the rented room, then hired a second transfer man to move the trunk to the facility the next day. The trunk arrived just before the warehouse closed.

Detectives were watching.

Chandeau had stocked the trunk with flashlights, wires, tools, skeleton keys, metal files, first aid supplies (in case of rough handling), a bottle of water, oranges, sandwiches, cookies, and candy.

And, finally, a pair of kid gloves. Chandeau wanted to be sure he wouldn’t leave any prints.

Front page of the Evening Examiner, June 23, 1920.

Wilson was arrested while walking away from the storage facility. When confronted with details of the plot, he admitted Chandeau was in the trunk.

Besides assuming he wouldn’t get caught, Chandeau had made another crucial error: while the trunk was modified to allow for air supply, the vault was airtight when sealed for the night, and the facility sprayed disinfectant.

Had detectives not raided the vault as quickly as they did, Chandeau could easily have died of suffocation.

But detectives did indeed open the vault, accompanied by Evening Herald reporter Fred Woodward. Knocking on the trunk, Harris announced “Come on out, Charlie.” 

The jig was up. The lock popped open, the clamps came off, the trunk popped open, and Chandeau’s balding head popped out. Chandeau was so short of breath he could hardly gasp “Hello. How did you know I was here?” 

Chandeau’s trunk on display 

Chandeau was granted permission to speak with Wilson and told him “I am sorry I got you into this.” When asked why he would lead an 18-year-old into crime, he replied “Well, you can trust a boy not to squeal, but you cannot trust a man.” (I couldn’t help reading this in Gob’s voice.)

Recounting Chandeau’s failed scheme in the paper, Woodward claimed “The most astonished man I ever saw in my life was Charles Chandeau, alias Deschneau, when we opened the trick trunk and foiled a campaign of robbery that would have amazed and mystified the police of the entire country. Chandeau was so surprised at being discovered and ordered out of the trunk that he could barely gasp. The expression on his face was so tragic that it was almost ludicrous.”

Chandeau came clean, and even spoke highly of the detectives who arrested him: “During the years that I read criminal stories I formed the opinion that all police officers were ruffians. I was surprised when you treated me with kindness.” (Boy, LA has changed since 1920.)

Chandeau, dubbed the “Jack-in-the-box burglar” or the “trick trunk burglar” in the press, faded into obscurity after his burglary trial. A woman claiming to be his sister contacted authorities, stating the family had been looking for him ever since he left to serve in World War One (shades of Jean-Louis Vignes). Wilson fell ill and died before the trial.

As for Harris, he ran for Mayor in 1923 on an anti-crime platform. Nick Harris Detectives is still active to this day.

Is it just me, or would this story make a great heist comedy (ideally with Will Arnett playing Chandeau)? Or have I just watched “Arrested Development” way too many times?

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Bastille Day in Old LA

On this day in 1789, the French Revolution began.

I an pretty open about having a complicated relationship with La Fête Nationale/Bastille Day. My dad is a descendant of an earlier French monarch, which makes both Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette my very distant cousins. My mom's family comes from centuries of French peasant stock.

Still, I wish I could take a time machine to Old LA on this day. The French community put on quite a Bastille Day celebration.

In fact, it used to be a pretty big deal in LA.

Los Angeles Herald, 1881

One of the earliest references I can find lists the parade route: Aliso to Arcadia, Main to the Plaza, then to Spring, Spring to Second, Second to Fort (Broadway), Fort to Fourth, Fourth to Main, Main to the junction with Spring, and to the Turnverein Hall for speeches. "A representation of the Bastille" (i.e. a very early parade float) was included in the procession.

This route would have effectively started in the French Colony, gone to the Plaza, doubled back and wound through downtown, ending up where the Convention Center parking lot is today. For comparison, the Rose Parade follows a roughly 5.5 mile route.

Two of the speakers were Pascal Ganée and Georges Le Mesnager, who was quite well known for his speeches! More on that in a minute. 

