Wednesday, December 5, 2018

J.B. Leonis' Prized Whiskey On the Auction Block

I've said it before and I'll say it again: LA's hidden French history is filled with great stories you just can't make up.

Beret-tip to the anonymous reader who tipped me off about an upcoming Christie's auction. Specifically, Christie's is auctioning off Jean-Baptiste Leonis' secret stash of rare and valuable pre-Prohibition whiskey.

Before co-founding the City of Vernon and its eponymous bank, J.B. founded a store that sold, among other things, liquor (the city of Los Angeles was officially "dry" at the time). In Vernon's earliest days, while J.B. and the Furlong brothers were courting industrial tenants, the city's country club and bars were popular destinations for drinkers. But, as Prohibition loomed, J.B. secretly built hidden vaults in both of his homes for his beloved whiskey. As a banker, it wouldn't have been hard for him to obtain bank vault doors for the spaces. And no one knew...until J.B.'s grandson Leonis Malburg passed away in 2017, more than a century after J.B. secretly hid over 40 cases (!) of Hermitage, Old Crow, and more.

The auction is this Friday, December 7 in New York (click the link - they have a GREAT photo of J.B.'s hidden stash from the Leonis family's Hancock Park home*). Hint: jump to page 122 of the auction catalogue. If anyone goes, I'd love to hear about it.

Fellow Angelenos, this is your chance to own a very unique piece of LA's forgotten French history. Individual bottles are expected to go for roughly the same amount of money that my car is worth, so I'm definitely out!

*The second vault was at the Leonis family's Little Tujunga ranch. I believe the Huntington Harbour beach house was built MUCH later.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Early French Restauranteurs of Los Angeles: Victor Dol

Los Angeles is, for many foodies, a dream destination.

Year-round access to good fresh produce (and good wine)? Check. 
One of the most ethnically and culturally diverse cities in the world? Check.
Relatively affordable rent (compared to Tokyo, Paris, London, New York, San Francisco, etc.)? If you don't mind a strip mall location, check.
Friendly to food trucks? Check. (By the way, food trucks are often cleaner than brick-and-mortar restaurants.)
Chefs of all backgrounds applying French cooking techniques? According to the late Jonathan Gold, check.

The first chefs in Los Angeles to apply French cooking techniques were, of course, French. And the first LA-based chef to have trained in Paris was a Frenchman named Victor Dol.

Victor Dol was born April 5, 1840 in the southern French town of Cuers. After training as a chef in Paris, he came to the United States in 1860. Victor married his first wife, Felicie Malvardi, in 1862. Like Victor, Felicie was from the region of Var. They had two daughters - Josephine in 1864 and Victorine in 1870. The Dol family must have moved around quite a bit in those early days, since Josephine was born in Cuba and Victorine was born in British Columbia, Canada.

Census and voter records indicate that Victor came to San Francisco first, establishing the upscale restaurant Maison Dorée (which was likely named after the Parisian restaurant Maison Dorée). He became a naturalized citizen there in 1876, and set up shop in Los Angeles in 1877. 

Felicie's uncle, Benjamin Flotte, was already living in Los Angeles and running the Oriental Café (don't let the name fool you - the menu was strictly European) with another Frenchman, one C. Casson, and a Prussian, H. Schmitt. (The Oriental Café stood at 221 Main Street, directly across from the Pico House.) Flotte helped his nephew-in-law get his first LA restaurant off the ground (and, at least for a time, lived with the Dol family). 

Victor owned a restaurant in the Downey Block at one point (no surprise here, since the Downey Block also hosted a French-owned wine store and a French-language newspaper). He founded the Restaurant Français at 221 N Main St in 1886. But he is best known (in Los Angeles, anyway) for the Commercial Restaurant.

Imagine, if you can, going to the Commercial Restaurant in 1877. Longtime Angelenos of the day would likely still remember the not-distant-enough days of dirty, primitive eateries like Jean La Rue's. Although the Commercial Restaurant was about three blocks away from La Rue's former location, it couldn't have been further from La Rue's in spirit.

If you were coming from the older part of Frenchtown, you would be walking southwest on Main Street (make that same walk today and you would pass behind City Hall). You come to a gap between two buildings and walk in.

A brick-lined courtyard with a decorative fountain beckons, with the restaurant itself just behind. It has real floors - not dirt. Sneak a peek around you as you dine on fine French cuisine and you may well spot opera stars, politicians, well-heeled visitors from the East Coast, and the celebrities of the era in addition to early LA's foodie crowd.

Curiously, Victor Dol and Eugene Aune were both from the town of Cuers. While going through digitized old issues of the Los Angeles Herald, I found an advertisement for the Commercial Restaurant - directly above an advertisement for Eugene's Restaurant. History doesn't seem to have recorded whether Dol and Aune were friends, rivals, or friendly rivals, or if the ad placement was deliberate, but apparently early LA had a high enough demand for fine French cuisine to support Eugene's in addition to Victor's restaurants.

Although the restaurant industry is very tough, it made the hardworking Dol family rich (besides Victor's restaurants, Felicie took in boarders). Victor sold the Commercial Restaurant to Mr. L. Pegot (founder of a San Diego branch of Delmonico's) in January 1888, announcing his retirement. But (shades of Prudent Beaudry) 48-year-old Victor didn't stay retired for very long.

On January 5, 1889, Victor opened a Los Angeles location of his upscale San Francisco restaurant, Maison Dorée. He proudly advertised it as a Los Angeles equivalent of famed New York restaurant Delmonico's. Daily shipments of live turbot, trout, and sole arrived at Maison Dorée, and Victor imported brie from France (local cheeses just wouldn't do). 

No family is immune to tragedy, and Felicie Dol passed away in 1898 at the age of 58. Victor later married a woman named Tatiana who was 19 years younger than he was.

Victor died at home in Venice (it isn't clear when the Dols moved) in 1911, leaving an estate valued at $625,000. That's about $16.7 million in 2018 dollars. (Try buying Venice real estate for $625,000 now!)

Perhaps unusually for such a successful entrepreneur, Victor Dol was a Socialist. (At the risk of roasting my own subject, Victor might possibly have been a Champagne Socialist in both the figurative and literal senses.) According to probate filings, he left $15,000 to purchase a plot of land in Toulouse, France and construct a building to be donated to a Socialist organization that would be chosen by two trustees he had selected.

As for the rest of that sizable estate, Victor left $6000, plus $1200 a year in rent on two commercial properties downtown (between 6th and 7th on Spring and Broadway), to his widow Tatiana, along with the couple's two lots in Venice. 

The French Hospital received $5000 of Victor's estate, and the Los Angeles County Pioneers' Society received $2000. The rest of Victor's estate was to be split evenly between daughters Josephine and Victorine. Victor is buried at Angelus Rosedale with both of his wives (Tatiana passed away in 1934).

Victor's death announcement in the Los Angeles Herald notes an unusual request: "A clause in the will is to the effect that the dead man desires that the property he leaves never shall be mortgaged nor sold." His descendants seem to have honored that request. 618 South Broadway, built in 1928 on one of the Dols' downtown plots, was the only downtown building destroyed in the 1992 riots. Victor's grandson-in-law, Walter J. Thomson, spent at least $2.5 million rebuilding 618 South Broadway from old photographs and renamed it the Victor Dol Building, noting to the Los Angeles Times that his young granddaughters (Victor's great-great-granddaughters) would eventually inherit the property. 

On a personal note, I almost fell off my chair when I saw the address. I've walked past the Victor Dol Building countless times on my way to Clifton's or a historic theater and NEVER knew it had a French connection. (By the way, I am VERY good at spotting new construction made to look older. The fact that the reconstructed Victor Dol Building looks just as old as Broadway's vintage theaters is a testament to the fact that Thomson cared enough to have it done right.)

