Tuesday, December 27, 2016

He Built This City: Mayor Prudent Beaudry

Possessing boundless energy, exceptional business sagacity and foresight, Prudent Beaudry amassed five fortunes and lost four in his ventures, which were gigantic for that time, and would be considered immense today.
- Le Guide Francais, 1932

Have a seat, everyone...the lifetime I'm chronicling this week is best described as "epic".

Jean-Prudent Beaudry was born July 24, 1816 in Mascouche, Quebec - close to Montreal. When he was a young boy, the family moved to the neighboring town of Saint-Anne-des-Plaines.

There were five Beaudry brothers (and three Beaudry sisters). All of the Beaudry brothers worked hard and got rich, but Prudent, Jean-Louis, and Victor would make the history books. (Victor, the only other Beaudry to settle in Los Angeles, will be covered in another entry, because this one is going to be LONG.)

The Beaudrys, an industrious family of traders, sent their sons to good schools in Montreal and New York. Prudent and his brothers had the benefits of a great education and English fluency when they went into business for themselves.

Which they did, many times over.

Prudent started out in his father's mercantile business, then went to work at a different mercantile house in New Orleans, returning to Canada in 1842 to partner with one of his brothers. By 1844, he left the business to join Victor, the youngest Beaudry brother, in San Francisco. The Gold Rush was a few years away, but Victor had already established a profitable shipping and commission business in the city. Before long, the brothers were in the ice business (Victor later partnered with another future mayor, Damien Marchesseault, in distributing ice harvested in the San Bernardino Mountains). Perhaps not surprisingly for a native of Quebec, Prudent also got into the syrup business. Two years later, after Prudent had lost most of his money on real estate speculation (and more of it when insufficiently insured stock was destroyed in a fire), Los Angeles beckoned.

I'll let Le Guide Francais take it from here:
Starting with $1,100 in goods and $200 cash in a small store on Main Street, where the City Hall now stands, it is said that he cleared $2,000 in thirty days, which enabled him to take a larger store on Commercial Street. From that time on, Prudent Beaudry was one of the preeminent men of the economic, social, and political life of the Southwest.
(The book, just to clarify, refers to the current City Hall, not the old Bell Block down the street. After Beaudry vacated the Commercial Street shop, Harris Newmark moved in. Ironically, Beaudry sold his dry goods business to Newmark twelve years later.)

Having earned a well-deserved vacation, Prudent left Los Angeles for Paris in 1855. The chief items on his itinerary were seeing the Exposition Universelle and consulting the great French oculist Dr. Jules Sichel. Prudent visited Montreal on his return trip to visit his brother Jean-Louis, who would serve as Mayor of Montreal for a total of ten years between 1862 and 1885. The Beaudrys, needless to say, were just as prominent in business, politics, and society in Quebec as they were in Southern California.

While Prudent was away, Victor was capably managing his brother's business interests. Prudent had purchased a building on the northeast corner of Aliso and Los Angeles Streets in 1854 for $11,000. Victor spent $25,000 - an absolute fortune at the time - on remodeling and improving the building. In this case, it was money well spent. After the Beaudry Block was improved, it was considered the finest building in Southern California for the time. Rents increased from $300 per month to $1,000 per month.

Prudent returned to Los Angeles in 1861 (Victor had been offered a contract to supply the Army of the Potomac and found it difficult to manage his brother's business interests at the same time). He continued in the mercantile business until 1865. Due to stress, he retired...but not for long. The Beaudrys just weren't capable of being unproductive.

In 1867, Prudent Beaudry made one of his greatest real estate investments. The steep hill above New High Street, which he purchased at a Sheriff's Department auction for the pittance of $55 (I can't believe it either), was known as Bunker Hill. It would soon become famous for its Victorian mansions.

This purchase set Beaudry on a path that made him California's first realtor and first large-scale developer, in addition to an urban planner. Before long, he was buying extensive tracts of land, dividing them into lots, and selling them, working out of an office opposite the Pico House. One 20-acre tract, between Charity (Grand) and Hill from Second to Fourth, cost $517 and netted $30,000. Another tract, consisting of 39 acres bordered by Fourth, Sixth, Pearl (Figueroa) and Charity (Grand), earned $50,000.

The Beaudry brothers (smartly) kept buying land. They predicted - correctly, and beyond their wildest dreams - that after railroad lines connected Los Angeles to San Francisco and the East Coast, new settlers would pour into Southern California in droves. (If they could only see how right they were!) Prudent also bought land in modern-day Arcadia and near the Sierra Nevada mountains (building aqueducts to redirect mountain streams to his properties), and helped to found the cities of Pasadena and Alhambra.

One newspaper advertisement from 1873 lists 83 (yes, 83!) separate lots for houses, in addition to two full city blocks, multiple city tracts, and large land parcels in Rancho San Pedro, Verdugo Ranch, and the Warner and de la Hortilla land grants. A similar ad from 1874 notes, in bold, which of the streets with lots for sale had already had water pipes installed. It's no wonder Beaudry was able to keep his real estate business going every time he lost most (or all) of his money.

Severe flooding in January 1868 had undone nearly all of Jean-Louis Sainsevain and Damien Marchesseault's hard work on the city's primitive water system. As a developer, Beaudry was very concerned about improving the city for its residents. On July 22, 1868, a 30-year contract for the water system was granted to the newly-established Los Angeles City Water Company. The three partners in the Company were Dr. John Griffin, French-born businessman Solomon Lazard, and, of course, Prudent Beaudry (most of the employees were also of French extraction - chief amongst them, Charles Lepaon, Charles Ducommun, and Eugene Meyer - more on them in the future).

The Los Angeles City Water Company replaced Sainsevain and Marchesseault's leaky wood pipes with 12 miles of iron pipes, and continued to regularly make improvements on the water system until the contract expired 30 years later (the city purchased the system for $2 million - in 1898 dollars!). Although nothing could cancel out the previous water problems or Marchesseault's tragic suicide, the city of Los Angeles finally had a reliable water system that wouldn't turn streets into sinkholes. (If you live in Los Angeles and you like having running water, thank a Frenchman. Seriously, you guys owe us.)

You're probably wondering how Prudent managed to supply water to his hilltop property. In those days, hills weren't desirable places to build homes because water had to be transported in barrels via trolley or other vehicle. The city water company wasn't interested in solving the problem. But in case you haven't noticed yet, Prudent was smart, resourceful, and didn't give up easily. He knew that if running water was available, prospective homeowners would be more likely to consider hilltop lots and pay a good price for them. So he constructed a huge reservoir and a pump system that supplied water from LA's marshy lowlands to Bunker Hill. The pump system worked perfectly - and so did his plan. (I'll bet every land speculator in Southern California wished they had thought of that.)

Before long, Bunker Hill became THE place to build grand homes. At least two of its fabled Victorian mansions were built for other French Angelenos - entrepreneur Pierre Larronde and model citizen Judge Julius Brousseau.

Let it be known, however, that Beaudry developed for everyone. It's true that he built mansions and had a keen interest in architecture, but he also built modest homes on small lots for working families. And because he made modest properties available for small monthly payments, he made home ownership possible for buyers with lower incomes. He made considerable improvements to his land - paving roads, planting trees, and providing for water usage.

And Beaudry just kept developing land for the rest of his life. This Lost LA article includes an 1868 map showing five tracts recently developed by Beaudry.

The Bellevue tract included a garden he dubbed "Bellevue Terrace". This early park rose 70 feet above downtown, boasting hundreds of eucalyptus and citrus trees. Beaudry eventually put the site up for sale. The State of California bought it to develop a Los Angeles campus of the State Normal School, which would later become UCLA. When UCLA moved to Westwood in the 1920s, the hill was graded down and replaced with Central Library.

A few miles away, where North Beaudry Avenue meets Sunset Boulevard, there is an oval-shaped parcel of land that currently holds a church, a restaurant, and The Elysian apartment building. In the early 1870s, this was Beaudry Park - another garden paradise on a hill, boasting citrus groves and eucalyptus trees (and vineyards!). But the Beaudrys put it on the market a decade later. The Sisters of Charity snapped it up in 1883, building a newer facility and relocating St. Vincent's Hospital (sometimes called the Los Angeles Infirmary) here.

Beaudry owned a large tract containing one block of stagnant, foul-smelling marshland. No one wanted to build on the land, and it wasn't ideally suited to building anyway. In 1870, Beaudry got the idea to drain the marsh and turn the land into a public park. Naturally, he spearheaded the plan. Originally called Los Angeles Park, the land was renamed Central Park in the 1890s...and was renamed again later.

You know this park. There's a good chance you've been there (and there's a VERY good chance you absolutely hate its current incarnation).

Give up yet?

It's Pershing Square. (It used to be a very nice park. Trust me on this.)

Beaudry's dedication to developing, planning, and improving the city got him started in politics. He was elected to the Los Angeles Common (City) Council for three one-year terms (1871, 1872, and 1873). In 1873, he became the first president of the city's new Board of Trade. His name appeared in Los Angeles newspapers frequently throughout the 1870s and 1880s - mostly in the real estate sections (and in a bankruptcy case...the Temple and Workman Bank failed and took most of his money with it).

In 1874, Prudent Beaudry became Los Angeles' third French mayor, serving two terms. At the same time, his brother Jean-Louis Beaudry was serving as mayor of Montreal.

After finishing his second term, Beaudry bought the local French-language newspaper, L'Union. (I will cover LA-based French newspapers - three or four are known to have existed - at a later date.) Beaudry was already a director of the Los Angeles City and County Printing and Publishing Company.

Nearly all of Los Angeles' Victorian houses have been torn down over the years. However, neighborhoods like Angelino Heights still have Victorian-era homes. Guess who developed Angelino Heights? That's right - Prudent and Victor Beaudry (architect Joseph Newsom designed many of the houses). Carroll Avenue, beloved by preservationists for its high concentration of surviving Victorian homes (kitsch king Charles Phoenix even includes it on his annual Disneyland-themed DTLA tour as "Main Street USA"), is well within the original boundaries of Angelino Heights.

