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.)

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