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Early French Restauranteurs of Los Angeles: Eugene Aune

Before we begin:

  • Wildfires are still raging in the Calabasas/Malibu/Thousand Oaks area. If you want to help, and aren't a trained volunteer firefighter, first responder, or similarly qualified professional, please read this.
  • Can you adopt or foster evacuated animals? Click here. (If you have the land and resources,  large animals are the hardest ones to place.)
  • Are you in a fire-adjacent area? Set out buckets of water if you can. Wild animals are also fleeing - they will be hot and thirsty, and their usual water sources may be unavailable.
  • In case this isn't clear enough, I hate wildfires.

And now to lighten the mood:

Eugene Aune was doing the "farm to table" thing when Los Angeles was less than 100 years old.

He also set up shop in Santa Monica before Santa Monica existed and built Santa Monica's first combination home and business. (Le Guide states that it was Santa Monica's first house, period.)

Born in France around 1828, Eugene Aune built a house/restaurant in 1873, not far from Santa Monica State Beach. The town of Santa Monica did not yet exist. The mere fact that Aune managed to attract customers to a restaurant 17 miles from downtown, in the middle of nowhere, long before the 10 and the Expo Line existed, suggests it was a destination worth the trip.

When Santa Monica was founded in 1875, Aune's house/restaurant got an official address: 114 Main Street. Listings from the 1880s put Eugene's Restaurant, as it was called, at the corner of Second Street and Arizona Avenue (today, that intersection boasts a Tender Greens).

Ever wonder why artichokes, of all things, are such a staple of Southern California cuisine? Aune may very well have gotten the ball rolling. He grew his own artichokes (and other vegetables), serving them in the restaurant. Aune would also serve fish and razor clams fresh from Santa Monica Bay, followed by roasted meat, salad, and an omelet or soufflé for dessert. And wine, of course. Advertisements for Eugene's Restaurant mention "French Clarets and other wines always on hand." Madame Aune* waited tables. Eugene's high-end French dinners set diners back $3 apiece (about $60 today).

Advertisements for Eugene's Restaurant also mention "Rooms, furnished or unfurnished, to rent." Like so many other French Angelenos, Aune eventually rented rooms in addition to his day job. (The restaurant industry is brutal. Chez Panisse didn't turn a profit for 20 years.)

By 1886, voter rolls listed Aune's occupation as "real estate". Towards the end of the year, he placed his restaurant on the rental market.

Eugene Aune passed away in 1892.

My mom is from Santa Monica. Did she learn about any of this in school? Nope.

I lived and worked in Santa Monica. Did anyone tell me any of this? Nope.

Does anyone remember Eugene Aune today? Nope. But if you love LA's world-class culinary scene, maybe you should.

*It's annoyingly common to find no reference to a long-dead married woman's first name, let alone her family name. Even Ancestry let me down this time.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Early French Restauranteurs of Los Angeles: Jean La Rue (Laroux)

The French, whether in France or abroad, are known for a lot of things.

Sophistication. Military might (fight me on this, Google). Knowing how to beautify anything and everything.

The French are best known, however, for culinary prowess. It should come as no surprise that early Los Angeles' best restaurants were helmed by French chefs.

Today, we meet one of LA's earliest French restauranteurs, if not THE earliest: Jean La Rue (or Laroux).

In 1853, nineteen-year-old Harris Newmark, newly arrived in Los Angeles, was clerking for his merchant brother J.P. and sleeping on the premises. Cooking inside the store was impossible, so Newmark arranged to eat at a nearby restaurant instead.

Newmark gives the proprietor's name as John La Rue. If La Rue's establishment had a name, it certainly doesn't appear in Sixty Years in Southern California. (Nameless restaurants were not impossible in Los Angeles; Nick's Cafe near Chinatown didn't have a name for the first few decades of its existence.)

La Rue was born in France, came to California as a gold prospector, tried prospecting in Mazatlan, and returned to the United States after being robbed twice in Mexico. Upon arriving in Los Angeles, La Rue met and married an Irish woman, Bridget Johnson, in spite of the fact that he spoke no English and she spoke no French. He then opened his restaurant "on the east side of Los Angeles Street, about two hundred feet south of Bell's Row." (If it existed today, it would be roughly at the corner of Los Angeles and Aliso Streets, just west of the 101 in the Civic Center.)

In Newmark's own words:

Nothing in Los Angeles, perhaps, has ever been cruder than this popular eating-place. The room, which faced the street, had a mud-floor and led to the kitchen through a narrow opening. Half a dozen cheap wooden tables, each provided with two chairs, stood against the walls.

(A real dirt floor and a dining room facing the street? Hipsters would have loved La Rue's.)
 The tablecloths were generally dirty, and the knives and forks, as well as the furniture, were of the homeliest kind. The food made up in portions what it lacked in quality, and the diner rarely had occasion to leave the place hungry.
(Sounds like any greasy-spoon in America, to be honest.)
What went most against my grain was the slovenliness of the proprietor himself. Flies were very thick in the summer months; and one day I found a big fellow splurging in my bowl of soup. This did not, however, faze John La Rue. Seeing the struggling insect, he calmly dipped his coffee-colored fingers into the hot liquid and, quite as serenely, drew out the fly; and although one could not then be as fastidious as nowadays, I nevertheless found it impossible to eat the soup.
(I loathe and resent the "grubby French person" stereotype - indoor plumbing began at Versailles, you know - so it pains me to type this.)

Jean La Rue died five years later from smoke inhalation when a fire broke out on Main Street. Bridget Johnson La Rue inherited her husband's orange grove and (what else...) vineyard.

In spite of his critical eye toward La Rue's questionable hygiene and rather dirty café, Newmark notes "Although La Rue was in no sense an eminent citizen, it is certain that he was esteemed and mourned."

Stay tuned for entries on Victor Dol, Eugene Aune, and more...

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Exactly How Big was LA's French Community?

One estimate puts LA's historic French community at a mere 2 percent. Another estimate puts the figure at a whopping 20 percent - one out of every five Angelenos.

That's a pretty big discrepancy.

So which figure is closer to the truth?

I will, at some point, dig through census records and count all the French, Quebecois, French-speaking Swiss, and French-speaking Belgians (and their descendants). But for now, I'll share a rough approximation.

I recently read John W. Robinson's Los Angeles in Civil War Days. Robinson states "Foreigners make up a small but significant part of the population. Largest is the French community numbering more than 400, many engaged in wine-making." On the preceding page, Robinson states that the 1860 census counted 4,399 Angelenos.

"More than 400" out of 4,399 people. Robinson doesn't specify whether his "more than 400" figure included people of mixed French descent (i.e. Marcelina Leonis, who was half Chumash) or the American-born descendants of French Angeleno families.

Until I have time to go over the 1860 census myself (thank goodness for, I feel comfortable saying French Angelenos accounted for about 10 percent of LA's 1860 population.

One out of every ten people.

That's an awful lot of people to just disappear from LA's narrative.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Whatever Happened to the French Benevolent Society? (Part 2)

For two and a half years, I have been trying to unravel the mystery of what happened to the French Benevolent Society. Read Part 1 here.

Most sources refer to the entity that founded the former French Hospital simply as the French Benevolent Society. In one of my older books, the French version of the FBS' name - Societé Française de Bienfaisance Mutuelle de Los Angeles - appears, interchangeably with its English counterpart.

Thanks to one of my readers (beret-tip to James Lawson, again), I found out that Societé Française de Bienfaisance Mutuelle de Los Angeles is, or was, technically a separate organization. And it was the legal owner of the French Hospital site.

I know very little about the business end of nonprofit organizations, so I'm a little out of my element here. Bear with me, I'm trying.

There is a little information out there on the Societé Française de Bienfaisance Mutuelle de Los Angeles, but again, it's left me with more questions than answers.

The Societé Française de Bienfaisance Mutuelle de Los Angeles' address is identical to the FBS' address. I sent a letter to that address two months ago, via certified mail. I have never received a response, and the tracking number doesn't work on USPS' website. Presumably, the address has been defunct for some time. I'm guessing neither entity elected to have mail forwarded to a new address, either. Which seems really strange, since property sales often have straggling bits of paperwork to finish. (I'm a notary. I handle property transfers frequently, so I know this from personal experience.)