In the 1880s, Angelino Heights was one of LA's earliest suburbs. Cars would not be commonly used for quite some time. To serve the transit needs of potential home buyers, the Beaudry brothers (with several other real estate promoters) built the Temple Street Cable Railroad. This streetcar ran along Temple Street from Edgeware to Spring (it was soon extended to Hoover Street) every ten minutes and ran for 16 hours each day, making transportation fast and simple for residents of Angelino Heights and Bunker Hill. The Pacific Electric Railway eventually purchased the line (switching from cable cars to electric trolleys in 1902), and in time it passed to the Los Angeles Railway. The Temple Street Cable Railroad - far and away the most successful streetcar line in the city's history - ran from 1886 to 1946. SIXTY YEARS. Which is especially impressive considering the Pacific Electric Railway didn't even exist until 1901, and its less-traveled streetcar lines were converted to bus routes in 1925.

Funnily enough, Beaudry had sued the Los Angeles Railway in 1891. He claimed the Railway had excavated First and Figueroa Streets without the proper authority, rendered the streets useless, and blocked access to his property. (He also occasionally sued people who damaged his properties. Can you blame the guy? Building a city is hard work.)

When "Crazy Remi" Nadeau decided to liquidate most of his freighting company's equipment, it was purchased by the Oro Grande Mining Company...which counted Prudent and Victor Beaudry among its shareholders. In the 1880s, the Beaudrys began to take on fewer and fewer projects, but they both remained vocal supporters of developing and improving Los Angeles.

Prudent Beaudry passed away on May 29, 1893, a week after suffering a paralytic stroke (Victor had passed away in 1888, with Prudent acting as executor of his sizable estate). An Illustrated History of Los Angeles County stated:
Prudent Beaudry, in particular, has the record of having made in different lines five large fortunes, four of which, through the act of God, or by the duplicity of man, in whom he had trusted, have been lost; but even then he was not discouraged, but faced the world, even at an advanced age, like a lion at bay, and his reward he now enjoys in the shape of a large and assured fortune. Of such stuff are the men who fill great places, and who develop and make a country. To such men we of this later day owe much of the beauty and comfort that surround us, and to such we should look with admiration as models upon which to form rules of action in trying times.
Beaudry died a wealthy man (despite losing his fortune FOUR times), but ironically, he might have died even wealthier. A 1905 article in the Los Angeles Herald stated that nearly forty years previously (i.e. in the 1860s), he had begun to dig a well on one of his hilltop properties. After several hundred feet, he struck a deposit that "looked and smelled like tar." He promptly abandoned the half-dug well. That's right - Beaudry struck oil. But he wasn't looking for oil and had no use for it. Had he made the same discovery a few decades later, things may have been a little different.

The late Mayor's body was returned to his native Quebec. Like the rest of his family, he is buried at Notre Dame des Neiges (Canada's largest, and arguably most beautiful, cemetery). He never married and had no children, so his estate went to the other Beaudry siblings and their families.

Prudent Beaudry's importance as an urban planner and city developer is almost completely forgotten today. His work lingers in the names of Beaudry Avenue, Bellevue Avenue, and various other French-named streets in tracts he developed long ago. (Hill Street was once called Montreal Street in honor of the brothers' hometown - it isn't clear when it was renamed.)

(And, thankfully, Angelino Heights is still standing. I will lose my last remaining shreds of faith in humanity if something bad happens to those precious few surviving Victorians.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Warren Buffett of Early LA: Mayor Joseph Mascarel

Joseph Mascarel, second French mayor of Los Angeles, on a small information kiosk outside the French Hospital.

Joseph Mascarel was born in the French seaport of Marseille on April 1, 1816. At the tender age of 8 (that's not a typo), he first glimpsed the port of San Pedro while serving as a cabin boy. Legend has it that he swore to one day live in California.

In 1827, 11-year-old Joseph was a cadet on the Jeannette, bound for Hawaii and Tahiti. The Jeannette made a stop in San Pedro, where one of the passengers - Jean-Louis Vignes - did some trading in port before the ship left for Hawaii. (It isn't clear if Vignes and Mascarel became acquainted on this voyage.)

Mascarel continued to sail around the world, working on ships and trading on the side. By 1844, he had saved enough money to buy the Jeannette. Mascarel, now 28 and the ship's captain, sailed his ship back to San Pedro, sold it, and bought an entire city block with the profits. (Specifically, Main to Los Angeles Streets at Commercial Street - on the northern edge of the original Frenchtown.) He also purchased forty acres of farmland in modern-day Hollywood, north of Gower Street, and grew tomatoes. (It's so funny to think of tomato plants growing along Gower Street today.) Mascarel lived in an old adobe house on Main Street for many years, but don't bother looking for it today...the corner where it once stood is now (drumroll please...) a parking lot adjoining Olvera Street. (The sheer number of Frenchtown sites that have since become parking lots is really beginning to depress me. But I digress.)

Mascarel was accompanied by a friend from Marseille - M. Lemontour. In fact, Mascarel had assisted Lemontour with travel expenses. Lemontour worked for Mascarel until he had paid him back, then moved on to Mexico City (Los Angeles, still a small and sleepy pueblo, wasn't as exciting as Lemontour liked). Many years later, Lemontour had become a wealthy Mexican official, and he met up with his old friend Mascarel to catch up and trade stories.

Although there was a growing French community by 1844, the vast majority of Angelenos were Mexican or Spanish. Mascarel - who was one of the few Caucasians to settle in Sonora Town - learned to speak Spanish fluently and was soon dubbed "Don José" by his neighbors. He also became a part owner of Los Angeles' first bakery (Angelenos weren't paranoid about carbs yet). Before too long, he was in the wine industry, got into mining, and distributed lime. A Chatsworth History program states that in 1845, he worked for Jean-Louis Vignes as a cooper.

In spite of his gruff, stern exterior and imposing presence (he was over six feet tall and weighed about 200 pounds - enormous for a Frenchman), Mascarel was a decent and generous man, and became a very popular local figure.

Mascarel got into some trouble in 1847. California was still part of Mexico, and Mascarel was one of a band of volunteer soldiers supporting the United States. The volunteers were captured and detained at Rancho Los Cerritos (i.e. modern-day Long Beach). However, they were in luck: their host was Don Juan Temple, an Anglo settler who had been appointed alcalde (mayor) of Los Angeles by Commodore Stockton. Temple responded by bringing two barrels of wine to Rancho Los Cerritos, plus his family for company, to ease the volunteers' "captivity". Needless to say, a good time was had by all.

The volunteers had to promise not to bear arms against the Californios in order to secure their release. Mascarel and Louis Robidoux (founder of Jurupa/Riverside) decided to obey the letter of their promise rather than its spirit. Robidoux supplied General Frémont's troops with flour from his grist mill, and Mascarel provided vegetables and livestock.

Supporting the United States was a potentially risky endeavor for Mascarel. His new bride, Serilda Lugo, was related to a prominent Californio family - the Alvarados of San Juan Capistrano. (Records disagree on whether Serilda was Native American, Spanish, or mixed race.) I have yet to find any reference to Mascarel having trouble with his in-laws, but the couple got along well enough to have eight children.

In 1853, Mascarel decided to visit France. He took $40,000 with him (about $1.2 million today) and left Serilda behind to manage his business (besides wine, farming, and mining, he was an avid investor and speculator). Mysteriously, Mascarel needed Serilda to send money for his return trip three years later. To this day, no one knows how Mascarel managed to lose such a large amount of money (my best guess would be a bad investment). Fortunately, Serilda was more than capable of managing Mascarel's business interests on her own.

In 1861, Mascarel and a business partner constructed a block of buildings along the south side of Commercial Street between Main and Los Angeles Street. The Mascarel-Barri block, which replaced several crumbling adobe buildings, was divided in 1865.

Another Frenchman, Damien Marchesseault, had served several terms as Mayor. His re-election streak was broken only by Joseph Mascarel, who served as Mayor from 1865-1866.

Mascarel was a very tough mayor. He responded to the city's abysmally high rate of violent crime by banning residents from carrying any weapons whatsoever (even slingshots were prohibited). This wasn't his most popular move (LA was still the Wild West), but Mascarel was often credited with maintaining order in a divided Los Angeles. Although California was a Union state, many of Los Angeles' white inhabitants were Southerners, the city leaned Confederate (read Los Angeles in Civil War Days if you don't believe me), and the Civil War was raging. Keeping the peace with a populace divided over a highly contentious war is quite a task.

Mascarel was held in high esteem by French, Spanish, and Mexican Angelenos. However, the growing Anglo minority took issue with Mascarel's inability to speak English. In fact, the April 23, 1866 edition of the Los Angeles Weekly News included a savage classified ad: "Wanted. A Candidate for Mayor who can read and speak the English language, by Many Citizens." (This may not have been an entirely fair demand, considering that the vast majority of Angelenos were native Spanish speakers, French was the second most common language, and English would remain a distant third for some time.)

Still, Mascarel's political career wasn't quite over. He was popular enough to be elected to the City Council seven times between 1867 and 1881. In later years, he would lend support to others who ran for office.

While serving as Mayor, Mascarel signed a significant land grant to the Pioneer Oil Company, the first of Southern California's many oil companies. (One of Pioneer's organizers was Charles Ducommun, a Francophone Swiss watchmaker we'll meet again later.)