Bastille Day 1881 concluded with a banquet at the Pico House, prepared under one of LA's early celebrity chefs, Victor Dol.

On this day in 1882, the festivities began with a 21-gun salute at sunrise from Fort Hill. The Mayor, the President of the City Council, "delegates from fire companies and civil societies", French citizens of varying prominence, and a beauty queen - the Goddess of Liberty - all made appearances.

The Goddess of Liberty chosen for the event, by the way, happened to be 14-year-old Narcisse Sentous, eldest daughter of Jean Sentous. She was carried in a "Car of Liberty" with several maids of honor, all girls from the French Colony.

Los Angeles Herald, 1882 (snippet of much longer article)

The parade procession was big enough to have two divisions, both made up of prominent citizens and local societies. Besides the Car of Liberty, another car had Marie Deleval representing France, Mathilde Reynaud representing the United States, Honoré Penelon (eight-year-old son of the late Henri Penelon) dressed as the Marquis de Lafayette, and ten-year-old Auguste Lemasne dressed as George Washington. Rounding up the rear were citizens riding donkeys in tribute to the city's butchers.

Eugene Meyer, the "President of the Day" (i.e. Grand Marshal) and then-Agent for the French consulate, gave a speech in French and introduced Frank Howard (who gave a quick history lesson on Bastille Day in English). "The Star-Spangled Banner" was sung, the band played, "La Marseillaise" was sung, and Georges Le Mesnager gave a speech in French.

And that wasn't all. A large model of the Bastille had been built on Fort Hill. After the sun went down, it was stormed and set on fire. (Good thing two fire companies were there!)

The day concluded with a party at Armory Hall.

In 1886, the French Colony invited the editor of the Los Angeles Herald to attend the Bastille Day celebration. He had a prior commitment in Long Beach that day, but thanked the French Colony in the newspaper.

Los Angeles Herald, 1886

The newspaper did still cover the event, of course. 

In spite of a half-hour rainstorm (an extreme rarity during a Southern California summer), the parade went on, although many people who had planned to join the parade waited inside the French Theatre for the rest of the day's events. The President of the Day was Jean-Louis Sainsevain this time - and again, one of the last speeches was given by Georges Le Mesnager.

The biggest celebration of them all was held in 1889 - the 100th anniversary of the French Republic. Besides the usual festivities, an extravagant banquet and ball was held at the Pico House, then owned by Pascal Ballade and renamed the National Hotel. The speech Georges Le Mesnager gave on this day was particularly well remembered by French Angelenos - and you can read most of it (thoughtfully translated into English by the Los Angeles Herald) here.

Los Angeles Herald, 1891.

An interesting footnote to the 1891 celebration is that one of the vocalists was J.P. Goytino, who despite having some musical talent was also a highly problematic newspaper editor/slumlord/all-around dirtbag.  Goytino is perhaps most notorious for stopping issuance of a marriage license five years later when his extremely wealthy father-in-law, Joseph Mascarel, sought to legally marry his common-law second wife. (He needn't have bothered; Mascarel left most of his fortune to his grandchildren from his first marriage.) I could do a pretty ugly deep dive on Goytino, but David Kimbrough already did a very thorough one on Facebook (warning: it's a 12-parter).

Los Angeles Herald, 1900


Los Angeles Herald, 1901


Los Angeles Herald, 1908

Los Angeles Herald, 1908

By 1908, Bastille Day was a big enough celebration that it was held at Chutes Park - and pyrotechnics were part of the event (no gunfire here!).

Los Angeles Daily Times, 1926

By 1926, two thousand French Angelenos were coming to the Bastille Day celebration. That evening's grand ball was a fundraiser for the French Society for the French War Orphans - and hosted by Felix Clavere.