I'm no expert, but the Societé's income-to-expenses ratio seems unusually high. See for yourself. If this were a balance sheet for a publicly traded company, I doubt I would be buying the stock.

There is/was some investment income...but from what? And where has it gone all these years? Is there a forensic accountant in the house?

What happened to the Societé/FBS' charitable spirit? Zero charities supported and zero dollars donated (at least in 2014)? Really? Someone please tell me there's more to the story.

The Societé/FBS sure has shrunk (except for its income...). At least as late as 2014, there was still a nine-member board (a tradition dating to 1860). But only two employees? And apparently NO members (since there were no membership fees collected, going back at least as far as 2002)? Somewhere in the great beyond, Louis Sentous Jr. is quietly crying into a glass of Georges Le Mesnager's best wine.

I may finally have a usable lead. I have an address and I am going to try sending another letter. Who knows, I may finally get a response.

Wish me luck...

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Whatever Happened to the French Benevolent Society? (Part 1)

I started this blog in May of 2016.

Since then, I have come into contact with quite a few history buffs, preservationists, and French Southern Californians. I have been asked, plenty of times, if I've ever reached out to the French Benevolent Society, the entity responsible for the alpha and omega of this blog - the French Hospital and its Jeanne d'Arc statue.

I tried. Dear readers, I swear to you that I tried. And I have the certified mail receipts to prove it.

When the old French Hospital was sold again, I was able to track down Jeanne d'Arc within a few days. Tracking down the property's longtime owners, the French Benevolent Society, has been a very different story.

Internet searches for the French Benevolent Society didn't yield a website, directory listing, or contact information. It did, however, lead me to the California Secretary of State's website, which allows users to access some information on business and nonprofit entities.

A search for the FBS yielded two results: the French Benevolent Society of California and the French Hospital Benevolent Fund of Los Angeles. Both entities had their corporate status listed as "suspended".

There had to be more information. I ran a small business; I know from experience that they generate a paper trail. Logically, a bigger, older corporation had to have more information floating around out there somewhere.

I submitted a request for ALL of the filings the Secretary of State had for both entities. That went surprisingly well*. The Secretary of State's office fulfilled my requests pretty quickly, and even gave me a courtesy phone call to let me know there would be a delay on the French Hospital Benevolent Fund's filings because they'd been moved to archives long ago.

In the end, there wasn't much paperwork on either entity, and what I do have raised more questions than it answered.

The French Benevolent Society, founded in 1860, became a corporation in 1959. It was granted tax-exempt status by the Franchise Tax Board on the grounds that it was a social welfare organization. Okay, fine, that seems pretty normal.

The only other document on file for the FBS was a Certificate of Status indicating that "...the California Franchise Tax Board suspended the entity's powers, rights and privileges on April 03, 1972, pursuant to the provisions of the California Revenue and Taxation Code..."

The French Hospital Benevolent Fund, founded in 1947, had in its Articles of Incorporation a stated purpose of funding and aiding the French Hospital. It, too, was granted tax-exempt status. And it, too, was suspended.

Both the French Benevolent Society of California and the French Hospital Benevolent Fund had their "powers, rights, and privileges" suspended on the same day - April 3, 1972 - "pursuant to the provisions of the California Revenue and Taxation Code".

While this was going on, I found a physical address in Chinatown for the French Benevolent Society and sent them a letter, asking if I could interview someone from the organization for this blog. I sent the letter via certified mail, enclosing a self-addressed, metered envelope with a certified mail label already attached (I also included my email address and phone number). I wanted to reduce the risk of my letter getting "lost in the mail" as much as possible, and certification does help with that.

Whenever I try to track either certified mail label number, I get an error message. From considerable experience in dealing with the post office, I'd wager my letter is sitting in a dead letter office (I sent it nearly two months ago, so if it were going to be returned to sender, it should have made its way back to me by now).

It's very hard to provide answers on this blog when you can't get anyone to answer your questions. I have a few theories, but since I can't prove or disprove them, I won't share them at this point.

Especially since I now have more questions than when I started.

Why were there TWO corporate entities attached to a single hospital facility? I understand major corporations being made up of several smaller ones, but this was ONE hospital, in a city that was sizable but nowhere near as big as it is now (and not many people lived downtown in the postwar era).

Why did BOTH entities have their "rights, powers, and privileges" suspended? Why was it on the same day? This is why I, a few entries ago, asked if any of my readers had a legal background. I had hoped that someone who understands business law and/or tax law might be able to offer some insight. As for the shared date, I don't believe in coincidences.

Both suspensions dated to 1972. How, exactly, does a suspended business entity manage to keep a working hospital open until 1989 - an additional 17 YEARS? This is what baffles me the most. It doesn't make any sense at all. Knowing that the hospital's 125th anniversary party in 1985 was a big public event that featured a presentation from then-Mayor Tom Bradley just makes this even weirder.

What, exactly, has the FBS been doing since the hospital changed hands in 1989? The FBS was concerned with the public good, regularly holding fundraisers and an annual picnic. In recent years, its name has only been in the newspaper in regards to the hospital's closure and sale.

What, exactly, happened to the $33 MILLION dollars that the FBS made selling off the hospital site? Obviously, $33 million is a LOT of money. It can't have vanished into thin air.

If someone from the French Benevolent Society sees this, PLEASE contact me so I can get your side of the story. I promise there will be no tricks, judgment, or aggressive tactics. I'm not an investigative reporter, I'm a nerd with a blog. I just want to know what happened.

*I'm a notary. The California Secretary of State is technically my boss. After some negative experiences dealing with various government offices over the years, I was quite proud to be connected to one that did something right!

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Let's Take a Living History Tour!

Recently, I was contacted by the West Adams Heritage Association regarding their annual Living History Tour of Angelus Rosedale Cemetery.

This year's tour theme is The Immigrant's Story. Several noteworthy French Angelenos are interred at Angelus Rosedale, and I was honored to provide my input on Jean-Louis Sainsevain for this year's tour.

If you live in West Adams, check your recent WAHA just might find a biography of Sainsevain's ill-fated business partner, Damien Marchesseault, first published here by yours truly and reprinted with my permission.

Get your tickets now for tours on Sunday, September 23. If you take one of the midday tours and see a pale brunette with a guillotine-blade necklace, come say hi!

Monday, September 3, 2018

Welcome to Frenchtown...Washington!

Los Angeles was far from the only place in the United States to have its own French settlement.

The cities of St. Louis, Detroit, Green Bay, Mobile, and Biloxi were founded by French settlers (if I'm forgetting any, please comment below). There was a French settlement in Florida. Louisiana's French roots run even deeper than my hatred of ketchup.

Oh, and if you're ever in Walla Walla, Washington, you can visit the Frenchtown Historic Site.

Robert Foxcurran, one of my readers who lives in Seattle, asked me to send this poster for the upcoming Frenchtown Rendezvous to any interested parties. I don't know anyone else with ties to the Pacific Northwest, so I'm giving it a signal boost here instead. Please send this to anyone who might want to attend (October 6 in Walla Walla, WA). I had to shrink and screenshot the poster to insert it, so if anyone wants the full-size version, email losfrangeles (at) gmail (dot) com and I'll forward you the original file.

Genealogy geeks take note: there will be a workshop on writing family histories. A separate registration is required (buy Rendezvous tickets here). And don't forget: check the weather before you go. Apparently Washington has something called "rain".

Friday, August 31, 2018

Felix Signoret: Barber, Councilman...and Vigilante

Felix Signoret

Regular readers may recall that, two years ago, I wrote about the violent life and death of Michel Lachenais. Today, we meet the leader of the lynch mob that finally put a stop to his misdeeds. (Beret-tip to reader Bob Edberg, who referred me to this picture.)