According to an account by Horace Bell, Mascarel quietly kept a close eye on Mayor Joel Turner and the City Council. He dutifully reported their corrupt dealings, which included interfering with the water system, to the Grand Jury, which promptly indicted Turner and the councilmen. Turner was sentenced to ten years in prison. He never served a day of his sentence (can't win them all), but control over the Los Angeles River was taken out of the Mayor's hands and given back to the water commissioners. (Good thing, too - in those days, Angelenos were still raising crops and livestock. The city could easily have lost most of its food sources.)

In 1871, Mascarel helped to found the Farmers' and Merchants' Bank, serving as one of its trustees (by this time, the city directory listed his occupation as "capitalist"). According to an old newspaper obituary for one of Mascarel's granddaughters, he owned a cannon (courtesy of the Mexican-American War) and placed it at the corner where the first Farmers' and Merchants' Bank originally stood. This cannon was later moved to Exposition Park.

Serilda Lugo Mascarel passed away in 1887. Mascarel and his family soon took out an ad in the newspaper thanking their friends and acquaintances for their kindness and support.

It isn't clear when Joseph Mascarel met his second wife, Maria Jesus Benita Feliz. Nor is it clear when they moved in together and began their common-law marriage. But we do know that they didn't legally marry until 1896 (Mascarel's children with Serilda vocally opposed the marriage and son-in-law J. P. Goytino successfully blocked issuance of a marriage license). Maria had been very ill, and the belated marriage ceremony was carried out in the Catholic Church (a license was not necessary in this case). A Los Angeles Times article published just two days later stated that the 80-year-old former mayor and his 60-year-old bride had been "for all intents and purposes" living as a married couple for thirty years and had several adult children. This very likely means that Joseph and Serilda chose to separate in or before 1866. (Believe it or not, there was a time when divorce was rare in LA.) The 1870 federal census indicates that Serilda and her seven surviving children were no longer living with Joseph.

I should note that Mascarel was one of the wealthiest men in Los Angeles at the time. In spite of his penchant for quietly donating large sums of money to charitable causes, he was worth over a million dollars (and in 1896, that was a LOT of money). The Times noted that Goytino opposed the marriage due to concerns over inheritance of property. (In some ways, LA hasn't changed all that much.)

Joseph Mascarel died of heart failure on October 6, 1899, at his home on Lazard (now Ducommun) Street. He was 83 years old. Mascarel left behind Maria, children from both wives, grandchildren from his first marriage, and the remainder of his fortune. (The bulk of this money was willed to Mascarel's grandchildren from his marriage to Serilda. Maria's children promptly contested the will.) Mascarel had owned land in four counties, but began to give it away to to friends and loved ones in his later years. A solemn high mass was held at the Old Plaza Church in his honor.

Joseph Mascarel is buried at Calvary Cemetery. His headstone lists his first name as "José". The headstone is otherwise in English - ironic, given that he neither spoke nor read the language.

A Los Angeles Daily Herald article from 1889 states "Everybody knows who Jose Mascarel is, as as he lacks but little of being one of the oldest settlers of this city." Today, he has faded from LA's collective memory. A street was named for the former mayor and investor, but it is misspelled as "Mascarell Street."

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Rest in Peace, Mr. Mayor: Damien Marchesseault

Los Angeles has had three French mayors, and Damien Marchesseault was the first. (Grab some tissues. Not every story gets to have a happy ending.)

Damien Marchesseault was born in 1818 in Saint-Antoine-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. In 1845, he left for New Orleans and became a riverboat gambler. (I should note that gambling professionally was considered socially acceptable at the time, not stigmatized as it sometimes is today.)

In 1850, Marchesseault left New Orleans for California, settling in Los Angeles. He soon partnered with another French Canadian, Victor Beaudry (whose brother, Prudent Beaudry, would also become mayor), in the ice business. In those days before refrigeration, ice had to be harvested and transported to cities to keep food from spoiling and keep drinks cold. Beaudry and Marchesseault built an ice house and operated a mule train to bring ice from the San Bernardino Mountains to Los Angeles and beyond (their customers included saloons in faraway San Francisco). Ice House Canyon, located between Mount Baldy and Mount San Antonio, is named for their ice house. In 1858, he again partnered with Beaudry, this time in the Santa Anita Mining Company.

Marchesseault also owned a saloon - and kept up his gambling skills. He became a popular local figure and was asked to run for Mayor. Which he did, winning the election and serving a one-year term in 1859-1860. (Mayors of Los Angeles served one-year terms at the time, but could serve an unlimited number of terms.)

Before long, Marchesseault's mettle was tested by disaster. The winter of 1859-1860 brought the worst rains and flooding Los Angeles had seen in many years, and the Los Angeles River shifted its bed by a quarter mile. Much of the original pueblo was destroyed.

Undaunted, Marchesseault put his considerable energy to work helping to rebuild his adopted city, including the all-important Plaza Church.

Marchesseault was elected again in 1861, serving four consecutive terms afterwards. This was a very trying time for Los Angeles - the Civil War was raging back East, the economic effects of war were felt strongly in California, a deadly measles outbreak killed a number of Angelenos, another flood destroyed the primitive water system (again), and Southern California suffered a drought so severe that farmers let their fields go fallow and ranchers had no choice but to cull many of their cattle.

Through it all, Marchesseault was applauded by Los Angeles residents for his capable management of the city. Under his tenure, the Wilmington Drum Barracks were established (just in case...), new brick buildings went up, the first Chinese market opened, the city's first public mural was commissioned from Henri Penelon, gas streetlights and telegraph wires were installed, and the Mayor himself helped organize LA's first municipal gas company (remember, this was before LA had home electricity).

In 1863, Marchesseault met Mary Clark Gorton Goodhue, who came to California from Rhode Island and had been widowed twice. She was a talented musician and spoke several languages. The Mayor and the sophisticated widow married in San Francisco in October of that year.

The onslaught of droughts, flooding, and more droughts inspired Marchesseault to seek better water management for Los Angeles. At the end of his 1865 term, he was appointed Water Overseer, a more important (and higher-paying) job than Mayor in parched Los Angeles, and served for one year.

Marchesseault temporarily served as Mayor for four months in 1867 and returned to his duties as Water Overseer before being elected Mayor again. He pushed on with improvements in the water system, awarding a contract to a business partner, engineer Jean-Louis Sainsevain. Sainsevain had been awarded the contract previously, in 1863, but gave up due to extreme difficulty and excessive costs.

Sainsevain and Marchesseault installed pipes made from hollowed-out logs, which had a frustrating tendency to leak or burst. (One of these logs, bound with metal and wire and and showing multiple splits, is displayed at the Natural History Museum’s “Becoming Los Angeles” exhibit.) By the middle of summer, stories about their water system turning the streets into muddy sinkholes were becoming all too common. Meanwhile, the fact that Sainsevain was Marchesseault's business partner did not escape notice, drawing accusations of corruption.

The Mayor was under a great strain. His administration was being harshly criticized, he had lost large amounts of money on bad investments and his partnership with Sainsevain, he had borrowed money from everyone he knew, and he was unable to repay his debts. The fact that the stress caused him to drink heavily and gamble more than ever didn't help. Mary offered to get a teaching job, but Marchesseault wouldn't hear of it.

Early in the morning of January 20, 1868, the deeply distressed Mayor entered an empty chamber at City Hall. He wrote a letter to his beloved Mary:

My Dear Mary -
By my drinking to excess, and gambling also, I have involved myself to the amount of about three thousand dollars which I have borrowed from time to time from friends and acquaintances, under the promise to return the same the following day, which I have often failed to do. To such an extent have I gone in this way that I am now ashamed to meet my fellow man on the street; besides that, I have deeply wronged you as a husband, by spending my money instead of maintaining you as it becomes a husband to do. Though you have never complained of my miserable conduct, you nevertheless have suffered too much. I therefore, to save you further disgrace and trouble, being that I cannot maintain you respectably, I shall end this state of thing this very morning. Of course, in all this, there is no blame attached - contrary you have asked me to permit you to earn money honestly by teaching and I refused. You have always been true to me. If I write these few lines, it is to set you right before this wicked world, to keep slander from blaming you in way manner whatsoever. Now, my dear beloved, I hope that you will pardon me, and also Mr. Sainsevain. It is time to part, God bless you, and may you be happy yet.
Your husband,
Damien Marchesseault.
The progressive six-term Mayor then shot himself in the head with a revolver.* The next day, his suicide note appeared in the Los Angeles Semi-Weekly News and the funeral was held at his home.

Damien Marchesseault was buried in the Los Angeles City Cemetery (I surmise he was ineligible for burial at Calvary Catholic Cemetery due to his suicide). Mary remarried after his death (to Italian-born Eduardo Teodoli, who published Spanish-language newspaper La Cronica), but was buried in the City Cemetery along with Marchesseault and her son from her first marriage when she passed away in 1878.

When the old City Cemetery was taken over by the city and turned into (what else...) a Los Angeles Board of Education parking lot, surviving family members moved Mary, Marchesseault, and Mary's son C.W. Gorton to Angelus Rosedale Cemetery.

Although Marchesseault and Sainsevain were ultimately unsuccessful in their struggle to bring reliable water service to the city of Los Angeles, their successors prevailed. A few months after Marchesseault's death, Sainsevain transferred the contract to Prudent Beaudry, Solomon Lazard, and Dr. John S. Griffin. They founded the Los Angeles City Water Company, which was fittingly located at the corner of Alameda and Marchesseault Streets.

Good luck finding Marchesseault Street on a map today - it’s now Paseo de la Plaza. 

There is a memorial plaque to the forgotten Marchesseault in the sidewalk outside the Mexican Consulate and Hispanic Cultural Center. The details of his service to the city are, I'm sorry to say, not listed entirely accurately on the plaque.

Some historians credit Marchesseault's leadership with turning the Pueblo into the City of Los Angeles, citing his many accomplishments and capability in rebuilding the ruined pueblo. Today, he is completely unappreciated by the city that once loved him so.

Repose en paix.