Los Angeles Daily News, 1930


Hollywood Citizen-News, 1940

Bastille Day took on a somber significance in 1940, with two-thirds of the country having fallen under Nazi control. The following year, the Colony was nearly as divided as France, but everyone agreed that a big party wasn't appropriate during a time of war. Supporters of the Free French (who accounted for most of the Colony), believing France would rise again, had their own event at the Riverside Breakfast Club. Supporters of the Vichy government spent the day in mourning.

Los Angeles Daily News, 1941

In 1943, Capt. Paul Perigord addressed the United Nations Committee at the Hotel Clark. His keynote? "France is rising again." While there understandably doesn't seem to have been a celebration, the Fighting French tricolor flag was flown from City Hall's flagpole. (In case anyone needs to be reminded: the French are fierce fighters.)


Los Angeles Times, 1943

Los Angeles Times, 1946

Los Angeles Times, 1947

After the war, Bastille Day was back - and hosted by the Los Angeles Breakfast Club! 

Two years later, Bastille Day was marked by a flag ceremony at City Hall.

Los Angeles Daily News, 1949

Los Angeles Times, 1951

Hollywood Citizen-News, 1952

Los Angeles Times, 1957

Highland Park News-Herald and Journal, 1957

Los Angeles Times, 1960

Bastille Day was a big enough event to merit an annual flag ceremony at City Hall and draw a crowd of thousands to the Colony’s celebration. That certainly isn't the case now, and I fully expect Mayor Garcetti to ignore Bastille Day again, as Mayors of Los Angeles have tended to do for years.

What happened? 


Bastille Day fell on a Sunday in 1968. 

Any city employees involved in the ceremony would have had to come in on their day off, and overtime pay would have more than doubled the usual cost of the ceremony. The City Council didn't want to pay for it, voted against increasing the budget, wanted to scrap the ceremony entirely, and Councilman Wilkinson sniped "you ought to remember what France has done to us in the past year or two". 

French Consul General Gerard Peres put an end to the uproar by canceling the ceremony himself "so that City Hall personnel will not lose a day off and municipal expenses will not be increased at a time of financial difficulties". 

Mayor Sam Yorty sent Peres an official apology for the Council's rudeness, and the French tricolor did still fly alongside the US flag in the Civic Center.

At one of my lectures, I was asked when the last Bastille Day parade was held. I can't be 100 percent certain when the parade was retired, but the last time the city officially acknowledged Bastille Day at all (although wordlessly flying a flag barely counts) seems to have been in 1968.

Knowing that the flag ceremony was retired for budgetary reasons, when the city now spends a fortune lighting up City Hall in different colors for just about everything, is pretty irritating. There is no liberté, egalité, or fraternité in regards to what the city chooses to consider important enough to recognize.

Have a good Fête Nationale anyway, dear readers!

Monday, July 11, 2022

Prudent Street in Maps

Beaudry Street, named for the Beaudry brothers, still exists.

Victor Street, named for Victor Beaudry, still exists (although it was bisected by the 101 long ago).

Victor Heights, also named for Victor, still exists (although it tends to get lumped in with Echo Park). 

There is no street named for Prudent Beaudry specifically.

Anymore, that is. There was a Prudent Street!

1894 Sanborn map showing Prudent Street

1906 Sanborn map showing Prudent Street

1920 Sanborn map key detail showing Prudent Street

Sanborn map revised 1923, showing Prudent Street


Sanborn Map republished 1953, still showing Prudent Street

A 1950 atlas page that is unfortunately too blurry to post here indicates that Prudent Street was close to Naud Junction, the Bauchet Tract, and the elusive (because the street grid is gone) Ballesteros Tract.

So Prudent Street did exist, and no longer does. Where did it go?

As shown above, railroad tracks and freight houses were built right alongside Prudent Street. A 1912 news article notes the Southern Pacific Railroad applied for permits to legalize 18 existing railroad spurs. All of the spurs were either on Prudent Street or in its immediate vicinity.

Before the railroad came to this part of LA, it was residential. Two news blurbs from the 1880s reference people who lived on Prudent Street.