Felix Signoret was born June 9, 1825 in Marseilles, France. He arrived in California in 1856, becoming a naturalized citizen a year later, and married Paris-born Catherine Pazzan in 1858. They had five children - Rosa, Anne, Caroline, Louise, and Felix. Tragically, baby Felix only lived for a month. Louise fared little better, passing away at four months of age.

For some time, the only barber in Los Angeles who catered to non-Spanish clients was Peter Biggs. Although Biggs was clever and entrepreneurial, he had no talent for cutting hair. When Signoret, a massive, ham-fisted man who happened to be a very good barber, set up shop in town, Biggs initially reduced his prices and wound up changing jobs.

Signoret established a fine barbershop and invested his earnings in a saloon, billiard hall (LA was still the Wild West, after all), and in time, his own business block. Per the ads in the Jan. 5, 1876 edition of the Los Angeles Herald, tenants included multilingual physician Dr. J. Luppo and V. Chevalier's French drugstore (we'll meet Chevalier again later). Signoret Block, with hotel rooms on the upper floors and retail space at street level, opened in 1874 and stood at 15 Main Street opposite the Pico House. It boasted brick construction (which was not cheap) and - something very rare for Los Angeles - a mansard roof.
Signoret Building
1876 view of Main Street. Signoret Building on the right.

Also boasting brick construction and a mansard roof was the Signoret family home, built in 1871 at 125 Aliso Street (in the heart of Frenchtown; where else?).

Signoret was elected to the Common Council (now the City Council) in 1863 and served on the County Board of Supervisors in 1866. Oh, and he was also very active in the local Vigilance Committee. At one point, he even threatened to hang two attorneys who frequently secured acquittals for murderers.

Let me be VERY clear: I DO NOT condone vigilante justice. Due process of law exists for good reasons, and vigilantes have killed innocent people. That said, there is a reason someone like Signoret would join the Vigilance Committee in the first place.

Early Los Angeles was pretty much lawless. Forget what you've heard about Tombstone, Deadwood, and Virginia City - Los Angeles was the toughest of the tough frontier towns. John Mack Faragher, Yale professor and author of Eternity Street, tallied 468 substantiated homicides between 1830 and 1874 (at a time when LA County's population grew from under 1,000 to about 6,000). And Los Angeles - with only a sheriff and some deputies - was ill-equipped to deal with its high levels of crime.

Michel Lachenais was a particularly nasty piece of work - murdering an unarmed man at a wake, beating one of his vineyard workers to death and covering it up, shooting a man in the face (the victim survived but was blinded), and, finally, murdering one of the owners of the farm next to his after an argument.

Previously, Lachenais had gotten away with his crimes. But he was clearly a dangerous man, and his antics were extremely embarrassing to the town's law-abiding French community. When he was finally arrested for the murder of Jacob Bell, vigilantes (many of them French-speaking) took notice.

Lachenais' arraignment was postponed for three days in the hopes that the vigilantes would calm down. It didn't work.

The vigilantes met at Stearns' Hall, named Felix Signoret the committee president, reviewed Lachenais' violent life, and decided that Lachenais should hang for his crimes.

On the day of the arraignment, Signoret led the Vigilance Committee to the jail. The mob overpowered Sheriff Burns and his deputies, dragged Lachenais to a nearby corral gate, and hanged him.

Many, many people have taken the law into their own hands when the justice system failed to secure any actual justice. Signoret wasn't the only respected civilian to participate in lynchings when the law failed to convict a known murderer.

Why did Signoret (and, for that matter, the rest of the mob) face no consequences? Judge Sepulveda, who was fed up with lynchings, asked the Grand Jury to investigate and indict the mob's leaders. The Grand Jury concluded that if the court had done its job the first time Lachenais committed murder, the lynching would never have taken place.

The death of Michel Lachenais was the very last lynching committed in California. The Chinese Massacre the following year qualifies as a race riot. (Incidentally, the Vigilance Committee - which still had Signoret as one of its leaders - issued a statement making it quite clear that they were NOT responsible for the brutal attack that left eighteen Chinese dead - and that they had, in fact, organized to stop the riot.)

Signoret and a business partner, Le Prince, had a bank exchange at Arcadia and Main (per the 1875 city directory).

Signoret passed away in 1878 after a long battle with edema and was survived by daughters Rosa, Anne, and Caroline (Catherine had passed away in 1877). The Signorets are buried together in Calvary Cemetery, along with their children Felix and Louise.

As for the Signorets' elegant home on Aliso Street, it was later a brothel.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

S'il Vous Plaît: Need Your Help, Readers!

Dear Readers:

I don't like to ask for help quite this often (in all fairness, the disappearance of Jeanne d'Arc DID make me panic). But I have two very important requests.

First: are there any attorneys, or at least a law student or two, in the house? I'm trying to solve a mystery and have a few questions about business-related law. I'll guest-list you for whatever my next event ends up being. Email losfrangeles (at) gmail (dot) com if you can spare a few minutes. (On the subject of events, if anyone is looking for a speaker, I do have some weekend availability throughout the year.)

Second: my next LAVA Sunday Salon, along with all other Sunday Salons, has been postponed until further notice. But, it's for a good reason - the organizers are hard at work on getting Times Mirror Square landmarked. Which means they could really use some extra help saving other threatened historic sites around LA. Send a letter, send an email, sign a petition, make a phone call - please just take a few minutes to do something. (If I hear anything on how you can help protect Times Mirror Square specifically, I'll update this entry.)

Times Mirror Square's location does hold some significance relevant to this blog: the land was previously owned by sheep baron Pierre Larronde (who had a business block there), and the Nadeau Hotel previously stood on the site. Both the Larronde block and Nadeau Hotel were torn down in the 1930s to make way for the Times building. It especially annoys me that pretty much everything Remi Nadeau built has fallen to the wrecking ball. But what's done is done, and it doesn't make the Times building any less important.

Merci beaucoup!

C.C. de V.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Hang In There, Joan*

How do you make a nerdy history blogger panic? Make her favorite landmark disappear.

A couple of days ago, I reported that the Jeanne d'Arc statue that has stood outside the French Hospital since 1964 had been removed.

An overlooked statue without any historic/cultural monument status, representing a little-known, largely-vanished community, outside a defunct hospital facility. Those are not promising odds. Those are especially not promising odds in Los Angeles, which is notorious for eating its own history on a regular basis.

Would poor Jeanne end up in a scrap heap? Would she be dumped and forgotten in a cavernous warehouse like the one at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark? For three days, I couldn't stop worrying about her.

I am relieved to report that although Jeanne has been removed from the site she occupied for 54 years, she is safe.

Some of the information I have requested is very likely to take at least a couple of weeks to make its way to me. But I'll share what I do know.

The French Benevolent Society, which retained ownership of the land underneath the hospital when it became Pacific Alliance Medical Center, recently sold the entire site.** Presumably, the new owners had no use for Jeanne.

I reached out to the FBS' representative in the sale. I was told that the statue had been donated to Children's Hospital.

I contacted Children's Hospital to confirm this. They don't yet have any plans for Jeanne, but did confirm that they have the statue and will keep me posted.

Hang in there, Jeanne. We'll see you again, old friend.

*Yes, that was a Frozen reference. My blog, my rules.

**The FBS paid $5,000 for the hospital site (four lots totaling 2.5 acres) in 1869. The site sold for $33 MILLION. I heard Chinatown property values were higher than ever, but!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Where Is Jeanne d'Arc? Où Est Jeanne d'Arc?



One French national hero. Female, age 54. Approximately 10 feet tall including the base. Last seen in front of the former French Hospital in Los Angeles.

This blog began when I found a seemingly out-of-place statue of Jeanne d'Arc on Google Maps while searching for a long-lost Chinatown restaurant.

The French Hospital was the first of well over 400 French-associated sites I have plotted on a Google map. Jeanne d'Arc has stood guard outside since July 1964. This blog would not exist without her.