*Okay, fine...the Semi-Weekly News reported that the bullet entered the Mayor's skull next to his nose and lodged in his brain. Which is a polite way of saying he shot himself in the face (think about it...). For Mary's sake, I sincerely hope it was a closed-casket funeral.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

I Saw What You Did There.

I have been seriously researching Los Angeles' Frenchtown for two and a half years. I created this blog to share its stories and keep the community's memory alive.

Over the summer, I approached several media outlets - most in Los Angeles, one in Paris - and pitched an article on the history of Frenchtown, from Louis Bauchet's arrival in 1827 to the sale of the French Hospital in 1989.

Not one of those media outlets ever bothered to respond.

Last month, I found out why.

On August 3, I called out three LA-based writers for failing to include French Angelenos in recent, relevant articles pertaining to LA history. Had they researched their articles thoroughly enough, I do not believe this would have happened in two of the cases. (I believe one writer excluded the French deliberately, since she mentioned EVERY other ethnic group's respective benevolent societies throughout the city's history. Her editors apologized...eventually.)

It seems one of the other writers (who writes for more than one of these outlets...) has chosen to retaliate.

The LA Weekly recently published an error-filled, omission-ridden history of Frenchtown, cranked out by the same writer I took to task for an earlier article excluding the Frenchmen who worked so hard to solve LA's water problems. (I will not post links to any of her articles because I refuse to encourage "writers" who do not research and fact-check properly.)

The errors in the article are as follows:
  • Philippe Fritz's name is misspelled.
  • "We" do NOT call Frenchtown "Chinatown." The original core of Frenchtown straddles Little Tokyo and the Commercial Street industrial area, and bleeds into the Civic Center. While it is technically true that much of New Chinatown was part of Frenchtown first, this is a grossly inaccurate oversimplification of how the colony changed and eventually dissolved.
  • Jean-Louis Vignes arrived in 1831, NOT 1832.
  • Vignes did NOT bring Cabernet Sauvignon grapes with him from Bordeaux. For years, he used Mission grapes. He imported Cabernet Sauvignon grapes later to improve the quality of wines at El Aliso. (He also imported Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.) Additionally, he did NOT emigrate directly to Los Angeles. Vignes spent a few years managing a rum distillery in Hawaii before boarding a ship bound for Monterey (and quickly moving on to Los Angeles) in 1831.
  • El Aliso was named for ONE specific sycamore tree - the giant one you can see in the background picture for this blog.
  • Vignes did NOT produce the first "California Champagne." His nephews Pierre Sainsevain and Jean-Louis Sainsevain did, under their Sainsevain Brothers label. Which they did AFTER they bought El Aliso from their 75-year-old, finally-retired uncle.
  • "News of Vignes' success" did NOT "trickle back" to France. His sister, who hadn't heard from him in several years (no one had; he'd been pressured to leave France), sent her son Pierre Sainsevain to California to look for him. Only after Pierre found Vignes did he get in touch with his family and friends, suggesting they move to California.
  • Vignes' family home was NOT ON THE SITE OF CITY HALL! In the 19th century, the block where City Hall now stands was taken up by commercial buildings. El Aliso, including Vignes' house, stood roughly where Union Station is today.
  • There were THREE French mayors of Los Angeles, not two. The writer completely omitted Joseph Mascarel, who - in spite of being unable to read or speak English very well - defeated Damien Marchessault's re-election bid in 1865. (This is a particularly serious exclusion, since Mascarel was the only French mayor of Los Angeles who was actually born in France. Prudent Beaudry and Damien Marchessault were both from Quebec.)
  • NO mention was made of Beaudry's importance as a developer. (When I finish researching my entry on Beaudry, you'll understand what an insulting omission this was.) 
  • The French Hospital was built on the corner of College and Castelar Streets. It's true that LA's street grid has undergone many changes, but as historical references consistently place the hospital at College and Castelar (NOT "Hill and College"), this should have been noted to omit confusion.
  • Additionally, I would not call the French Hospital "private" when it is widely considered LA's first public hospital (by those of us who give a damn about it).
  • Taix French Restaurant moved to Echo Park in 1962, not 1964. 1964 was the year the original restaurant was torn down (to build yet another damn parking lot...). (Seriously, Taix's history is on their website. It would have taken all of five seconds to fact-check this.)
  • The French Benevolent Society did NOT own plots in Evergreen Cemetery (although Victor Ponet did serve as President of the Evergreen Cemetery Association). The Society had a plot at the old City Cemetery (which is now a Los Angeles Board of Education parking lot).
  • French Angelenos referred to handball as "jeu de paume". Why the hell did she use the Spanish word "rebote"?! (Call me crazy, but I somehow don't think this estie de cave understands a word of French.)
  • NO mention of the various French World War One relief organizations in LA? Really? REALLY?! (Somewhere in the great beyond, Lucien Napoleon Brunswig, Georges Le Mesnager, and Dr. Kate Brousseau are quietly crying into their wine.)
Later references, which I'll admit are easier to research, are more accurate. However, there is another matter that, frankly, is more upsetting than the errors listed above.

I believe the writer mined some of her content from this blog.

Accusing someone of plagiarism is a pretty serious act, and I have been sitting on my hands for a month now, wondering if I should do it. But I remain convinced she is guilty.


  • In my first entry, I listed the many professions held by French Angelenos. This writer mentions some of them in the article, including their contributions to the city's water system. Here's the kicker: in a previous article for Curbed LA, the same writer completely ignored the contributions of Damien Marchessault, Jean-Louis Sainsevain, Prudent Beaudry, and Solomon Lazard. I called her out for this in my August 3 entry. Gee, did she read this blog?
  • The existence of French walnut farmers is not a widely-known fact. Yet, somehow, this writer knew about them. I wonder if that has anything to do with my mentioning walnut groves on this blog.
  • The fact that Frenchmen supplied Los Angeles with ice and salt is REALLY not well-known. I have mentioned it on this blog (you'll read more about it when I get to Damien Marchessault). Now where exactly did she find that fact? (I found it in a book that has been out of print for many years. But that book is VERY rare - I spent years looking for a copy - and since she has already proven to be a sloppy researcher, I'm not convinced she actually went to Central Library to read their copy of the book.)
  • A disproportionate number of the Frenchmen mentioned by name have been covered, or at least mentioned, here. BUT...some extremely important French Angelenos, not yet covered here because I am still actively researching them, were omitted.  
I won't bore my readers with a blow-by-blow breakdown of the writer's sentence structure and word choice, but there are a few lines that look like they were lifted from my blog and edited juuuuust enough that she presumably thought I wouldn't notice.

Well, I did.

I saw what you did there. I'm shocked, saddened, and angry.

When I began pitching articles over the summer, I hoped to share an accurate, well-rounded history of Frenchtown with Southern California and the rest of the world. This "writer", who has connections I don't have and never will, stole that opportunity from me AND submitted an article filled with so many inaccuracies I'm shocked the Weekly's editors failed to blacklist her on the spot.

If you want to use content from this blog, ASK ME FIRST and CREDIT ME. I spend a considerable amount of time, effort, and money (rare old books aren't cheap) telling these stories. And I'm sure as hell not doing it for personal glory (of which I have none). This blog is not about me, it's about the undeservedly forgotten French of Southern California. But since I'm doing all the grunt work, I should be credited.

If you want to make this right, take whatever the Weekly paid you for that inexcusable pisse-froid mess of an article and donate it to one of the French nonprofits with offices in LA. That's how you fix this, sous-merde.

And please: change jobs and move to another city. You have no right to call yourself a writer and you have no business living in my hometown (let alone desecrating its rich history).

(To my regular readers: the next three entries will be on LA's three French mayors. I'll be damned if I'm going to let some crosseur de crisse de tabarnak with no integrity, no research skills, and the IQ of plankton get the last word on Frenchtown.)

Monday, November 7, 2016

Why Is It Called Naud Junction?

In Southern Chinatown, just up the street from Philippe the Original, is an area called Naud Junction. Even Google Maps specifies it as such.

But why is it called that? It's a seemingly ordinary stretch of Alameda Street, with no junction in sight.

Los Angeles is nowhere near as crisscrossed with train and streetcar tracks as it used to be. This area has been redeveloped considerably, but Union Station is still down the street, and old maps do suggest more rail lines used to run nearby.

As for the name Naud...

Edward Naud (sometimes written as "Edouard", occasionally as "Edwin") was born in France around 1834. It isn't clear when he arrived in Los Angeles, but voter records place him there by 1871 (suggesting he had been in the US long enough to become a citizen). He seems to have visited France in 1873, returning with a wife (named only as "Mrs. Naud" on the passenger list).

I suspect that Edward most likely returned to France to remarry. Census records indicate he had a son, also named Edward, born around 1866. However, Edward's wife Louise was born around 1857. She was too young to be Edward Jr.'s biological mother. So, although I could find no record of a different Mrs. Naud, I believe Louise Naud was Edward's second wife.

Edward was a successful baker, known for making Southern California's finest pastries. But, with so many of his countrymen involved in sheep ranching, he decided to get into the wool business. Naud's Warehouse, built as a combination granary, wool warehouse, and storage facility for valuables, went up on Spring Street in 1878. Look closely at the 800 block of North Spring Street in Google Maps and you will indeed see train tracks running between Spring and Alameda.

The 1880 census lists Edward's occupation as "wine grower."By this time, the Nauds had three children - Edward Jr., now 14 and a laborer, Louise, age 4, and Louis, age 2. Edward's cousin Joseph Naud was also living with them. (At this time, Edward was 46 and Louise was 23 - half his age. Louise would have been about 16 when she married Edward. Yes, I realize this is considered creepy in 2016.)

Edward was a founding member of the French Benevolent Society. Naud Street, which is close to Los Angeles State Historic Park, was named after him. He passed away in 1881, but Louise took on business partners and kept the warehouse open. In 1905, a boxing arena was built close to the warehouse - and soon became THE boxing venue in LA.

