Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Messy Legacy of Gaston Oxarat

You know things didn't go so well for Rancho Los Encinos' first French owners, the Garniers. The wool market collapsed, and it was all downhill from there.

The rancho went to auction in 1878. Gaston Oxarat, a French Basque, placed the winning bid. Oxarat had wanted a chance to buy the rancho for some time; he'd previously obtained a lien on the property as collateral when he loaned money to the Garniers.

Gaston Oxarat's saddle, on display at Rancho Los Encinos
Oxarat had arrived in Los Angeles in 1851, and was mentor and friend to Domingo Bastanchury, another French Basque who, at one time, owned more head of sheep than anyone else in Los Angeles County. Bastanchury's orange grove - the largest in the world - made up much of modern-day Fullerton (which I will get into at a later date). As it happens, he was married to Oxarat's niece, Maria.

In spite of the fact that wool no longer fetched good prices, Oxarat used the rancho to raise sheep. It wasn't his sole source of income; he also had orchards.

Sources disagree over whether Oxarat lived on the rancho, with the Ballade family as a boarder, or at 43 or 47 Boyle Avenue in Boyle Heights. The 1880 census record citing the Ballade residence could be a coincidence, since the boarder's age is given as 60 (Oxarat would have been 55 that year) and there were numerous French Basques living in Los Angeles by that point.

In any case, Oxarat (who was not in the best of health when he bought Rancho Los Encinos) passed away in 1886.

Things got messy after that.

Ten days after Gaston's death, the Morning Press stated that there were allegations of his death being due to poisoning. However, since there was no evidence, the authorities could take no action.

Oxarat left Rancho Los Encinos to his favorite nephew, Simon Gless. Less than a year later, Gless filed a lawsuit against Eugene Garnier and F.A. Gibson to clear the rancho's title. Eugene Garnier claimed that he and Gibson owned a partial interest in the rancho under an agreement made with Oxarat while he was still alive. Gless claimed the document was forged.

Francisco Oxarat, Gaston's son, was none too happy about Rancho Los Encinos being left to his cousin, and he took Simon Gless to court.

Benita Murillo, who claimed to have married Gaston in 1874, sued Simon Gless separately, seeking the widow's share of Rancho Los Encinos.

Adela Freeman, who claimed her maiden name was Oxarat, also sued Simon Gless, claiming to be Gaston's "sole surviving child" (which must have been quite a shock to Gaston's actual sole surviving child, Francisco).

In the end, Simon Gless kept Rancho Los Encinos...only to sell it later. But I'll get into that next time.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Never Give In: Philippe Garnier

Winston Churchill said it best: "If you're going through hell, keep going."

The Garnier brothers' glory days at Rancho Los Encinos had ended in financial ruin, foreclosure, and Eugene Garnier returning to France.

Philippe Garnier had no money and a family to support. He could have thrown in the towel and gone back to France, just like Eugene.

But he didn't give up. And he had a profound effect on a treasured surviving portion of Old Los Angeles.

In 1878, Philippe Garnier was flat broke.

In 1879, Philippe began serving as a director of the Farmers and Merchants Bank and slowly rebuilt his savings.

Between 1888 and 1890, Philippe Garnier built three commercial buildings in the Plaza area.
Jennette Block, housing the Hotel de Paris
The Jennette Block stood at Los Angeles and Arcadia Streets, with the Hotel de Paris occupying the building. (It's sometimes reported that the Jennette Block was at Los Angeles and Aliso Streets. Most of the French-owned hotels fell within a one-block radius of Alameda and Aliso Streets. However, a surviving picture of the Jennette Block puts it right next to the Garnier Building. It's much more likely that the Hotel de Paris was based in different buildings at different times, since there are records of a Hotel de Paris at Alameda and Aliso and at Main and Turner opposite the Pico House.)

In any case, the Jennette Block was razed for the 101 Freeway.

Garnier Block
(Home of La Plaza de Cultura y Artes)
Many years ago, a French sea captain (no, not that one - he lived on the next block) and his wife lived in the Plaza, across Main Street from the Pico House. Their adobe house was demolished to build the two-story Garnier Block. Retail stores occupied the ground floor; the tiny Plaza House Hotel was on the second floor.

