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!

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