Records on the Naud family are somewhat scarce, but the 1900 census suggests that then-34-year-old Edward Jr., still a laborer and a talented amateur chef, was boarding with the Ballade family. I have been unable to find any burial sites associated with the Nauds.

In 1915, a fire broke out on Spring Street. Naud's Warehouse was one of several buildings destroyed in the fire. Today, the former site is a parking lot (why am I not surprised?).

But, more than a century after the all-consuming fire, the area is still called Naud Junction.

Friday, October 28, 2016

"Jolly Joseph" and LA's First Coffee Shop

For the next few minutes, try to imagine getting a bad coffee craving in LA's early days.

There was no Intelligentsia, no Stumptown, no Coffee Commissary, no Cognoscenti, no Demitasse - hell, there wouldn't even be any Peet's or Starbucks for well over a century!

LA needed coffee. The young city's large French community especially needed coffee (God only knows how much the French have loved coffee since the early 1600s...).

In 1869, it appeared LA's prayers for caffeine had been answered. Newly-arrived French expat Joseph Joly, a cheerful fellow who quickly earned the nickname "Jolly Joseph", opened the Chartres Coffee Factory on Main Street, opposite the Plaza, in 1869.

Chartres Coffee Factory was a combination wholesale and retail coffee shop. Grocers could buy coffee, but so could the public. It was Southern California's first-ever coffee shop (which probably makes Joly LA's first barista).


It didn't take long for Joly to disappear one day, leaving behind a stack of unpaid bills (and, presumably, the strong scent of French-roasted coffee beans). LA's first coffee shop owner was also one of its earliest con artists.

(Hey, I could omit the unsavory stories. But I don't believe in hiding the truth from my readers.)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Joan of Arc in Chinatown: A Brief History of Los Angeles' French Hospital

Jeanne d'Arc in front of the French Hospital
(now the Pacific Alliance Medical Center)

The first hospital in Los Angeles, St. Vincent's, was (and still is) a Catholic hospital. Which, given the city's Spanish roots and large numbers of Catholic Frenchmen in early LA, isn't surprising.

However, by the late 1850s, LA was becoming a little more diverse. Growing numbers of Protestants began to arrive, requiring the founding of the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1853 (before that, only Catholic schools existed, in spite of California becoming a state in 1848). Jewish newcomers (most of them German or French) also began to arrive.

People of all faiths need medical care. The Daughters of Charity, to their great credit, never turned away a patient in need, but the town was growing, and St. Vincent's only had so much space. The French community decided to see to its own needs. On March 1, 1860, thirty-three Frenchmen (and two Italians) met at the French Consulate, under the invitation of French consul Jacques Antoine Moerenhaut (remember the name Moerenhaut; you'll be reading a very long entry about him later).

The group decided to form a non-sectarian mutual protective association - predating the concept of an HMO - and named it the French Benevolent Society. Members contributed $2.00 each to the treasury (monthly dues were $1.00) and elected a nine-member executive committee responsible for creating the Society's constitution.

The Executive Committee elected its officers as following:

President: J.A. Moerenhaut
Vice President: C. Souza
Treasurer: Jean-Louis Sainsevain (no surprise here)
Secretary: Leon Victor Prudhomme
Commissioners: F. Guiol, Henri Penelon, A. Poulain, A. Labory, Guillaume Laché

Dr. Lacharmois was named the Society's first medical official. Initially, he worked out of an office in a house on Hill Street.

The Society elected a nine-member board each and every year. For many years, Jean Sentous was the Society's president; his son Louis Sentous Jr. held several offices in the Society and was its president for thirteen years (during his tenure, membership more than doubled).

The Society's earliest members included, but were not limited to: A. Davoust, Seigle, T. Moillan, Jules Segouin, R. Boltz, Delancre, H. Remebe, S. Lebreton, Pierre and Madame L'Arseval, B. Amillac, M. Brunet, P. Larrieux, Louis Vieille, A. Labory, E. Bordenave, Jean Hennequin, P. Lende, the Henriots, G. Dupuy, Cardou, Henri Deleval, Boutet, C. Cassagne, Jean Bernard, V. Fevre, Sanot, J. Lassors, A. Blanche, S. Lelong, A. Gossiot, Guillaume Coppé, Camille Plosson, T. Clermont, the Cléments, Pierre Bassac, J. Marcellin, Mathieu Garboline, C. Plassan, A. Cauginac, F. Brémont, Edouard Naud, E. Baudry, E. Riviere, A. Pouya, Maurice Kremer, Jean B. Trudel, Charles Ducommun, L.J. Coijdarrens, Joseph Hennequin, Damien Marchessault, Claude Planchon, André Briswalter, R. Doleau, A. Grange, P. Lude, M. Pointreaux, G. Murat, A. Hauline, A. Rendon, Antoine Ferrera, P.P. Raho, and C. Soprani.

Regular readers may recall that Michel Lachenais' first murder took place at a wake, when (after the mourners had been drinking for several hours) he got into a fight with Henri Deleval over whether the recently-founded Society had adequately cared for the deceased.

The Society also soon had a parcel at the old City Cemetery for burials. (Beret-tip to Richard Schave for the link.)

By 1861, the Society decided non-French (and non-Italian) Angelenos could see Dr. Lacharmois as well. Los Angeles was still a very dangerous place (so much so that Frenchtown was protected by a unit of the French Foreign Legion!), and there weren't many medical professionals in town. This decision, in effect, created a healthcare safety net for area residents who may not necessarily have preferred St. Vincent's.

General meetings were held twice a year, on the first Sunday in March and the first Sunday in August. This tradition, to the best of my knowledge, continued for the Society's entire existence.

Any extra money in the Society's treasury was earmarked for the purchase of land and construction of a hospital. In spite of the expense of tending to sick or injured Frenchmen (and in some cases burying them as well), the treasury had $5,000 within the decade.

By 1869, four plots of land - enough to build the hospital - had been purchased on the edge of town, one mile from the French Colony. The Executive Committee vocally disagreed on whether to build the hospital that year. While the hospital was badly needed, some members were not convinced it was the best time to spend the money. In the end, the needs of the community won out, and plans were made to build the hospital.

On October 4, 1869, the Society gathered at the corner of College and Castelar Streets and walked to the building site, where the cornerstone of the French Hospital - the first non-sectarian public hospital in Los Angeles - was laid with appropriate ceremony.

By March of 1870, only the hospital's second story and roof remained unfinished. At the semi-annual March meeting, it was discovered that the building fund had run out of money. This was quite upsetting to members, who wanted the hospital open but did not want to go into debt.

The Society made the best of the situation by equipping the completed ground floor and opening the hospital in its unfinished state (perhaps rationalizing that they could finish it later, since bad weather is so infrequent in Southern California). M. Sarlangue was appointed caretaker, with a different French couple overseeing housekeeping and nursing. Sure enough, the Society soon managed to raise the rest of the money and finish the hospital.

In 1876, Dr. Hubert Nadeau (no relation to "Crazy Remi" Nadeau) arrived in Los Angeles, taking employment at the French Hospital. The well-liked doctor also served as county coroner from 1879 to 1884, when he became Chief of Dispensary Clinics and Professor at the University of Southern California. He was also President of the County Medical Association. (Los Angeles boasts a Nadeau Street and a Nadeau Drive; based on their respective properties owned it’s most likely that Nadeau Street is named after Remi and Nadeau Drive is named for the good doctor.)

The Society also held fundraisers, including an annual picnic. The Los Angeles Herald announced the French Benevolent Society's 11th annual picnic would be held at Sycamore Grove Park on June 18, 1882. In part: "Original Game of Ball of Henry IV. Committee of Arrangements - Beaudry, Lower, Casenave. Ladies' Bar - Mrs. Ch. Deleval, Vignes, Penelay. Ice Cream - Mdlles. Vignes, Jos, Dol, Deleval. Bar - Ballade, Dombledy, Rouguy, Lecroq. Dance - R. Weyse, Mailhan, Sombloy, Marticio, Cajal, L. Vignes. Flowers and Lottery - Mrs. Pelissier, Ballade, Cassagne, Sentous, Le Masne. French Restaurant! Music by Wangeman's Band! Carriages will be run to the ground from Downey Block every hour. Price 25 cents."

The French Hospital began accepting Chinese patients in the early 1900s. It is, perhaps, not surprising that the hospital is now surrounded by Chinatown.

Originally a modest adobe building, the French Hospital soon had a wood-framed front house where the nurses lived. The hospital was expanded in 1926. Supposedly, part of the original adobe building is encased within the walls of the newer hospital building. (What I wouldn't give to find out what happened to the original cornerstone...but I'm not about to go poking around an active hospital facility on private property.)

In 1985, the French Hospital celebrated its 125th anniversary with a party including a six-foot cake, pinatas, Chinese lions, and a presentation by then-Mayor Tom Bradley. By this point, admission pamphlets were printed in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese - but not French - and the hospital staff spoke 25 languages.

In 1987, a multimillion-dollar expansion of the French Hospital was approved. Unfortunately, a year later, excessive unpaid medical bills forced the hospital (along with several others, i.e. Linda Vista) to cut back on emergency services.

Within a year, local doctors in Chinatown, with help from a Japanese entrepreneur, sought to save and expand the French Hospital. Since 1989, it has been known as the Pacific Alliance Medical Center, and is still an active hospital (the hospital remained open continuously when it changed hands). Today, most of the patients are Asian; there are also sizable numbers of Latino and African-American patients.

The Jeanne d'Arc statue erected in 1964 stands outside the hospital to this day. Nearby is an Angels Walk stanchion with a brief overview of the history of the French community and the birth of Chinatown. (I suspect it was placed in Chinatown and not in Frenchtown due to the presence of the French Hospital and the nearby Fritz Houses, built as a family compound by a French carpenter.)