And now she is missing.

Regular reader Jérome reached out to let me know about Jeanne's disappearance. I don't go downtown very often, so I have no idea when she vanished.

When the French Benevolent Society sold the hospital building in 1989, it retained ownership of the land on which the hospital sits. I found a mailing address for them, although I don't know how current it is, and I have sent them a letter. Hopefully it's the right address and hopefully they respond.

Someone, somewhere, knows where she is. If you are that person, PLEASE TELL ME. If you know anything at all, PLEASE TELL ME. Comment below, or email losfrangeles at gmail dot com. I can't stand the thought of Jeanne vanishing forever. She was one of the last remaining scraps of Frenchtown and now she's disappeared too.


C'est une héroÏne nationale française. Elle est âgée de 54 ans. Elle mesure environ 10 pieds (3 mètres). Elle a été vue pour la dernière fois devant l’Hôpital Français de Los Angeles. Mais où est donc Jeanne d’Arc?

L’Hôpital Français a été le premier de plus de 400 sites Français que j’ai compilé sur une carte Google. Jeanne d’Arc y montait la garde depuis juillet 1964. Ce blog n’existerai pas sans elle.

Et à présent, elle n’est plus là.

Un de mes lecteurs, Jérôme, m’a fait part sa disparition. Je ne vais pas très souvent à Downtown, alors je ne sais pas quand elle a disparu exactement.

Lorsque la Société Française de bienfaisance à vendu le bâtiment de l'hôpital en 1989, elle est restée propriétaire du terrain sur lequel se trouvait l'hôpital. J'ai bien trouvé une adresse postale, mais je ne sais pas si elle est toujours courante, je leur ai envoyé une lettre. J'espère que l’adresse est encore valide et qu’ils me répondront. 

Quelqu'un, quelque part, doit bien savoir où elle se trouve. Si vous êtes cette personne, S'IL VOUS PLAÎT, DITES LE MOI. Si vous savez quelque chose, S'IL VOUS PLAÎT, DITES LE MOI.  Laissez un commentaire ci-dessous, ou par courriel à Je n’arrive pas à me faire à l'idée que Jeanne puisse avoir disparue pour toujours. Elle était l'une des rares relique de Frenchtown et elle a disparue elle aussi a présent. 

Friday, July 6, 2018

Ildevert Dehail Starts Over...Again

Many of the people who have moved to Los Angeles over the years were in search of a new opportunity, or at least a fresh start.

One of those people was Ildevert Dehail.

Dehail was born in Orne, Basse-Normandie, in 1848. Like all other able-bodied French men of the time, he began compulsory military service at age 18 in 1866. While he was away, his mother died.

The Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870. Dehail was taken prisoner twice during the war and later court-martialed when he disappeared for a few days and was unable to explain the absence. When he was finally able to return home, he discovered his father had died.

In 1874, Dehail boarded a ship to New York. The ship sank, taking all of Dehail's money and belongings with it.

Dehail married Alice Ferendon (who was born in Illinois to French parents) in 1878, moved to Leadville, Colorado, and went into the meat business with a partner. Unfortunately, the firm of Wilbraham & Dehail was located at 109-111 Chestnut Street. Most of that side of the street, for almost an entire block, was destroyed in a fire in 1882.

The Dehails didn't leave Colorado right away - Ildevert became a U.S. citizen there in 1886. But a year later, the Dehails had started over in Los Angeles with Alice running a boarding house and Ildevert working as a painter. Dehail House stood on 1st Street in what is now Little Tokyo (at the time, it was on the edge of the oldest part of Frenchtown).* Ildevert seems to have given up painting to join his wife in the lodging business within a year of arriving. Census and voter records indicate that Ildevert went on to become a real estate speculator and building contractor. He passed away in San Francisco in 1918, and is buried in Forest Lawn (Glendale) alongside Alice, who outlived him by nine years.

Le Guide claims that many of Dehail's buildings in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego were still standing. Since the book was published in 1932, and since Los Angeles County's building records only go back to 1905 (when they exist at all), I can't say for certain if any of Dehail's buildings are still standing in 2018, a full century after his death. If nothing else, the Dehails' streak of misfortunes seems to have ended when they moved to LA.

*On a personal note, although I am well aware of how much has been demolished, redeveloped, and forgotten, I am always surprised to find yet another Frenchtown site in a familiar part of LA. I know that part of Little Tokyo pretty well and my jaw STILL dropped at the thought of a French-owned boarding house a stone's throw from the Space Shuttle Challenger monument.

Monday, June 25, 2018

A Little More About the Verlaques

Regular readers (all three of you, ha) may recall my long day trip to the backcountry town of Ramona, which boasted two French families - the Verlaques and the Etcheverrys - among its initial settlers.

I recently made a return trip to Ramona. Before I could even walk through the Woodward Museum's gate, something caught my eye.

Like most people of French extraction, I LOVE public art. And like most Angelenos, I love a good mural.

The town of Ramona boasts 17 murals paying tribute to its history. Mural #12 recalls the Verlaque family's store.

Wait, what?! 

The last time I visited, I asked the docent on duty if she knew anything else about the Verlaque family (there wasn't much in my notes). Perhaps she was unaware that the old wooden building right next to the museum grounds had been a business owned by the Verlaques. Or that the far side of the building had a mural honoring its history.

No matter. This time I saw the mural.

Family patriarch Theophile was a sheep rancher, but Jeff Verlaque was a shopkeeper.

The store doubled as a post office and stagecoach stop (shades of the Garnier brothers at Rancho Los Encinos). Crucially,  it was on the way to the town of Julian, which had a minor gold rush of its own. 

Artist's rendering of the store's merchandise.

The building, now with the address of 629 Main Street, hasn't changed much (it currently houses the Reds Whites and Brews wine bar and an antique store). Just don't expect to see a stagecoach parked out front.

One little discrepancy is gnawing away at my mind. The Verlaques' adobe house, built in 1886, is said to be the oldest permanent structure in Ramona. Yet the store was supposedly opened in 1884. I will need to contact the historical society about this...

Saturday, June 9, 2018

A Brief History of Philippe Mathieu and the French Dip

Neon blade sign at Philippe the Original.
Philippe Mathieu started out working in a deli in his native France. By the time he retired, he'd invented a quintessential LA dish that has been imitated many, many times - but never really duplicated. (Give it up, Cole's - no one believes you. More on that in a minute.)

After a stint owning a deli on Alameda, Philippe and his brother Arbin opened the New Poodle Dog restaurant on Spring Street in 1911 (if it existed today, it would be just southwest of City Hall). The name was likely a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Old Poodle Dog restaurant in San Francisco. The New Poodle Dog closed in 1913, and the Mathieu brothers opened another white-tablecloth restaurant on Alameda Street just south of Aliso Street - the heart of Frenchtown.

Frenchtown had more than a few nicer French restaurants, however, and Philippe had a talent for simpler, but still well-prepared, food. Philippe opened his namesake restaurant on Alameda Street, south of Temple, in 1908. If it existed today, it would be firmly in the middle of Little Tokyo, but at the time, it was the center of Frenchtown's original core.

Philippe's customers often referred to him as "Frenchy", and took to calling the restaurant "Frenchy's".

You know where this is going, right?

Philippe moved his eatery to 246 Aliso Street (south of Los Angeles Street) in 1918 (again, still in Frenchtown's original footprint). That year, he began serving the sandwich we now call the French Dip.

The story of how the sandwich came to be invented varies, depending on who told it and when. I won't rehash any of the origin stories here, but I will refer you to Eater LA's commentary on a Thrillist piece examining who really invented the French Dip. (Read both. Trust me.)

I'll add a little food for thought (pun intended) to both publications' conclusions (spoiler alert: the evidence gives Philippe's a stronger and far more logical claim): imitators typically pale in comparison to originators. Every so often, someone (food blogger, local magazine, travel writer) will sample both, or ask local eaters for their pick of the two French Dips. Philippe's always wins taste tests easily and always wins polls by a landslide.