Those Southern Pacific spurs are lost to time now, Union Station having made them redundant. As for Prudent Street, its site is currently a big dirt lot near Metro's Chinatown Station.

Monday, July 4, 2022

So You Think You Hate the French, Huh?

Dear Readers: 

As I type this, July 4, Independence Day, is coming to a close. This day would not be possible if France hadn't backed the fledgling US in the Revolution - in fact, I seem to recall something about French ships defeating the Royal Navy at the very end of the war. 

For over 20 years, I've seethed at every philistine who makes nasty, untrue, or just plain bigoted comments about French people. Excusez-moi? I don't go around spouting rude remarks about other ethnicities/cultures, so I don't think it's unreasonable to demand a little respect.

Although it's outside the scope of this blog, I've been tempted to speak my mind on this subject for a long, long time. I promise I'll be back with my latest discovery in a few days (and it was a total shock!). In the meantime, please feel free to share this with anyone you know who might need to read it. 

So you think you hate the French, huh?

If that's really true, you had better act like it and stop availing yourself of everything good they've brought to this world. I will never, ever pretend France or its people are perfect (I openly discuss some very badly behaved Frenchmen in this very blog, plus I don't approve of the whole colonialism thing, even though I'm a product of it twice over). 

This list is not intended to be exhaustive. I don't know everything there is to know. Yet, anyway. Now here we go...

Fashion:

What could be more All-American than jeans? Oh, wait, sorry, you're not allowed to wear them anymore! Jeans are made from denim, which is French. The name itself comes from "serge de Nîmes", referencing the fact that denim was originally produced in Nîmes, France. 

Are you a shoe fiend? Not anymore you're not. Shoes in and of themselves have existed for millennia, but it was Louis XIV's passion for fancy heels that made shoe addiction a thing. (Read Joan DeJean's "The Essence of Style." Actually, read everything she's written. Professor DeJean knows her stuff.) 

Do you read fashion magazines? Cancel your subscriptions immediately and chuck your back issues in the recycling bin tout de suite. Fashion was first reported in print in Le Mercure Galant, way back in the 1670s. Fashion dolls, fashion plates, even depicting the latest styles on the celebrities of the day - that all began in 17th century Paris.

Lingerie as outerwear? Been there, done that, again in the 17th century. It was called "en déshabillé négligée." And I personally guarantee you that Versailles' courtiers wore it better.

And strictly speaking, you really shouldn't be dressing fashionably, or updating your wardrobe, or wearing anything that isn't mass produced, at all. Until the court of Louis XIV (yup, him again), clothing didn't change for decades, or even a few centuries, at a time. Trust me on this, I studied History of Costume extensively. The fashion industry itself was born at Versailles, again in the 1670s. Before that, everything was made-to-measure for the wearer.

Retail therapy is now firmly off limits. Until (you guessed it) 17th century Paris, most stores weren't much more than a storage room with a window for service. Customers stayed out in the street and would tell the shopkeeper what they wanted. What fun is that? Chic Parisian shops had the first luxe store interiors and the first window displays - so if you work in retail, you'd better change jobs.

You can also forget about getting a nice stylish haircut. The first professional hairdresser (also the first celebrity hairstylist) was one Monsieur Champagne, whom DeJean compares to Warren Beatty's character in Shampoo. The word "coiffeur" (still used by French speakers) had to be created to describe his job. 

Do you own rain gear? Donate it to a homeless shelter. Waterproof clothing - and compact folding umbrellas! - are French inventions.

Are you absolutely certain you want to dress like a 16th century peasant and cut your own hair yourself? If you truly hated the French, that's what you'd do.

Home:

Do you buy antiques? Thank 17th-century France (again). High-end Paris shopkeepers were the original antiques dealers. Heck, the French word "antiquailles", meaning "worthless old furniture" spawned the word "antique" to distinguish worthless old furniture from desirable old furniture. So hand over the oil paintings, ginger jars, and Bergere chairs - you get to hit the Burbank IKEA!