In 1946, the County of Los Angeles purchased the building. It was used as County office space, with a Sheriff's Department crime lab on the second floor. Unfortunately, the 1971 earthquake shook some of the elaborate exterior ornamentation loose, which prompted the County to remove ALL of it (blasphemy!), board up the building, and leave the Garnier Block to rot (double blasphemy!).

The Garnier Block was renovated into the La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, which opened in 2011.

Garnier Building
(Home of the Chinese American Museum)
Although LA's first Chinese market opened during Damien Marchesseault's tenure as Mayor nearly thirty years earlier, Chinese Angelenos often didn't have an easy time securing commercial buildings to rent, and they weren't legally permitted to own property in the United States.

Philippe Garnier commissioned architect Abram Edelman (co-designer of the Shrine Auditorium) to design a long, two-story sandstone and red brick building - the Garnier Building - with Chinese tenants in mind. The lease was signed before the building was even finished, and for the first three years of the lease, the rent on the entire building was only $200 a month. The building used to be much larger (the southern wing was razed in the 1950s along with the Jennette Block), so Philippe's tenants were initially paying below market rate.

Chinese-American social organizations, businesses, schools, and churches were all based in the Garnier Building. It was, in effect, Chinatown City Hall from 1890 to 1953 (when the state purchased the Plaza buildings). The original Chinatown was razed for Union Station, so the Garnier Building is the only remaining structure from Old Chinatown.

Interestingly, the building occupies the corner of Arcadia and Los Angeles Streets - where the 1871 Chinese Massacre broke out.

Today, the remaining half of the Garnier Building houses the Chinese American Museum.

Take a moment to consider this: the Plaza is known for its Spanish/Mexican history and character, so much so that angry activists vocally opposed plans to restore the Italian Hall (also in the Plaza) and reopen it as a museum. Yet, no one ever talks about the fact that the Plaza is also home to a historic property commissioned by a French immigrant, designed by a Polish-Jewish architect, and built for the city's most hated ethnic group of the era - the Chinese. And only half of that building was lost to freeway construction. That's pretty amazing.

Philippe Garnier may not be well remembered today, but two (well, one and a half) of his buildings remain in the Plaza.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

A Vintage Glimpse at the Ville de Paris

Once upon a time in Forgotten French Los Angeles, the best department store was the Ville de Paris/City of Paris.

Founded and owned by a succession of Jewish-French entrepreneurs (all cousins), the City of Paris most famously occupied the Homer Laughlin Building until 1917, when it became Grand Central Market.

Surviving pictures of the store, especially the interior, have proven maddeningly elusive. I have had to content myself with trying to spot what little remains of the store's original 'bones' whenever I'm waiting in line at Ramen Hood or Golden Road.

Major beret-tip to Retroformat Films for sharing the fact that the next film they're screening was partially filmed inside the Ville de Paris! I've seen my share of silent films and I never knew that. (The film is from 1923, after the Ville de Paris moved out of the Homer Laughlin Building. Still, it's a surviving look into a store that has very few surviving pictures of any of its locations.)

Safety Last!, starring Harold Lloyd and his creative partner/real-life wife Mildred Harris, is screening this Saturday night at the Woman's Club of Hollywood, with live musical accompaniment. Tickets available here.

Can't make it? Safety Last! is also available on YouTube.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Eugene Garnier Just Couldn't Take It Anymore

It's high time I introduced my readers to the four French families who owned Rancho Los Encinos - one of my favorite places in Los Angeles - one after the other, for close to a century.

Quick overview for context:

Rancho Los Encinos (sometimes called Rancho El Encino, now Los Encinos State Historic Park) was a Spanish land grant given to LA's first mayor, Francisco Reyes. When the authorities discovered Reyes had been mistreating his Native American hired hands, they revoked the grant and Governor Pio Pico reassigned it to three of the very same workers Reyes had been exploiting.