By the way, I have no personal stake in this and can't offer a firsthand opinion on either version of the sandwich (I don't eat meat). I do, however, believe in giving credit where credit is due.

Philippe packed up and moved up the street (to 364 Aliso) in 1925. But he, personally, didn't stay for very long.

Philippe (whose grandson described him to the LA Times as frugal) had promised his wife that he'd retire when he turned 50. He did indeed retire in 1927 at age 50, selling the restaurant to the Martin brothers and moving back to France with his wife.

But the restaurant, by far one of the very oldest in Los Angeles, had one more move to make. Freeway construction forced Philippe's to relocate to its present location, just north of Union Station on the southern edge of Chinatown.

Los Angeles Magazine recently explored how to correctly pronounce the restaurant's name. What they don't seem to notice is that pronunciation seems to vary based on the speaker's background. Philippe's grandson uses the French pronunciation (no surprise here), and Emeril Lagasse isn't TOO far off. Most Angelenos who didn't grow up speaking French use the Hispanicized pronunciation "Felipe's".

It's worth noting, of course, that many early Angelenos adopted, or at least sometimes used, Spanish versions of their names. To give just a few examples from Frenchtown: Louis Bauchet was typically listed in records as Luis, Jean-Louis Vignes was "Don Luis del Aliso", Pierre Sainsevain was commonly referred to as "Don Pedro", and Henri Penelon was often called "Horacio" or "Honore". Mispronouncing "Philippe" as "Felipe" is, in a way, fitting for one of LA's oldest restaurants.

(In the interest of full disclosure, my parents used to go to Philippe the Original on dates.)

Monday, May 28, 2018

Memorial Day Special Edition: French Angelenos in World War One

"War is the business of the French, and they do it very well."

                                                                               - Rudyard Kipling

World War One began in 1914.

The United States of America initially stayed out of the conflict, only entering the war in 1917.

Los Angeles' French community, however, rushed to the aid of their homeland.

The 1918 Los Angeles City Directory (i.e. phone book) lists a French Ambulance Service sharing space with the Alliance Francaise (the location is now Ace Hotel Los Angeles). Three blocks away, there was a French Society for the Relief of Wounded Soldiers. Since phone books are compiled in advance, the Ambulance Service and Society likely existed prior to 1918. (Note to self: check the 1915-1917 city directories the next time I'm deep in the bowels of Central Library. I can't believe I forgot to do that this time.)

Most notably, Georges Le Mesnager - 64 years old in 1914 - stepped away from all four of his jobs and his large family to go back to France and enlist in the French Army. He earned several medals for bravery, was wounded five times, and eventually acted as a special liaison to General Pershing. (Mesnager noted that his fellow French soldiers doubted the arriving American troops would be of much help. He assured them otherwise.) His last task before retiring to the Verdugo Hills was to establish a society for Los Angeles' French war veterans (presumably, there were enough French veterans of war in LA to merit founding such a society).

Dr. Kate Brousseau, a busy psychologist and professor, took a two-year sabbatical to put her French fluency and Ph.D to work in war-torn France. Dr. Brousseau, who was 55 when she left California, spent 1917 and 1918 examining French women called into war service and working with French soldiers in Lorraine, French-occupied Germany, and war-torn northern France. When the war ended, she helped to rehabilitate traumatized soldiers (today we'd call it treating PTSD).

And then there was Lucien Napoleon Brunswig.

Brunswig, a pharmacist by trade, was already active in immigrant support societies and social organizations when the war began. He soon became active in the American Committee for Devastated France and the Maisons-Claires (which supported French war orphans). In 1917 at the age of 63, Brunswig spent eight months in France, writing about his experiences. After the war, he vice-chaired the committee that placed the Doughboy statue in Pershing Square. (Brunswig, like Remi Nadeau, deserves his own biography. But give me time.)

Pershing Square is slated for a renovation. Happily, I have been informed that the Doughboy will remain in the park.

Take a moment to remember all the good people who have died in conflict. And take a moment to remember the French and French-speaking Angelenos who walked away from everything to do whatever they could.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

How I Fell Down The Rabbit Hole to Frenchtown

Whenever I'm asked about my blog, one question always pops up: how did I start on this journey?

In the spring of 2013, I was doing two things at once. My mom knew very little about her late father's family, apart from the fact that they were mostly farmers and of French extraction. When she started doing genealogical research, I helped her put her giant redwood of a family tree together.

At the same time, we were clearing out Grandma's house in the Valley to put it on the market.

In the back of Grandma's Danish modern buffet cabinet, I found a very old, deeply yellowed menu from a Chinese restaurant. I couldn't tell how old it was, but based on the condition and font style, I'm guessing it was at least 60 years old (I've spent my entire life around vintage and antique items and can guess the era correctly most of the time).

Later that day, I pulled up Google Maps and entered the restaurant's address (listed on the front of the menu) to see if it still existed. It was long gone - if the building were still there, it would be on Castelar Elementary School's campus.

I zoomed in for a closer look and spotted something strange. Something that made no sense at all.

"Public Art - 'Jeanne d'Arc'".

I clicked on it.

Joan of Arc was standing smack in the middle of Chinatown, outside of a hospital building.

What the hell?!

So I started Googling. I found out pretty quickly that the Pacific Alliance Medical Center was previously the French Hospital.

What the hell?! Since when did LA have a French Hospital?

Since the cornerstone was laid in 1869, as it turned out. That hospital celebrated its 100th anniversary when my mom was in high school. But she never knew it existed until I told her about it. Mom grew up miles away in Santa Monica/Mar Vista, and my grandparents definitely weren't socially active in what little remained of LA's French community.

Every answer led to more questions. Jean-Louis Vignes, the Sainsevains, the Nadeaus, the Mesmers, the Pellissiers...and more. So many more. And one question loomed over all the rest: why was this sizable, once-thriving community missing from LA's narrative?

Five years later, I keep running lists of people I want to profile on this blog. I keep lists of forgotten French families in greater LA whose lives are, as of now, still a complete mystery to me. I keep lists of places where I need to do serious research when I can get some time off. I've plotted well over 400 sites associated with Southern California's forgotten French on a Google Map (and I'm nowhere near done).

I'm still finding out how deep the rabbit hole goes. And now you know: it began five years ago with a yellowed, crumbling menu from a long-forgotten Chinese restaurant. (In an interesting turn of events, some of this blog's biggest supporters are members of the Chinatown community.)

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Most Trusted Citizen in 1850s LA was a Jewish Frenchman

Don Solomon Lazard

Imagine, for a moment, that it's the 1850s and you've just arrived in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles has only been part of the United States for a few years (and some would argue it's part of the US in name only). Theft and murder are common. There are no banks (yet). You're carrying a few pieces of jewelry and just enough money to rent a room and start a small business. The ship to San Pedro and the long ride into town weren't cheap, and you can't afford to get robbed.

Who can you trust?

If you asked law-abiding locals who they would trust with cash and valuables, the answer would probably be "Don Solomon".

Solomon Lazard was from Lorraine. After stints in New Orleans and San Francisco working for his cousins' business, Lazard Frères (which was a dry goods company at the time), he decided to open his own dry goods business in San Diego. Unfortunately, sleepy little San Diego was too small of a town to support even a modest shop. Following the advice of a well-traveled sailor, Lazard decided to move his store to Los Angeles.

By 1853, Lazard and his cousin Maurice Kremer had set up shop in Mellus' Row, near the western corner of Los Angeles and Aliso Streets. Aliso Street was a very active business district in the 1850s, and the two cousins also benefitted from residents of San Gabriel, El Monte, and San Bernardino taking Aliso Street into town.