Turn your dining room into a reading nook while you're at it. The first dedicated dining room was at the chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte.

Do you have a dresser? Donate it - like so many other things in this entry, they debuted at Versailles.

Don't even think about turning on your central heating (if you have it) in the winter. French doctor Louis Savot invented and installed a special air-circulating fireplace at the Louvre, and French lawyer and scientist Nicolas Gauger innovated a heating system with ducts and registers to circulate and heat fresh air. Their work paved the way for an American invention - the Franklin stove.

And you can wave goodbye to your modern bathroom, too. While the French cannot claim to have invented the first-ever toilet, the first modern flush toilet - complete with bidet faucet and ventilation piping - was introduced in early 18th century France. As for actual bathing in a room built for that purpose (with faucets and a water heater etc.), it too began in the homes of the French elite, albeit in the mid-17th century. The increasing demand for modern sanitary facilities, by the way, led to tearing up French streets to install pipes that would bring water to private homes. By contrast, Los Angeles didn't get proper plumbing for another two centuries (through the efforts of a French-Canadian developer, a French-Jewish entrepreneur, and a public health official). If you hate the French, build yourself an outhouse, dig yourself a well, and get used to bathing in a horse trough.

Food:

You can't be a foodie anymore. At least not without some restrictions.

For starters, the first modern cookbook, Le Cuisinier Francais, was published in 1651 by professional chef Francois Pierre, under the pen name La Varenne. This was the first cookbook that made recipes and techniques public knowledge, the first one that grouped recipes by section, and the first to have an index. So you'd better get very good at memorizing recipes very fast, or just tape a random assortment of recipe clippings to your refrigerator.

You can't have a pressure cooker (this includes the famous Instant Pot), either. French physicist Denis Papin invented the first pressure cooker. (It's also the forerunner to the autoclave, so hold off on getting any tattoos.)

Pasteurized food of any kind is absolutely forbidden. Louis Pasteur was French. Good luck not getting sick from raw milk.

Don't like mixing savory and sweet in one dish? French cuisine was the first in the West to separate the two and move sweets to the dessert course. Now pour some maple syrup on that cheeseburger!

I'm sure I don't have to explain why you can't have any sparkling wine, regardless of where it was made. Even if it's not actual Champagne, the process for making wine bubbly was still invented by a French monk, Dom Pierre Pérignon. Heck, any wine with a cork is off limits because Pérignon made corks the standard way to seal wine bottles. 

Also firmly off limits: all California wine, even if it's boxed. Regular readers already know California's wine industry got its start with Bordeaux native Jean-Louis Vignes.

Although restaurants pre-date France itself (a surviving Roman-era fast food place in Italy is proof of that), fine dining began in France - again, in the 17th century, when the elite would dine chez le traiteur. Dine out all you want - but you can't go anywhere upscale. Celebrity-chef establishments are off limits anyway, since the first one was Francois Vatel.

And you might not want to order soup when you're out. Soup bowls, and the rise of individual spoons, came about in late 17th century France. Up until then, diners simply drank soup from bowls. That's normal in Japanese restaurants, but not so much anywhere else. So have fun with that.

Travel:

Kiss your tourist guidebooks goodbye. They were first published in 1690 for foreigners visiting Paris.

Actually, you won't be able to get very far anyway. See, you won't be able to travel by air. The hot air balloon, which kicked off modern aviation, was invented by the Montgolfier brothers, the first human-powered dirigible was invented by Jean-Pierre Blanchard, and although two Southerners tend to hog all the credit, the first machine-powered flight on record was performed in 1890 by Clément Ader. All Frenchmen.

Public transportation is off limits, too. The first public mass transit system (shared carriages running on regular schedules) was invented in Paris, and co-created by famed mathematician Blaise Pascal at that. So no buses, no trains, no trolleys.

You can also forget about driving. The first automobile (albeit a steam-powered one) was invented by Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot. 