Don Vicente de la Osa bought the rancho from the Tongva ranchers, raised cattle, built the adobe house that still stands on what's left of the property (it's the second oldest structure in the Valley), turned the house into a stagecoach stop and roadhouse when the cattle market collapsed, and eventually sold the rancho to a Yankee named Jim Thompson.

Jim Thompson sold Rancho Los Encinos in 1869. The buyers, Eugene and Philippe Garnier, were immigrants from France. (There were other Garnier brothers - Abel, Camille, and Léon, but little is known about them except that Camille and Léon were two of the city's biggest spenders and could often be seen dining at one of Victor Dol's restaurants.)

Philippe merits his own entry, and you'll understand why when you read it. Anyway...

Faux marbre dining salon at Rancho Los Encinos

Like so many other French immigrants who settled in Southern California in the 19th century, the Garniers were in the sheep business, and had a reputation for producing high-quality wool.

The rancho was still on the stagecoach route (today it's Ventura Boulevard). And, being from France, the Garniers knew how to top even Don Vicente's fine hospitality.

The brothers had the adobe's dining room painted with stunning faux marbre panels. Despite being almost 20 miles from what was then the heart of the city (long before the 101 existed...or, for that matter, the car), the Garniers served such good food that Andrés Pico - brother of Pio Pico - made a point of bringing VIP guests to the rancho for breakfast. In those days, it was a tiring, 15-mile horseback trip on a dirt road from Pico's house. I can't even imagine getting up before dawn and spending a couple of hours on a rough, sweaty horseback ride just to eat breakfast in Encino*, but apparently it was worth the trip for Pico and his guests.

Eugene built a two-story limestone house - a copy of the family home in France - opposite the adobe. The Garniers lived in the adobe; the limestone house was a bunkhouse for the ranch hands and for tired travelers. Today, the house is Rancho Los Encinos' visitor center.

Eugene Garnier's French farmhouse at Rancho Los Encinos

Rancho Los Encinos had its own freshwater spring - a VERY desirable feature anywhere in Los Angeles County, and especially in the hot, dry San Fernando Valley. Eugene built a brick-lined pond to collect the spring water - and he took care to shape it like a Spanish guitar. Novelty shaped swimming pools - i.e. Jayne Mansfield's heart-shaped pool - may well owe a debt to Eugene Garnier's guitar-shaped pond.

Eugene put a great deal of work into making Rancho Los Encinos what it was at its peak - and what it still is today.

Unfortunately, it wouldn't last.

In the late 1870s, the wool market collapsed. And it couldn't have collapsed at a worse time for the Garniers, who had overextended themselves financially during a brutal drought that dried up their grazing fields. And to make matters worse, the roadhouse business had waned due to fear of stagecoach robbers...followed by stagecoach service ending when the railroad came to Los Angeles in 1876.

The Garniers continued to run a tavern on the premises, but like so many other French immigrants in the sheep trade, they had to find a new primary source of income.

Isaac Newton Van Nuys, who owned most of the southern Valley, had introduced dryland grain farming a few years previously. It was a no-brainer for the Garniers to turn their grazing land into wheat fields.

Unfortunately, there was the matter of their other neighbor, Don Miguel Leonis.

Leonis, possibly the most ambitious transplant in the history of Greater Los Angeles (and THAT is saying something), snapped up land whenever he could, and controlled most of the western Valley. Rancho Los Encinos, right next to Leonis' Rancho El Escorpion, was a very desirable property - especially because it had its own supply of fresh water.

You know where this is going, right?

In 1878, Eugene Garnier stated, under oath in a Los Angeles courtroom, that Leonis and his hired thugs had beaten the Garniers' hired hands and burned the rancho's wheat fields.

When asked if Leonis was his enemy, Eugene confirmed this, adding that he was forced to testify and that he would not be in the same courtroom with Leonis if he'd had a choice.

Having lost their wheat crop, the Garniers couldn't pay the bills anymore, and the rancho was bought at auction by Gaston Oxarat (who had previously obtained a lien on the rancho when he loaned money to the brothers).

Eugene Garnier went back to France soon after that day in court, never to permanently return to Los Angeles.

But can you blame the guy? He just couldn't take it anymore.