The city of Los Angeles just voted to landmark the Japanese Hospital in Boyle Heights. Would anyone like to help me convince the City Council to landmark the French Hospital too?

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Busiest Undertaker Ever: Victor Ponet

The Morrison Hotel, located in Ponet Square, immortalized in album cover art. 
(Bet you didn't see THAT coming!)

Once upon a time, in a faraway land called Belgium, a boy named Victor Ponet was born to French-speaking parents.*

Victor trained as a cabinetmaker, spent several years making cabinets in Paris, and emigrated to the United States in 1864 at the age of 28. After living in New York and San Francisco, he landed in Los Angeles in 1869, home to a sizable French-speaking community and plenty of opportunities for a self-starter.

And Victor was indeed a self-starter.

In the 1860s, Los Angeles was the most dangerous city in the United States. At one point, its murder rate was twenty times that of New York City. Throw in accidents, illness, and unreliable sources of (questionably safe) water, and, unfortunately, people died.

Victor set up shop at 66 Main Street (southeast corner of Main and 1st), and soon began making coffins in addition to cabinets (someone had to do it). Within a few years, he was also the city undertaker.

And he kept adding new revenue streams.

Victor branched out into picture framing (he also sold pictures and mirrors to fill those frames - smart guy). Before long, he was also selling Florence sewing machines. Victor employed a young new arrival named Jean Jaussaud, whom we'll meet again later.

Incredibly, surviving advertisements imply that he did everything from 66 Main Street...which doubled as LA's first funeral parlor. (The site is now smack in the middle of the civic center.)

In 1873, Victor married an Irish immigrant named Ellen Manning (records sometimes list her name as Ann). They had a daughter, Gertrude Mary Ponet, in 1874. Later, they took in and raised a boy named William.

By 1882, Mrs. Ponet's millinery shop stood at 78 Main Street, just a few doors down from Victor's shop/funeral parlor. Mrs. Ponet imported and sold French millinery, advertising her shop in the Los Angeles Herald.

In 1885, the Ponets took a two-year sabbatical, traveling in Europe (needless to say, Belgium was on the itinerary).

It isn't clear when Victor began buying land, but buy it he did. Sometime in the 1880s he purchased Fiesta Park, bordered by Pico, Hope, 12th, and Grand. The land, renamed Ponet Square, soon boasted one of LA's first apartment buildings.

If you're a firefighter or in the insurance industry, the name Ponet Square may sound familiar. The Ponet Square Hotel, built in 1906 and formerly LA's biggest apartment building, was the site of an arson fire in 1970. Nineteen people, most of them working-class immigrants, were killed in what was quickly dubbed the deadliest fire in LA's history. The tragedy resulted in the Ponet Square Ordinance, which requires all buildings pre-dating LA's 1943 fire code to comply with the code. The Ponet Square Hotel had, in fact, been condemned by fire inspectors in 1941 due to its open stairwell, which enabled the fire to quickly spread from the lobby to the upper floors. The hotel - badly damaged and too unstable to save - was torn down within the next few days, and the site has been (no surprise here) a parking lot ever since. (LA Fire has a thorough recap of the fire and its aftermath.)

Also within the Ponet Square development is a link to a better-known part of Los Angeles history. The Morrison Hotel, two blocks north of the Ponet Square Hotel, had become a transient hotel by the late 1960s. Which, of course, didn't stop The Doors from posing for an album cover in the lobby (see above). The former Morrison Hotel was abandoned in 2006 and has been empty ever since (and is a "hotspot" on Esotouric's historic preservation map). (Update: it's now slated for revitalization. Of course, the developer might very well rip out whatever historic charm is left...)

Victor lived in Sherman (Cahuenga) later on...and even then, wasn't content to rest on his laurels. He served as Belgian Vice Consul to Southern California and Arizona (the consulate was at 145 N. Spring Street in those days; it's an empty lot now). He was a founder and director of the German-American Savings Bank, which was later folded into what is now Security Pacific (he was its president from 1894 to 1897). He was also President of the Evergreen Cemetery Association and a trustee of the Chamber of Commerce. He was in the Jonathan Club, the Knights of Columbus, and the Newman Club. In 1901, he opened a bowling alley at Main and Third Streets. Oh, did I mention the Ponets took in boarders, too?

In 1906, King Leopold of Belgium bestowed upon him the title of Chevalier de L’Ordre de Leopold - knighthood - for his services to Belgium.

Victor didn't retire until rather late in life, and when he did, it was to a farm he'd purchased in the late 1800s in what is now West Hollywood.

In 1906, a road was extended through Victor's farm, stretching from Crescent Heights Boulevard to the lima bean fields that eventually became Beverly Hills. West Hollywood was still way out in the sticks at the time, and the road wasn't paved until the 1930s.

You know this road. You've probably driven on it many times without a second thought.

Give up? It's Sunset Boulevard.

Speaking of streets, there is a Ponet Drive near Griffith Park. Apparently, at least one Ponet descendant lives (or lived) in the area.

Another construction project took place in 1906: a new church, intended to serve the Roman Catholics who lived out in the relative wilderness of West Hollywood and its surrounding neighborhoods. Victor donated the land and is said to have supplied the original building. St. Victor Catholic Church remains active to this day.

Victor passed away in 1914 at age 78. Two years later, Ellen passed away.

William Ponet became a Roman Catholic priest and served at St. Vincent's Church in Los Angeles.

Gertrude Ponet married a Midwestern transplant named Francis Stanton Montgomery. They had four sons. The oldest, born in 1908, was named Victor Ponet Montgomery after his grandfather.

The Montgomery family developed Sunset Plaza in the 1920s (one of my resources says the land was inherited from Victor). To the best of my knowledge, they still own it to this day.

*LA's French community was less homogeneous than one might expect. While the majority of French immigrants were from France's Basque regions, others hailed from different parts of France, some were from Quebec, a few came from Louisiana, and some hailed from Belgium, Switzerland, and the often-disputed territory of Alsace-Lorraine (but were ethnically, linguistically, and culturally French).

Friday, September 23, 2016

Blended: The Larronde/Etchemendy Family

237 North Hope Street
(can you believe this was torn down for a DWP building?!)

Some people believe that single parents and stepfamilies are a modern phenomenon. That simply isn't true. For most of human history, it was far more common for children to lose a parent to illness, accidents, war, etc. than it is today.

Were there blended families in Frenchtown? Of course. Jean-Louis Sainsevain is known to have married at least twice and had two stepchildren in addition to his two sons from his first marriage.

But we've covered the Sainsevain brothers. Today we're going to meet a different blended family.

Our story begins in the Basses-Pyrénées in southwestern France. Pierre Larronde was born there in 1826; Jean Etchemendy was born there in 1830. Although the two men did not know each other early in life, they both lived in South America, mined in the California gold rush, and moved to Los Angeles to raise sheep.

Juana Egurrola was born in Marquina, Spain, in 1835, emigrating to California with her family as a child. In 1865, she married Jean Etchemendy.

Jean owned the Rancho San Pedro, raising sheep there until the day he died (the rancho's museum is said to still have samples of wool from his sheep). He was quite successful at it, and got into real estate.

Jean and Juana had three daughters - Mariana, Madeline, and Carolina. Sadly, Jean died in 1872. He was only 41.

It wasn't long before Juana caught the eye of Pierre Larronde.

Like Jean Etchemendy, Pierre Larronde had made a good amount of money mining gold in Northern California before coming to Los Angeles to raise sheep (there is some evidence that, like Jean, he may also have raised sheep at Rancho San Pedro). He married Juana in 1874.

Juana and Pierre had three more children together - Pedro Domingo, John, and Antoinette.

When the land boom hit in the 1880s, Pierre liquidated his sheep empire to invest in real estate. He had so many business dealings that by 1892, the city directory simply listed his occupation as "capitalist".

By 1887, Pierre had built the Larronde Block, a two-story brick building with one of the rarest things in Los Angeles - a basement! Stores, offices, and a tailor shop could be found on the ground floor, with apartments upstairs.

The Larronde block stood on the northwest corner of Spring and First Streets. Le Guide reported that the land was still owned by the Larronde/Etchemendy family. However, not too long after Le Guide was published in 1932, the Larronde Block was demolished to make room for the Los Angeles Times building.

In 1888, construction began on a large and beautiful home for all eight members of the Larronde/Etchemendy family. The house, located at 237 N. Hope Street, was three stories high and, appropriately for Bunker Hill, in the Queen Anne Revival style.

Pierre lived to be 70 years old, passing away in 1896. Juana died in 1920 at the age of 84.

The six Larronde/Etchemendy children stayed in the house on Hope Street, with only two of them choosing to move away.

Pedro Domingo Larronde became one of the principals of the Franco American Baking Company. Antoinette Larronde got married and had a family of her own.

Of the remaining siblings, John Larronde served the city as president of the Fire Commission. He died in 1954, as did Madeline Etchemendy. Mariana and Carolina Etchemendy lived into the 1960s, and only moved out of the house when the demolition of Bunker Hill forced them to do so.

The Larronde/Etchemendy family lived at 237 N. Hope for nearly 80 years. The house was demolished in 1957. Today, the Department of Water and Power takes up the entire block.

Jean Etchemendy, Pierre Larronde, and Juana Larronde are all buried at Calvary Cemetery - beneath one large pedestal topped by an angel statue. I can only presume that Juana wanted to be buried with both of the men she loved when she died.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Welcome to the French Museum of Los Angeles/Bienvenue à la Musée des Français à Los Angeles

Today is my birthday.

What I would like to do is go to a museum.

Specifically, a museum that tells Frenchtown's countless stories.

Imagine, if you will, a surviving 19th century building converted into a museum (in a way that preserves its original bones as much as possible, of course).