Hope your French-hating self can handle riding a bike everywhere! 

Oh, and it goes without saying that greater Los Angeles is permanently closed to you. This blog is about LA’s extensive French and Francophone roots. Modern LA would simply not exist without people like Prudent Beaudry, Remi Nadeau, and the cinema pioneers who made the entertainment industry possible (more on them in a minute). Oh, you’re an actor/model/whatever? Too bad. Suck it up, board the next plane to New York, and don’t come back. Ever.

Entertainment:

Without streetlights, nightlife as we know it simply would not exist. Operas used to begin in the middle of the afternoon so everyone could get home before it got too dark. Guess how Paris got the nickname City of Light? Because it was the first city to light the streets after dark. Which, in turn, made evening events possible and made nightlife a reality. So you can't go out after dark anymore.

You can never, ever see a movie again. Ever. Without Louis Le Prince, the Lumière brothers, and Georges Méliès, movies simply would not exist. (The LACMA exhibit City of Cinema: Paris 1850-1907, which ends in a few days, provides ample proof of this.) That means no television, either, since motion picture technology made television possible. Watching TV on your laptop or smartphone is still watching TV, so give that up too.

Everything Disney touches is also off limits, including its theme parks. Besides a disproportionate number of Disney princesses being French (Belle, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty), the Disney family has French roots. "Disney" was originally "D'Isigny", after Isigny-sur-Mer. The fact that Walt Disney's longtime home in Los Feliz was influenced by Norman architecture may not be a coincidence.

Don’t even ask me if you can go to the ballet. The answer should be obvious.

Are you absolutely sure you hate the French? Are you? Because all those nasty, hateful comments sure sound like sour grapes to me.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Wait, There Was A French School Tract?! And a Henriot Avenue?!

Modern-day Los Angeles has a number of French-language private schools. The very first is long defunct; it was founded long ago by Teresa (sometimes written as Therese or Theresa) Bry Henriot.

Teresa Bry is said to have cut her teeth teaching in Geneva, Switzerland before departing for faraway Los Angeles. Besides French, she spoke German, English, and Spanish well enough to teach in all four of those languages.

Teresa Bry was born in 1822 - not in Switzerland, as some sources claim, but in Italy (census records bear me out on that) to an Italian mother and a Swiss father. She has been described as "highly educated", but her educational background has proven elusive, along with many other details of her life.


1880 census record of the Henriots
1880 census records of the Henriots

In any case, Teresa Bry moved to Los Angeles in 1854 and married French-born gardener François Henriot four years later. She was 32, he was 27. 

I've mentioned previously that early LA's Italian community was very small and there were even fewer Swiss Angelenos. In the 1850s, the few Italians and French-speaking Swiss in LA were welcomed by, and often associated with, the much larger French population. Intermarriage, in and of itself, would not have been surprising.

Harris Newmark knew the Henriots and described their marriage thusly: 

"This matrimonial transaction, on account of the unequal social stations of the respective parties, caused some little flurry: in contrast to 226her own beauty and ladylike accomplishments, François's manners were unrefined, his stature short and squatty, while his full beard (although it inspired respect, if not a certain feeling of awe, when he came to exercise authority in the school) was scraggy and unkempt." 

Opposites attract, or so they say.

Madame Henriot would establish her French School (later the Henriot School) on San Pedro Street at First Street, about a nine-minute walk from the core of the French Colony. Directory listings tend to place the school on the western corner of the intersection. Today, it's firmly within Little Tokyo. Newspaper advertisements suggest that the school opened its doors February 2, 1874. 

In those early days the school could very well have been run out of their house - the 1875 city directory lists "Henreot Mrs T., teacher French School, San Pedro nr First" and "Henreot F, res San Pedro nr First". Several pages later, the directory lists "French School - Mrs. T. Henreot, Teacher. Average number of pupils, 28. School, San Pedro nr First." (Yes, the directory misspelled every instance of Henriot.)