*This is not a snobby Westsider jab at Encino. I'm from Sherman Oaks.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The French Hospital Will Rise Again

If you were on the Esotouric bus on September 7, you were probably just as horrified as I was to see the French Hospital behind demolition fencing.

Demolition fencing at the French Hospital. Photo courtesy of Esotouric.

The French Hospital - established in 1869, rebuilt in 1915, expanded in 1926, renamed the Pacific Alliance Medical Center in 1989, closed in 2017 and sold in 2018 - couldn't reopen as a full-service hospital. California hospitals are subject to very strict earthquake safety standards, and the aging building would need over $100 million in renovations to meet those requirements.

That's never good news in a city that loves any reason to erase its own history.

I've been checking for demolition permits every single day, dreading bad news. No demolition permits have been issued for 531 West College Street. 

However, lack of a permit doesn't prevent demolition. I had to be sure.

I reached out to Munson Kwok, who is on the board of the Chinese American Museum and knows Chinatown like no one else I have ever met. If something is going on in Chinatown, Munson probably knows about it.

Munson assures me that the French Hospital isn't going anywhere.

The hospital site's new owner is Allied Pacific IPA, an HMO based in Alhambra. They are in the process of converting the building into an urgent care center.  Because urgent care centers don't admit overnight patients, they are subject to fewer seismic standards (and a much less costly renovation).

Munson spoke to Allied Pacific's CEO and founders recently at an event. One of them is an old friend of his. If he trusts them, then so will I.

Apparently, the Department of Building and Safety has some issues with the parking lot and the front of the building. This has caused the conversion to drag on for longer than planned. 

Allied Pacific hopes to have the urgent care center open in October - and, to Munson's knowledge, doesn't plan to replace the building, just rehabilitate it. 

Merci, Munson. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Happy 100th Birthday to Musso & Frank

You probably already know Musso and Frank Grill, Hollywood's oldest restaurant (one of greater LA's oldest restaurants, period), is turning 100.

Did you know the founder was French?

Musso and Frank Grill was originally Frank's, or Francois, Cafe, founded in 1919 by Firmin "Frank" Toulet.

Musso and Frank when it was still called Francois
Hollywood was just a few years into its metamorphosis from a quiet, semi-rural backwater into the film capital of the world. With no other eateries for miles (René Blondeau had passed away 17 years earlier), and with a sophisticated atmosphere that moviemakers loved, Frank's business boomed, and he moved into the larger building next door (the original restaurant space is now Cabo Cantina). 

In 1922, Frank brought in Joseph Musso as a business partner, and they changed the restaurant's name to Musso and Frank. The following year, the menu was overhauled by Jean Rue, a Limoges native and a veteran of the French navy. The menu has seen few, if any, changes since. 

Frank Toulet and Joseph Musso sold the business in 1927. It isn't clear what Frank did after selling his half of the restaurant. As for Jean Rue, he stayed on as head chef until his death in 1976.

Frank Toulet's death notice
Los Angeles Times, January 3, 1941
On January 31, 1941, a few weeks after Frank's death, the "Confidential Communiqués" section of the San Pedro News Pilot stated, in part, "...Frank Toulet (former owner of Musso-Franks cafe): It was nice to hear your boost for actors the other night, when you revealed that you advanced them $15,000 credit - and got back all but $200..."

Firmin "Frank" Toulet is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City.

P.S. If you're about to comment "why didn't you contact Musso and Frank?"...I tried. I contacted Musso and Frank Grill for this entry six months ago. Their publicist said she would get back to me. I emailed her again. She no longer worked for the restaurant. I emailed Musso and Frank again and never did get a response. However, I understand they've been quite busy with their anniversary, in addition to "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" significantly boosting business, so there are no hard feelings.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

PSA: Frenchtown DID NOT Become Chinatown

For those of you who weren't on the bus yesterday, I took the opportunity to put a persistent rumor to rest. (Regular readers already know that one person in particular has ignored two separate requests to stop perpetuating this myth.)

Frenchtown DID NOT become Chinatown. 

