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.