Soon enough, Lazard was elected to the City Council. He was a Third Lieutenant in the Los Angeles Guards (a volunteer militia - Los Angeles didn't have a military base yet). Lazard served on the Committee on Police, Committee on Streets, Committee on Lands, the Library Association, and the Chamber of Commerce. In 1856, he served on the Grand Jury. Two years later, he was appointed to supervise the local election.

Lazard was active in the Hebrew Benevolent Society, heading the Society's Committee on Charity and eventually serving as its President. (The Hebrew Benevolent Society is now known as Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles.) When a deadly smallpox outbreak swept through Los Angeles in 1863 - disproportionately affecting Mexican and Native American Angelenos - the Committee on Charity, under Lazard's leadership, donated $150 (about $2900 today) and collected additional funds to help care for indigent patients.

Early LA didn't really have banks. The town was too lawless to appeal to most bankers, even when business was booming. But locals needed safe places to store money and valuables.

Lazard and Kremer were merchants, not bankers. But they had spotless reputations and a large safe. It didn't take long for their customers to ask if they could leave their gold and silver with Lazard and Kremer for safekeeping. Lazard later partnered with Timothy Wolfskill in a general store. A few years later, Solomon's brother Abraham came to Los Angeles and joined the family business.

Harris Newmark relates a story about Lazard's professional ethics: Austrian immigrant Mathias "Mateo" Sabichi had left $30,000 with Lazard. No one had heard from Sabichi in so long that Lazard's employees thought he would never come for it. But Sabichi eventually returned to town, and upon presenting the certificate of deposit, was able to claim every cent.

It's hardly surprising that Lazard was known as "Don Solomon". He was such a popular local figure that he often floor-managed balls and fandangos and served as pallbearer for at least one local industrialist's funeral.

Towards the end of 1860, Lazard was arrested in his native France. He had returned home to visit his mother, and, as French law dictated, had registered with the local police. Young French men were legally required to complete a term of military service, and Lazard had left home at age seventeen without having done so. In spite of the fact that he was now a U.S. citizen, Lazard was court-martialed and sentenced to a stint in prison.

Lazard was in luck, however: the newly-appointed American minister to France, Charles J. Faulkner, worked to secure his release, and Emperor Napoleon III intervened. (Ironically, Faulkner - a Southerner who was arrested in early 1861 for trying to secure weapons for the Confederacy - was the author of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.) Lazard did have to pay a fine, but he was able to return to Los Angeles in early 1861.

A street in the heart of Frenchtown was named Lazard Street. It was later changed to Ducommun Street (Ducommun Yard, home base for Ducommun Industries, was bordered by the street on one side - the site is now a Little Tokyo bus depot). A different Lazard Street exists today - it's a short residential cul-de-sac in San Fernando. (Side note: I was pleasantly surprised to see Cinderella Ranch houses on Lazard Street. I am obsessed with them.) Mayor Joseph Mascarel lived at 99 Lazard Street (the old one downtown) during the last years of his life.

Lazard Street sign in San Fernando
As for Lazard himself, home was 657 Westlake Avenue in Echo Park. He and his wife Caroline (née Newmark; cousin of Harris Newmark) had three daughters and three sons.

Lazard's store - which sold French, English, and American-made dry goods, boots, shoes, clothing, and groceries (boasting in an 1852 newspaper advertisement that they would always sell goods at the lowest market prices for cash and pay the highest price for gold dust) - prospered to the point of becoming LA's earliest department store. City of Paris was a fixture of downtown Los Angeles and the city's French community for years.

As time marched on, LA got bigger, and water management got to be a bigger problem. Marchesseault and Sainsevain weren't successful, but the Los Angeles City Water Company - founded by Prudent Beaudry, Solomon Lazard, and Dr. John S. Griffin - prevailed. Although Beaudry is known for his work as a developer and his successful efforts to bring water to his hilltop properties, he didn't helm the City Water Company. It was Solomon Lazard who held the office of President. When the Company's 30-year lease expired, the city bought the City Water Company - now the Department of Water and Power - for $2 million. (That's about $60 million today.) The water contract specified, among other points, that the Company would replace all the wooden pipes with twelve miles of iron pipes, erect an ornamental fountain in the Plaza (replacing the ugly old reservoir tank that stood on the site), place a fire hydrant at each intersection, and provide water free of charge to public schools, city hospitals, and jails.

Don Solomon, described as an "old pioneer" when he passed away in 1916 at the ripe old age of 89, was survived by his wife and four of their six children. He is buried at Home of Peace Memorial Park in East Los Angeles.

As for his extended family's dry-goods firm, Lazard Frères got into banking after Solomon left. The company is now a publicly-traded investment bank known simply as Lazard (NYSE: LAZ). Some sources (including my copy of Le Guide Francais) credit Solomon with founding Lazard Frères; however, Lazard states that their Los Angeles branch didn't open until 2003. Oddly, a 1987 Los Angeles Times article points to a planned LA office opening soon, claiming it would be the firm's first office in California since the San Francisco branch closed in 1906.

(Edited to add: I originally planned to write about J.B. Leonis this week. In light of the fact that 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll was brutally murdered in her apartment in Paris recently, I put J.B. on the back burner. LA's French community was not a monoculture, and this Franco-American blogger values the Lazards, Kremers, Meyers, Loebs etc. just as much as the Beaudrys, Pellissiers, Brousseaus, Mesmers, etc. Although I am not Jewish, I am from a heavily Jewish neighborhood, and bigotry of any kind really. pisses. me. off.

Rant over. I'm going to bed.)

Thursday, March 8, 2018

International Women's Day Special Edition: Adelina Clos Leonis

I still need to write a proper entry on Jean Baptiste Leonis. But his wife Adelina is also worthy of note.

After the messy, three-year legal battle over Michel Leonis' massive estate, twenty-year-old nephew and heir apparent J.B. hadn't inherited a penny. He did, however, have his late uncle's connections, and lined up work with another sheep-ranching French family. He had quite a long ride from Los Angeles to Lake Hughes (northeast of Santa Clarita and due west of Lancaster). In yet another example of how much land his uncle had owned, the surrounding area was originally named the Leonis Valley.

The Clos family's four children had ridden out to greet him on the trail. Seventeen-year-old Adelina, unusually for a teenage girl in 1892, rode bareback and carried a gun, just like her brothers.

Three years later, Adelina married J.B. in the Old Plaza Church (where her parents had been married three decades earlier).

John Baptiste Leonis Jr., nicknamed "Johnny", was born five months later (read into THAT what you will, and remember this was 1895...). Another baby, Marie, followed in 1896, but lived only a few weeks. Adelina Frances Leonis Jr., better known as "Lena", arrived in 1897.

By 1900, the family owned land in what is now the city of Vernon, and J.B. opened a mercantile on Downey Road. Although the store became a popular gathering place on Sundays (at least partly because it sold liquor...), it wasn't making enough money to support the family.

In a scenario that was highly unusual for the time (but which will be instantly familiar to a lot of working moms in 2018), J.B. went back to working away from home, while Adelina simultaneously ran the family business, raised two young children, and did the housework (and just think: she did all of this without modern technology or hired help).

After the City of Vernon, founded in 1905, made the Leonis family rich, Adelina traveled with J.B. (and often with their children) to such far-flung destinations as Mexico, Hawaii, Cuba, and Asia.  Not bad for a tomboy who grew up on a sheep ranch way out in the country.

Adelina and J.B.'s only grandchild was named Leonis Clos Malburg - a name paying tribute to both of his mother's parents.

After Johnny was dismissed from the family business, J.B. Leonis Inc., for embezzlement (and a few other things) in 1941, Adelina took on a larger role, replacing him as a vice president at the First National Bank of Vernon. She also sat on the bank's board. (One of my grandmothers had a stint as a bank teller in the '40s. Female bank employees rarely, if ever, became bank officers in 1941 - even if they were married to one of the bank's co-founders.)

Following a health scare in 1947, and realizing they wouldn't live forever, J.B. and Adelina dissolved J.B. Leonis Inc. for estate tax purposes - with each couple taking half the assets. J.B. held the land assets (calling himself "land rich and finance poor") while Adelina held the stocks, bonds, and other liquid assets.