Lessons were conducted in French, with optional Spanish and German classes. The multilingual Henriots both spoke Spanish well enough to have letters published in La Crónica. In fact, La Crónica favorably described Mme. Henriot (in part and translated from Spanish): 

"We know that said lady, known to everyone in our county and City of Los Angeles, is one of the most talented and appreciable teachers in California, which is why she is justly appreciated by our Hispanic-American population."

Ad for the Henriot School in La Crónica, 1874

 
The Henriots, Teresa more than François, had several letters published in La Crónica.

It isn't clear when François Henriot gave up gardening to become a teacher, but the Henriots eventually taught and ran the school together. In time, demand for French-language education grew enough that the school on San Pedro Street was insufficient, and a combination day and boarding school had to be established somewhere with more space.

So where did Mme. Henriot's French school go when it left downtown?

I found references to the school relocating to Pasadena, or close to it, at an unknown date. Yet, I could find no record of the Henriot School in Pasadena. To its great credit, Pasadena seldom erases its own history. Hmm.

While searching for any available information on the Henriots, I found a reference to a Henriot Avenue in a list of tax-delinquent properties.

Henriot Avenue referenced in a delinquent tax list


Newspaper ad referencing the Henriot School "near Sycamore Grove, on the Pasadena road", 1884

Newspaper announcement mentioning the school was "at Arroyo Seco", 1886

From these newspaper clippings, we can conclude three things: that there was a street named for the Henriots, that the school was "near Sycamore Grove, on the Pasadena road" (hence the misbelief that it was ever in Pasadena), and that the school was also "at Arroyo Seco".

Street names can be a very telling indicator of who lived in an area long ago. But where was Henriot Avenue?

Street name changes, Los Angeles Herald, 1896


Street name change announcement referencing "Henriot's subdivision", 1896

So Henriot Avenue became Dayton Street. And it got a name change when Los Angeles annexed Highland Park.

A quick search pulled up Dayton Avenue in San Pedro (nope), Pomona (nope), and in Pasadena, but not near the Arroyo Seco or "the Pasadena road" (nope). So the street must have had another name change.

According to genealogist Steve Morse, Dayton Avenue became North Figueroa Street in Cypress Park

Sanborn maps from 1906 bear out Morse on the name change. They also show a large wooded area nearby (now gone and filled in).

Google Maps screenshot showing North Figueroa Street (formerly Henriot Avenue) intersecting with Pasadena Avenue. Very close by are Theresa Street and French Avenue. Just out of frame to the right is the Arroyo Seco.

So, Henriot Avenue became North Figueroa Street. If you're starting out downtown, Cypress Park is on the way to Highland Park. And of course North Figueroa Street extends all the way through Highland Park until it turns into Scholl Canyon Road in Eagle Rock.

The above Google Maps screenshot shows North Figueroa Street, aka Henriot Avenue, intersecting with Pasadena Avenue. Very close by are Theresa Street, probably named for Mme. Henriot, and French Avenue.

I have been scouring the internet in vain for a map showing Cypress Park in the 1880s, when the school was open. I have yet to find one. Even Sanborn maps let me down this time - the earliest one I could find is from 1906, after the campus was redeveloped.

Still, given the geographical evidence, I feel comfortable saying the Henriot School was located somewhere along Pasadena Avenue, near North Figueroa. I will continue to look for 1880s maps of the area to pinpoint a more precise location.

In a likely sign of the times (more English speakers were flooding into LA), the Henriot School eventually switched to conducting classes in English, with optional French and Spanish courses.

From this 1903 real estate transaction, we can conclude that Francois Henriot subdivided, and resubdivided, the "French School tract", presumably including the former campus, and that the tract included the former Henriot Avenue.



I found one reference to Mme. Henriot passing away in 1888, with no further details. Another source suggests it was 1898, which tracks with M. Henriot passing away in 1903 (in the French Hospital). Harris Newmark stated that they died five years apart.