Before I launched this blog, I began mapping places associated with LA's French community for my own reference. I have been working on this map for SIX YEARS and counting. To date, I've mapped almost 500 sites.

This is a portion of my French Los Angeles map. (And I do mean "portion" - the full map is HUGE.) 

As you can see, Frenchtown DID NOT Become Chinatown.

See that odd-shaped shaded area on the lower right, bordering the river?

That shaded area represents Frenchtown's original boundaries.

By 1870, after a full decade of French and Quebecois newcomers to Los Angeles outnumbering immigrants from every other country on Earth (yes, really), the community had grown. The red balloons speak for themselves, but in case someone can't see the detail, the community was centered on the intersection of Alameda and Aliso Streets.

Chinatown is ONE MILE AWAY from Alameda and Aliso. 

(The center of Chinatown, that is, BUT Chinatown's southernmost boundaries are still about half a mile away, and the Plaza separates the two neighborhoods.)

Do me (and thousands of dearly departed French Angelenos) a favor and send this entry to anyone who might need to see it.

*mic drop*

*It's true that the former French Hospital is in Chinatown, and that Joseph Mascarel (whose first wife was Native American, Mexican, or possibly both) lived there for some time, but Chinatown was called Sonoratown until 1938. Area residents were overwhelmingly Mexican (with some Italians) during the French Colony's heyday. Chinatown was not, and has never been, a French neighborhood.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Jeanne d’Arc’s New Home

You know the Jeanne d’Arc saga, right?

Happily, I can announce that she’s safe and well cared for in her new home. 

Children’s Hospital has installed Jeanne d’Arc in their Healing Garden. 

Jeanne d’Arc, who was just a child when she began to hear saints whispering to her and who faced impossible odds in the name of saving France, now looks over a garden created for sick and injured children. 

I am deeply grateful to Monica Rizzo at Children’s Hospital for keeping me updated and for taking this picture of Jeanne in her new home. 

Although I would have liked to see Jeanne standing guard over Chinatown in perpetuity, I'm glad she's found safe haven at one of the most reputable institutions in Los Angeles.

Especially since the French Hospital is currently behind demolition fencing.

I've been checking for demolition permits and haven't found one for the property yet...but as I'm sure you all know, that doesn't mean it won't get demolished anyway.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

An Eloquent and Fiery Speech

Before we begin:

Yes, I heard Taix was slated for demolition. Fingers crossed THAT doesn't happen (the Taix family's previous location downtown was razed to make way for...drumroll please...a parking structure for government offices...and long before that, they demolished their bakery to build the hotel that housed the original restaurant). Incidentally, good on the LA Times for finally getting Frenchtown's location more or less correct.

Don't forget the Saving Los Angeles Landmarks tour is Saturday, September 7 - one more week! The French Hospital will be the last stop. If you want the scoop directly from the nerd who tracked down Jeanne d'Arc (little old me!), get on the bus.