Following J.B.'s death in 1953, Adelina (who took her role at the bank very seriously) stepped in to fill her late husband's shoes as the bank's president - a title she held until her own death in 1956.

By the way, if you're wondering why Adelina's family name, Clos, sounds familiar, you may have seen it on the base of a certain statue in front of a certain recently-closed hospital.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Frenchtown/Industrial Town

Los Angeles County's factory towns have French roots.

You probably didn't know this (almost no one does), and you may not believe it. But as with the oldest parts of Los Angeles proper, our names are right there on the street grid. And thankfully, these streets haven't been renamed or erased from existence (i.e. Marchesseault Street, Leonis Street downtown, Sainsevain Street, Sentous Street, Montreal Street...).

(Note: I'm including Whittier in this entry because the Pellissier family's dairy straddled modern-day Whittier and Industry, which are right next to each other.)

Pellissier Road, Whittier.
Pellissier Village Equestrian District, Whittier (built on part of the Pellissier Dairy...which is why it's one of those rare residential neighborhoods in LA County that are still zoned for horses).
I know the sign is in shadow, but squint a little and you'll see "Welcome" and "Bienvenidos" - clearly, someone dropped the ball on including "Bienvenue". Have some respect for the Pellissiers, s'il te plait! (Yes, I used the informal tu. Yes, I know that implies condescension, which the French perfected. This sign gives me a headache.)

Pellissier Place, City of Industry. (The Pellissier family's farmhouse stood on nearby Workman Mill Road.)
Leonis Malburg building, Vernon. (Leonis Clos Malburg was the grandson of Miguel Leonis' nephew, Jean Baptiste "J.B." Leonis - more on them at a later date. J.B. co-founded the city of Vernon with the Irish-born Furlong brothers.)
Leonis Boulevard, City of Vernon.
La Villa Basque, City of Vernon. (This was the only restaurant in Vernon for many years, and was one of Leonis Malburg's pet projects. Unsurprisingly, it's known for Basque cuisine.)
Leonis Street, City of Commerce.
Sentous Avenue, City of Industry.
Gone...but never forgotten.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Thank You GLAAM!

A very special merci beaucoup to Greater Los Angeles Area Mensa for inviting me to talk about my people for an hour, and to the StaRGazing 2018 attendees who came to my presentation.

While prepping for StaRGazing, I had some inquiries about whether it would be taped. Well...I tried. I really did. The friend who was supposed to tape my presentation had a personal emergency and couldn't come. So I set up my phone to tape the presentation. It cut off the Q&A at the end, and just like last year, my 8-year-old laptop stubbornly refuses to upload the file. (Even the Genius Bar can't help me with this aging bucket of bolts.)

I do have another presentation coming up in May (with the Los Angeles Visionaries Association) - more on that later. In the meantime, I'm looking into live-streaming smaller, "bite size" history lessons on Youtube.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Come Hear Me Speak!

As I've mentioned a few times over the last few months, I'm speaking at StaRGazing 2018, Greater Los Angeles Area Mensa's annual Regional Gathering. I'm scheduled for 3:15-4:30pm on Saturday, February 17. See you in San Pedro! (If you want to come, this Thursday, February 8, is the LAST day for online registration. If you're seeing this a little late, you can register in person at the RG, but you'll need to bring cash or a check.)

Can't make it to the RG? I'll be doing another LAVA Sunday Salon and walking tour in the spring, and will be re-tooling my "Frenchtown 101" talk from last September (we'll be visiting a different part of downtown). Sunday Salons are free and open to the public, but as space is limited (my previous salon sold out), RSVPs are required. Watch this space for more information...

Monday, February 5, 2018

Two Cartes de Visite. Three Possible Mayors. Who is Who?

*Update 12/14/22: that’s definitely Marchesseault on the right. The Homestead Museum confirmed it!*

For years, it was assumed that no pictures of Mayor Damien Marchesseault had survived to the present day. Recently, I broke the news that a surviving carte de visite identified the man depicted on its front as the forgotten Mayor.

Museum director Paul Spitzzeri, who kindly allowed me to view both cartes de visite recently, mentioned to me that, of course, LA had two Mayors during the year 1860 - Damien Marchesseault and Henry Mellus - and that the man in the mystery picture was definitely not Henry Mellus.


Technically, Los Angeles had three Mayors in 1860 - Marchesseault, Mellus, and (after Mellus died in office) Wallace Woodworth, who served as Acting Mayor for two weeks before Marchesseault again assumed the office. Could he be the mystery man?

I have searched in vain for a picture of Wallace Woodworth. (Does anyone out there have a picture of him?)

On seeing the picture on the right, identified as Damien Marchesseault, my mother commented that he resembled her French Canadian grandfather. The mystery mayor on the left doesn't appear to have any French features (although, to be perfectly fair, I am not a forensic anthropologist).

The man on the left can't be Henry Mellus. But, I don't believe he is Damien Marchesseault. Could he be Wallace Woodworth? Hopefully, someone out there has a picture of Woodworth that could either prove or disprove this possibility.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Rebirth of a Lost Frenchtown Landmark, Part 2

One hundred fifty years after his suicide, it seems that Los Angeles just might end up remembering Mayor Damien Marchesseault after all.

Recently, I reported that long-lost Marchesseault Street would be making a return of sorts. Elizabeth Carvajal, who is managing the project for LA Metro, kindly answered some questions:

FC: First, I'll need to introduce you properly. Can you tell me a little bit about your role at Metro and how you came to be involved with this project?

Carvajal: My name is Elizabeth Carvajal; I am a Senior Manager with Metro's Transit Oriented Communities group. I manage a robust work program that includes short to long term projects at and around Los Angeles Union Station. I am the Project Manager for the Los Angeles Union Station Forecourt and Esplanade Improvements Project.

FC: I've covered the fact that Marchessault Street has not existed in its original form for some time; however, I've had a very hard time creating an accurate timeline. From the city model at NHMLA, I know it was renamed before 1935. Do you have any idea when the street was altered/renamed?

Carvajal: Unfortunately, I do not. According to the 1888 Sanborn maps, several residential and commercial buildings were in place on the west side of Alameda Street, including the Pironi and Slatri Wine and Brandy Vaults and Distillery on the north side of the project area, the Los Angeles City Water Co. to the north of Marchessault Street, and various Chinese commercial buildings south of Marchessault Street. It appears to have still been in place in 1894. According to our research, by 1950, Marchessault was now East Sunset Boulevard.

FC: Despite being elected six times, Damien Marchessault has been so thoroughly erased from LA history that he does not appear on the official list of former mayors, no surviving pictures of him have ever been found*, and the memorial plaque outside the Biscailuz building is factually inaccurate. Countless former streets in this part of LA have been paved over and forgotten over the past 236 years. How did the upcoming demarcation of Marchessault Street come to be part of the project?

Carvajal: The design concept was developed prior to my joining Metro. I imagine that it was identified conceptually because of its former proximity in the project site. This concept will be discussed further during the upcoming design process.

FC: Will there be anything (e.g. signage, a plaque) to indicate what the contrasting pavers signify? If so, will there be any mention of the Los Angeles City Water Company (DWP predecessor) or the numerous Old Chinatown businesses that once lined Marchessault Street?

Carvajal: The demarcation of Marchessault Street will be evaluated further during the design process as well as any complementary plaques etc. At this time, we are not calling out the LA City Water Company or any specific businesses.

FC: Assuming all goes well, is there an estimated time frame for completion of the project?

Carvajal: If the Board certifies the Final EIR in February, we anticipate that construction would start and end in 2020.

Merci, Elizabeth. (And a beret-tip to Munson Kwok of the Chinese American Museum for putting me in touch with her.)

*I sent these questions in early December, prior to discovering that there is, in fact, a surviving picture of the Mayor.