Imagine a giant (fiberglass, of course) bottle of Sainsevain Brothers Wine outside, beckoning visitors and reminding attentive passersby that French-owned vineyards once dotted downtown Los Angeles.

Perhaps there is even a rear courtyard where visitors can see wine grapes growing - Mission, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Sauvignon Blanc (i.e. the varieties Jean-Louis Vignes grew at El Aliso long before Union Station was built on the site). Replicas of 19th-century winemaking equipment are also on display (we mustn't expose authentic artifacts to the elements!).

Inside, an entire gallery traces California's wine industry from Louis Bauchet and Jean-Louis Vignes through the present day. Bottles, winemaking equipment, and personal effects, carefully preserved behind glass, bear the names Sainsevain, Vache, Mesnager, and Nadeau (among others). Perhaps, if we are really lucky, Pierre Sainsevain's steam-powered stemmer crusher will be on view.

A second gallery tells the overall story of the French in Los Angeles.

Bricks from the zanja madre, surviving pieces of hollow log pipe, and an original iron pipe speak to the struggle for safe, reliable water in Los Angeles and to the forgotten Frenchmen who gave it their all - Jean-Louis Sainsevain, Damien Marchessault, Prudent Beaudry, and Solomon Lazard. Surviving pictures of Sainsevain's water wheel and the founding members of the Los Angeles City Water Company bring to life the difficulties of hydrating a parched city.

Pharmaceutical ads and medicinal packaging speak to LA's early French pharmacists - Chevalier, Viole & Lopizich, and the Brunswig family. Photos and very old medical equipment represent Dr. Nadeau (no relation to Remi), Dr. Pigne-Dupuytren, and the French Hospital.

A wall of old maps, perhaps with tiny LED lights representing the path of the Temple Street Cable Railway, show Prudent Beaudry's massive impact as a developer.

Paul de Longpré's pretty flowers adorn a wall - and perhaps someday the Seaver Center will loan out a few of Henri Penelon's paintings.

A case of antique watches, jewelry, and hardware, alongside modern-day aerospace materials, testifies to the importance of Charles Ducommun, the talented Franco-Swiss watchmaker who founded California's oldest corporation.

The evolution of law and order in Los Angeles might be seen in a case displaying photos of the Lachenais lynching, Judge Julius Brousseau's gavel, and perhaps the badge of Eugene Biscailuz, former LA County Sheriff and founder of the California Highway Patrol.

Perhaps one of Victor Ponet's cabinets has survived. Perhaps it displays milk bottles from the Sentous, Alpine, and Pellisier dairies. (Heck, I'd be happy if one of Ponet's coffins survived and was in decent enough condition for display.) And perhaps a copy of the Doors' album "Morrison Hotel" - built on Ponet's land - hangs on the wall, linking long-forgotten LA with still-in-living-memory LA.

A sizable wall case shows glassware, dinnerware, menus, matchbooks, and other items from French-owned restaurants. I just might be thrilled to death to point out the glasses from Café de Paris that are on permanent loan from my personal collection*. But we all know Philippe Mathieu, creator of the French Dip, is going to be the star here (even if he did move back to France when he retired).

One unique display stacks fruit crates high, with labels reading Model, Basque, Daily, Popular, and Golden Ram. Next to the stack? If we are very lucky, a surviving jug from Bastanchury Water - since all of those brands were based on the Bastanchury family's enormous orange grove in Fullerton.

Surviving pictures and the odd schoolbook speak to LA's French educators, ranging from Father Lestrade and his boys' boarding school to Madame Henriot and her Francophone private school to the modern-day Lycée Français. Perhaps there is even a clipping from one of the olive trees used to create olive oil in a contest at Caltech during Dr. Jean-Lou Chameau's tenure.

World War One is recalled, perhaps, by a rare surviving plaster statuette of Pedretti's Doughboy (sold to raise funds for the statue), Lucien Brunswig's dispatches from war-torn France, Georges Le Mesnager's correspondence with General Pershing, and artifacts from the many French war-relief organizations headquartered in LA (and, probably, chaired by Brunswig). Perhaps there is even something that belonged to Dr. Kate Brousseau, who used her brilliant bilingual mind and Ph.D in psychology to rehabilitate traumatized soldiers.

Perhaps there are still surviving items from the City of Paris - LA's biggest and best early department store. Perhaps they could be artfully arranged into a life-size diorama of a fashionable, well-to-do lady's boudoir, circa 1880.

Maybe, just maybe, an entire wall could be "papered" with blown-up images of the city's forgotten Francophone newspapers - Le Progres, L'Union, L'Union Nouvelle. (There was reportedly a fourth paper early on, called the Republican, but I will be very surprised if there are ANY surviving copies.) One of those newspapers was still being published in the 1960s. Just saying...

Remi Nadeau, quite possibly the greatest Angeleno who has been forgotten by the remote frontier town he helped to turn into a world-class city, really deserves his own gallery (if not his own museum). But even one case of artifacts would be a damn good start.

In the middle of it all, I for one would love to see a scale model of early downtown LA - which, with a little magic from projectors, can layer "LA now" over "LA then" when a switch is flipped.

Perhaps a third space - a small theater - showcases French Angelenos in film. Any surviving scraps of film shot at Blondeau's Tavern - Hollywood's first film studio - segue into the stunts of aviatrix Andrée Peyre, cut to Claudette Colbert, and perhaps finish up with Lilyan Chauvin (who went on to teach at USC). It would be a no-brainer to use the space for special screenings, too.

I have so many more people, places, and accomplishments in my list of future blog posts that I won't even try to list them all here.

But here's the problem...

I can't go to this museum.

It doesn't exist outside of my own head.

Chinese Americans make up 1.8% of LA's population (county-wide, the number rises to 4%). They have their own museum AND the Chinatown Historical Society (both of which, by the way, are based in buildings constructed by French immigrants).

Mexican Americans make up 32% of LA's population. They have their own museum.

Japanese Americans make up 0.9% of LA's population and have largely spread to the suburbs (hello, Torrance!). They have their own museum.

African Americans make up 9.6% of LA's population. They have their own museum.

Los Angeles' itty-bitty Little Italy (try to say THAT three times fast) grew out of Frenchtown (two of the French Benevolent Society's founding members were Italian), vanished during the war, and is now part of Chinatown. They have their own museum.

Should these ethnic groups all have their own museums? Of course they should. They are all a part of LA history and they all have their own stories to tell modern-day Angelenos (and whoever else is listening).

For a good chunk of Los Angeles' history, the city was 20% French. Until sometime around the turn of the 20th century, only Californios outnumbered them.

I have written about the founders of California's wine industry, humble hoteliers (wait until I get to the fancier ones), a pharmacist who threw himself into supporting World War One, a renegade general, entire families of ranchers, LA's first struggling artist, and the city's first priests.

I have barely scratched the surface. There are HUNDREDS of stories left to tell.

And one doozy of a question to ask:

Why doesn't Los Angeles have a French-American Museum?

I've previously addressed the fact that the Pico House hosted a temporary exhibit on French Angelenos in late 2007/early 2008. But it lasted less than six weeks, ran during the busy holiday season (not a time when most people want to go to museums), and has, of course, since been forgotten (go on, ask anyone who isn't French if they remember it...I'll wait).

The forgotten French community in Los Angeles deserves to be remembered just as much as every other ethnic group that has ever made a home for itself in LA. We deserve our own museum - a permanent one.

Alas, I don't have the funds or the connections to do this myself.

Can anyone spare several million dollars (damn LA real estate) and a resourceful curatorial staff?

*I do indeed own glassware from the shuttered French-owned Café de Paris in Hollywood (an extremely lucky flea-market find). And if a French-American museum ever does open its doors in Los Angeles, I'll happily - enthusiastically, even - loan out some of those glasses. I'll lead tours, give lectures, you name it. I want our stories told.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Frenchmen of the Pico House

Every Los Angeles local knows who Pio Pico was.

Most are aware of the Pico House Hotel, which (miraculously) has survived to the present day.

Virtually nobody is aware that multiple Frenchmen plied various trades at the Pico House.

Construction on the Pico House began in 1869 and finished in 1870. By then, Pio Pico had led quite a life - last Mexican governor of Alta California, rancher, and entrepreneur. The Pico House, built opposite the Plaza, was by far the most lavish hotel in Los Angeles at the time (Remi Nadeau would later build a hotel that would make the Pico House look like a farmhouse, but that's a story for a future entry).

Southern California's very first drugstore, owned by one A. Chevalier, initially stood in a building across the street (probably the Signoret building; at least one surviving photo suggests a pharmacy onsite), and was later moved to the ground floor of the Pico House. (Why not? Travelers get sick and injured too.)

Most good-sized hotels have at least one restaurant, and the Pico House was no exception. In a clear sign of the times (remember, Los Angeles was about 20% French by the 1860s), the restaurant featured French food, French-language menus, and a maitre d' known as "French Charlie" Laugier.

Gov. Pico was having financial problems by the late 1870s, and lost the hotel to the San Francisco Savings and Loan Company.  The hotel changed hands a few more times.

By the 1890s, Pico House had been renamed the National Hotel and was owned by Pascale Ballade.

When the French Republic celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1892, French Angelenos paraded from Aliso Street to the Plaza. But the celebration really went into high gear at the Pico House/National Hotel, which hosted an extravagant banquet and ball.

Owner Pascal Ballade, born in France in 1838, had arrived in Los Angeles in 1860. He founded the Hotel des Pyrénées, Los Angeles' largest boarding house. The Hotel stood at 300-302 Aliso Street, held up to 1,000 guests at a time, and catered to newly-arrived French Basques - so much so, in fact, that it held weekly jeu de paume (handball) competitions attracting players from all over the USA.