Anyway, just last weekend I was privileged to meet and interview Georges Le Mesnager's great-granddaughter (hi Denise!). At her request, I've dug up the speech Georges gave on July 14, 1889 - the centennial of the French Republic (French Angelenos threw a HUGE party). Consider this a belated Bastille Day entry, since on Bastille Day I was neck deep in a new job and scrambling to finish a commission. This is from a slightly longer article that appeared in the Los Angeles Herald two days later. In 1932, Le Guide Francais stated "his eloquent and fiery speech still rings in the ears of the older members of the colony."
MR. MESNAGER'S SPEECH. Ladies and Gentlemen—One hundred years have just struck on the clock of centuries—a century has passed since the day upon which the French, rendered desperate, by a sublime effort crushed their oppressors and destroyed the Bastille. It is to commemorate this event, which, by the influence it has exerted upon the human species, has not had its equal since Christ preached equality, that France has made its day of rejoicings, being desirous of keeping it sacred as the birthday of liberty. And upon this immense globe this day all Frenchmen concur in the deeds of their forefathers and proclaim their invincible attachment to the principles of '89. Eighteen hundred years of iniquity and misery had placed France within an inch of destruction. Pillaged, plundered, trodden under foot, she was becoming depopulated. And yet, even as now, our beautiful land was the garden spot of Europe. As now, her majestic rivers watered thousands of ever green meadows; her soil was covered with golden crops; numberless herds found pasturage upon her hills, the vines hid those beautiful grapes which make that good wine, which sparkles in the cup of the happy ones of earth. But the sound of the woodcutter's axe, the labor of the harvests was not accompanied as now by the gay song of the worker, because, having no hope that he would get his rights—in fact, hoping nothing—he struggled on in the throes of misery and starvation. Why could starvation exist in France? Because a King without fear or shame, selfish and cruel, unable to procure any more gold for his orgies, had sold to shameless speculators the monopoly of the breadstuff trade, and those human-faced monsters, armed with the royal mandate, went from hut to hut, robbing the peasant, of what remained to him after he had paid his tithes, taxes and the lord of the manor. The crops were sent out of the country by them ; they created famine in order to tear from the people their last economies, and to sell them bread at the price of gold. Reduced to dispute with wild animals the acorns of the oak and the grasses and wild roots of the forest, thousands died daily. Far above these agonizing creatures reveled the privileged class. Prince, duke, count, baron and marquis rivaled each other in splendor and wealth, all squeezing France to live upon sweat. For them all the good things of the earth, for them all the titles and honors; for the poor devil, cold, hunger, hardship and hard labor. For the one, silk, velvet, gold and diamonds; for the other, rags, insults, humiliation. For the one the sun and France, for the other a prison and the scaffold. And this unfair division had lasted over eighteen hundred years. All things have an end, and God was preparing himself to lay His heavy hand upon the guilty ones. Since a number of years thinkers and philosophers had been reminding the people that all men had a common origin, and that rich and poor, feeble and strong, little or big, must incline themselves before the law emanating from the only legitimate source of power — the will of the people. The people were murmuring. Louis XV. had used his celebrated sentence: "What do I care that the people suffer, so long as monarchy lasts as long as myself. After me may come the flood!" The son paid for his father's crimes and lost his life.  
The speaker here described eloquently the rising of the masses, the attack upon and the falling of the Bastille, and the twenty years of republican triumphs that followed under the devise of Liberty, Fraternity, Equality. 
Continuing, the orator said: Years have succeeded years, and liberty, for which the French have suffered so much, has become deeply rooted, and other nations, emboldened by our example, enlightened by that beacon called "89," have everywhere raised their voice. With the exception of dying Turkey and Russia, which is about to be born, all nations have imposed upon their kings a constitution containing their rights. Monarchies are in guiding strings until the day when they will be overthrown. Today all thinking and studious men, those with a developed mind and generous aspirations, greet '89 with enthusiasm, and declare themselves ardent disciples of its political creed. Everywhere the most advanced people have joined their banner with ours. To you, Americans, it is needless to say that we love and honor the land of Washington, without forgetting our France. Our arms, as those of our forefathers, would be valorous enough to defend our adopted land, but our hearts are large enough to harbor interlaced the star-spangled and the tri-color flags. 
The speaker also paid a graceful tribute to the people of Belgium, the Canadians, Italians aud Swiss, and concluded by saying that France cannot perish, because if she were to disappear the European equilibrium would be destroyed, and the world, leaving its axis, would roll in oceans of trouble and wars, gradually growing more bloody until it would finally return to barbarism. "'Vive la France.' Vive la Republique!"
 Eloquent and fiery, indeed.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Broguiere's May Survive After All

Beret-tip to Militant Angeleno for this one: Broguiere's is planning to reopen this Friday.

Well...we shall see what happens, but at least the dairy's retro fiberglass cow isn't going anywhere (for now).

(And no, I still have not received a reply to my request for an interview. While I would love to interview one of the last surviving links to old French Los Angeles, whether they talk to me or not is their choice.)

Friday, August 2, 2019

How Bernard Street Got Its Name

About 170 years ago, a young French Swiss man set sail for California by way of Cape Horn - an extremely long journey - hoping to strike it rich in the gold fields of Northern California.