Presumably M. Henriot closed the school and subdivided the campus after Mme.’s death, with it taking the name "French School Tract".

There is a mysterious footnote to all of this: one of my books states that an oil portrait of Mme. Henriot was displayed in the County Museum (now the Natural History Museum) at the time of publication. Some time ago I reached out to the Museum asking about the portrait, as I have never seen it displayed. The book didn't reference the artist, and the portrait isn't in the Seaver Center's database. The collections manager mentioned that it would be difficult to trace without knowing the artist's name, and suggested it may have been part of a temporary exhibition by the California Art Club. However, this doesn't seem likely, since the reference is from decades after Mme. Henriot's death.

Does anyone out there have any idea what happened to the portrait, or do I have to go on a mission to find it like Indiana Jones? After all...it belongs in a museum.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

What's In a Name?

I finally got a chance to start watching Bosch: Legacy.* 

I highly recommend it, don't get me wrong, but I couldn't help cringing when the very first scene of the first episode involved multiple instances of Vignes Street being pronounced "VIG-nezz". 

There has been considerable debate over how Vignes Street should be pronounced.

Vignes means "vines" in French (fitting for a vintner from Bordeaux), and in French, "vignes" (referring to vines) is pronounced more like "veen" (I'm simplifying, but I'm sure you get the idea). 

However, French rules of pronunciation don't necessarily apply to proper names. Case in point: Taix is pronounced "Tex". 

The few references to pronunciation I can find state that Jean-Louis Vignes' surname is pronounced "vines". Frances Dinkelspiel, who is an award-winning journalist, the author of Tangled Vines: Greed, Murder, Obsession, and an Arsonist in the Vineyards of California, and a descendant of another prominent Los Angeles winemaker (Isaias Hellman), says it's pronounced "vines"

Patt Morrison of the Los Angeles Times helpfully suggested via Twitter that an older newspaper account might spell the name phonetically. In 9 years of digging as deeply into the family as I can, I have yet to see that.

(I checked again, since more old newspapers are digitized each year. No luck again, and to my consternation multiple newspapers - mostly small ones based in NorCal - mistakenly claimed that El Aliso winery was on the site of Union Station - no wonder that tired myth has hung around for so long - and a 1972 article in the Desert Sun referred to to Vignes as "young". He was, in fact, 52 when he arrived in Los Angeles. I also found a very long and detailed article about Vignes' children suing their cousins for a cut of El Aliso. Boy, did it get ugly!)

When Jean-Louis Vignes was alive, French speakers outnumbered English speakers by a wide margin (incidentally, Vignes himself was the reason for this). The Vignes-Sainsevain family was prominent enough in a town of about 6,000 people (about one-tenth of whom were French) that the pronunciation of their names was probably well known, and Vignes (who died long before English became LA's dominant language) was "Don Luis del Aliso" to most people anyway.

None of this is still the case in 2022, 160 years after Vignes' death. Most Angelenos don't even know who Vignes was.

So I'll just put this out there: Are there any Vignes/Sainsevain descendants out there who would be so kind as to clarify how "Vignes" is pronounced?

I suspect it's "vines" (for starters, I trust Dinkelspiel's expertise). Maybe it was "veen", and I've also heard "vin-yay".

But there's no way in hell it's "VIG-nezz"; what native French speaker would brutally butcher their own name like that in a city where most people spoke Spanish or French? Hearing "VIG-nezz" makes my ears bleed (and I'm a metalhead with noticeable traces of Valspeak in my speech, so THAT is saying something). So I'm hoping we can get some clarification on that and hopefully send "VIG-nezz" to go live on a nice vineyard upstate with its friends "Pick-o" and "Sepple-veeda".

*I'll let you find out for yourselves which classic detective novel was referenced in the first episode. I was also amused when one character stated that his family made their money first with gold, then steel, then aerospace - shades of the Ducommun family.