Ballade also owned a combination grocery/liquor store (in the 1880s, he lived above the shop). Perhaps not surprisingly, he also owned two saloons (one at 700 Olive Street and another at 742 S. Main). On top of those responsibilities, he was a City Councilman, belonged to the Golden Rule Lodge and La Fraternité (a Knights of Pythias chapter which seems to have been composed entirely of French Angelenos), and had a sheep ranch in San Juan Capistrano.

Ballade and his wife Marie (who was also from France) had three children - John (sometimes recorded as "Juan"), Marie, and Antoinette. The Ballades and their daughter Antoinette are buried at Calvary Cemetery (Marie married into the Royére family and is buried in their plot at Angelus Rosedale; I have been unable to locate a gravesite for John).

The 1900 census indicates that the Ballade family had boarders - one of whom was Edward Naud Jr. He was of French parentage, and you'll read more about him later.

It isn't clear when the Ballades sold the Pico House, but Pascal did pass away in 1904, not too long after the business district moved further away, leading to the neighborhood's decline. I am sure the Ballade family would have sold it with no regrets at that point. The State of California has owned the Pico House since 1953.

It is interesting to note that Felix Signoret's business block stood opposite Pico House. Like Ballade, Signoret took in boarders and owned a saloon, held down a regular job as well, and was a City Councilman. Signoret was also the leader of the lynch mob that finally took down Michel Lachenais in 1870...and the Pico House is VERY close to the site of the Chinese Massacre of 1871.

The Pico House itself hosted a temporary exhibition on Los Angeles' lost French community from December 3, 2007 to January 13, 2008. Pioneers and Entrepreneurs: French Immigrants in the Making of L.A. 1827-1927 was presented by the nonprofit foundation FLAX (France Los Angeles eXchange), with the support of the French Consulate. Although the exhibition lasted less than six weeks, an accompanying book was published (I did find one factual error, but the book is nonetheless an excellent primer on LA's forgotten French colony). What are you waiting for? Go read it!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Wake Up, Sheeple! Part 2: The Sentous Brothers and LA Live

It's hard to believe that the pocket of downtown containing the LA Convention Center, Staples Center, and LA Live was ever quiet and rural. Back in the pueblo days, this land was on the outskirts of town and populated by Californio families.

But that changed when two brothers arrived - separately - from the French region of Haute-Garonne in the 1850s.

Louis Sentous, born in 1840**, came to California in 1853 to do some gold prospecting (there were a few smaller gold rushes after the big one) before moving to LA. Before long, he was raising cattle, selling dairy products, and running a butcher shop.

Louis married Bernath "Bernadette" Lasere, who was also from Haut-Garonne, in 1871 or 1872 (it isn't clear which date is correct). Their son Julius John was born in December of that year, followed by Marie-Louise (1873), Narcisse (February 1880), and Adele (December 1880).

I should note that some sources cite Louis arriving in 1871. However, there is plenty of evidence he was in California in 1853 and for years after. I surmise Louis traveled home to France to get married (it's possible he needed to find a bride; there weren't many single women in LA back then) and the census taker may have mistakenly put down 1871 as the year of arrival for both Louis and Bernadette.

The Sentous Brothers Ranch was near modern-day Jefferson and Western and may have been established as early as 1860. Their cattle are long gone; today, two fried-chicken chains, a bus stop, and a car wash can be found at Jefferson and Western.

In 1874, Louis moved his family to a farm in Calabasas. They moved back in 1877 (given that Miguel Leonis controlled much of Calabasas in the 1870s, who can blame them?). Louis owned the farm until he sold it in 1884, retiring to his home on Olive Street opposite what is now Pershing Square (the exact address isn't clear, but he would most likely have lived next to Remi Nadeau).

The 1883 city directory lists the L. Sentous and Co. butcher shop at the corner of Aliso Street and Los Angeles Street. However, the business prospered well enough that Louis set up the first meatpacking house in Los Angeles. The Sentous meatpacking plant (close to modern-day Culver City) was large enough that it was a stop on the Pacific Electric Railway's fabled Balloon Route, and the plant was the subject of at least one postcard image (more info here). Sentous Station was demolished long ago, but its location is still used as the La Cienega/Jefferson stop on the Expo Line.

Louis Sentous Sr. died in 1911.

Jean Guillaume Sentous, born in 1836, was a dairy farmer and wool rancher. He arrived in Los Angeles in 1854, 1856, or 1860 (sources disagree) after a stint in mining up in Calaveras County.

In 1867, Jean married Maria Theodora Casanova, born in Costa Rica to Spanish parents, at the Plaza Church. They had eight children - Narcisse (born 1868), Louis Jr. (born 1869), Francois (born 1871), Camille (born 1873), Heloise (born 1873*), Louisa (born 1876), Emely (sometimes written as Emila; born 1878), and Adele (born 1880).

There were two more Sentous brothers - Alphonse, born in 1850, and Pierre-Marie, whose birth year seems to be lost to history. Alphonse likely arrived later (there is no record of him in California until 1873), and Pierre remained in France. Little else seems to be known about either of them.

Like many other early residents who were able to buy land before the real estate boom of the 1880s, the Sentous brothers had considerable holdings, including a building block. The Sentous Block at 617 N. Main Street, built by Louis in 1886, housed both apartments and shops. In fact, former governor Pio Pico spent his last few years in an apartment in the Sentous Block (needless to say, he'd had some money troubles).

Jean Sentous established a dairy farm in 1856, on land bordered by Main, Washington, Grand, and 21st Streets. The land exchanged hands a few times and eventually became Chutes Park, one of LA's first amusement parks, in 1900 (sadly, in typical fashion, LAist neglected to mention the French guy who owned the land before that hotelier did).

There was a Sentous Tract, divided by Jean in 1861 and bordered by Pico, Georgia, Eleventh, and Sentous Street. The Sentous Street School was built at 1205 W. Pico in 1912, and later renamed Sentous Junior High School (the campus doubled as a night school).

Although Jean preferred family life to public life, he served as President of the French Benevolent Society for many years.

Jean died in 1903 at age 67 in his home at 834 West 16th Street (the 800 block of West 16th Street no longer exists). His funeral was held at St. Vincent's and he was buried at Calvary Cemetery. The funeral procession was the largest Los Angeles had ever seen (at least as of 2007, when this fact was cited in historian Helene Demeestre's Pioneers and Entrepreneurs).

Jean's son Louis Sentous Jr., who was just as popular as his gregarious father and uncle, was educated in Los Angeles public schools and St. Vincent's College before spending five years in France, attending the Seminary of Polignan and the Government College in St. Gaudens. Upon returning, he re-enrolled in St. Vincent's (which we know today as Loyola Marymount University) and graduated. Louis Jr. married Louise Amestoy, also from a notable French family (I will cover the Amestoys at a later date) in 1895.

Louis Jr. was President of the Franco American Baking Company for some time, developed real estate with his brother Camille, and served as LA's French consul for many years. (Demeestre mistakenly - but understandably - lists Louis Jr. as Louis' son. Birth records and Jean's newspaper obituary make it clear that Louis Jr. was in fact Jean's son.) Louis Sentous Jr. held several offices in the French Benevolent Society and was the Society's President for thirteen years, during which time the Society's membership more than doubled. In 1912, the French government made him a decorated officer of the French Academy for his years of service.

The Sentous family wasn't immune to trouble. In 1907, Louis Jr. and Camille were threatened by a deranged laborer, Quentin Prima, who demanded their assistance in courting their wealthy widowed aunt. Fortunately, Prima was promptly arrested.

Of Jean's other children, we know that Frank became an engineer, Narcisse bounced back home after a divorce, Adele and Louisa got married but Heloise did not (in the grand tradition of French women living very long lives, Adele died at age 90 in 1971), and poor Emely died when she was only 15.

The Sentous Block - incredibly - managed to survive until 1957. When it was finally slated for demolition (to build - what else? - another parking lot), Christine Sterling, the "Mother of Olvera Street", was so heartbroken that she put on mourning attire and hung a huge black wreath on the building's center door (as you can see in the picture below).

(Image courtesy of USC's digital library.)

Mrs. Sterling lamented "I had always hoped that the Sentous Building would be included in the city, county and state's plans to restore the Plaza area. But it looks like another part of our past is going to be carried away in a truck." (Emphasis mine. If Mrs. Sterling could see modern-day LA, she would probably be inconsolable.)

Sentous Junior High School closed in 1932, after only 20 years of teaching children (and adults). As the city expanded westward in the 1930s, more and more families moved out of downtown. The school was not demolished until 1969.

The rest of the Sentous Tract was cleared out and demolished around the same time to build (drumroll please...) a parking facility for the Convention Center. The Staples Center and LA Live came later. (On a personal note, I was harassed at LA Live by a racist scumbag who took issue with my beret and my ethnicity. I felt threatened enough that I didn't stick around to say hi to second opening band The Dollyrots, even though I love them - I bolted for the parking garage and beat it straight back to my apartment across town. That was in 2010 and I still remember it like it was yesterday. I'm never, EVER going to a Screeching Weasel show again.)

As for Sentous Street, it was renamed LA Live Way.

A few of LA's streets still bear the family's name. City of Industry boasts both a Sentous Avenue and a Sentous Street, and West Covina has its own Sentous Avenue. (Given later freeway construction and the proximity of the two Sentous Avenues, they may at one time have been portions of one continuous street.)

*Camille and Heloise were, according to existing records, born just six weeks apart. It isn't clear if this is the result of a clerical error or unlikely medical circumstances, or if either child could have been adopted.

**Multiple sources say Louis was born in 1848, but others, including his grave marker, indicate a birth year of 1840. Since young children don't normally go to a faraway country alone at age five, 1840 seems far more likely. Emigrating alone as a younger teenager would not have been that unusual for the 19th century (case in point: one of my great-grandfathers emigrated alone at age 14, lived in boarding houses until he got married, and - if his birth family was even still alive - never saw any of them again).