Most prospectors did not, in fact, strike it rich, and headed back home or turned to other work. French and French-speaking prospectors often headed south to find work on ranchos, and at least some of them wound up in Los Angeles.

Jean Bernard was one of them, and he found other ways to make his fortune.

If you've seen La La Land, you might recall a scene with Mia calling Sebastian on her cell phone while she walks down the street. A Chinese-themed motel is in the background. That scene was shot on Bernard Street - named for Jean Bernard. Why? Simple - Bernard held a grant deed in what is now Chinatown, and his brickyard was located where the motel stands today.

Jean Bernard married Susana Machado - great-granddaughter of one of the city's original pobladores. Soon after the wedding, he bought a vineyard on Alameda Street enclosed by a high brick wall (Harris Newmark compared it to a European chateau).

Believe it or not, the California Wine Growers' Association wasn't formed until 1875 - over forty years after Jean-Louis Vignes established California's first commercial vineyard. Jean Bernard was one of the Association's founding directors.

Jean owned several buildings at First and Main, and converted four of them into a business block in 1883 (he also had a building on San Fernando Street and an orchard). He also owned the site of the Natick House (a two-story Italianate commercial building at the corner of Main and First; sadly it was torn down long ago).

In 1887, the Ballona Wharf Company - builders and operators of docks and wharves - incorporated in Los Angeles. Jean Bernard was on the board of directors (ironically, he had foreclosed on the South Santa Monica Wharf and Shipping Company in 1882 when the company couldn't pay its debts). He was also on the board of directors of the California Bank.

Bernard passed away in 1889. Harris Newmark described him as "a clever linguist and a man of attractive personality".

In 1902, Susana Machado Bernard hired John Parkinson - the same architect who had remodeled the Natick House and later designed Los Angeles City Hall - to build a Gothic Revival mansion for her large family. Perhaps not coincidentally, the house combines French architectural styling with Spanish stucco and terra cotta roof tiles. Susana passed away just a few years later in 1907, but the house remained in the Bernard family until 1962.

The house, still standing at 845 Lake Street in MacArthur Park, is a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument and on the National Register of Historic Places. It is particularly noteworthy because Parkinson did not normally design residential buildings. Currently, it serves as an emergency and long-term shelter for homeless youth (some of them immigrants and refugees). There have, unfortunately, been allegations of abuse and mismanagement. The Bernards - parents of 11 children - would, I'm sure, be horrified at the things said to take place under Susana's elegant terra cotta roof.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Last One Standing Falls

Broguiere's Dairy milk bottle

Broguiere's Dairy - the very last French-founded dairy in Los Angeles County (if not the last in Southern California) - has closed its doors

Founded by a French immigrant in 1920, Broguiere's lasted 99 years. They survived changes that pushed dairy cows out of Los Angeles County and into the boondocks, they survived a proposed freeway underpass that would have wiped out the building...but they didn't quite make it to 100. (I sent them a letter requesting an interview two months ago. I never did receive a response. If I ever do, I'll happily - enthusiastically, even - publish their story. I started this blog to get our stories out there, for better or for worse.)

I don't even consume dairy products (and haven't for 16+ years...pass the cashew brie) and I know it's the death rattle of an era.

Every year, my people fade a little further into obscurity. 

But I can't let that happen.

If you don't know me in real life, know this: I don't give up. 

I can't. 

I won't.

Someone has to tell our stories (correctly). 

And since no one cares more than I do, that person is me.

If anyone at Broguiere's happens to read this: please shoot me an email (losfrangeles at gmail dot com). I want your side of the story. I promise I will give you a fair shake. I want the honest truth, and so do my readers.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Money, Madness, and Attempted Murder

One hundred years ago today, Griffith Jenkins Griffith died.

Every Angeleno knows Griffith J. Griffith donated Griffith Park to the city of Los Angeles. In that story, Griffith gets to be the hero.

In the story of one of the most prominent French families in Los Angeles, however, Griffith will never be anything but a villain who got a slap on the wrist.

Born to industrious French immigrants who had become land barons*, Mary Agnes Christina "Tina" Mesmer spoke four languages, was a talented musician...and owned more than one million dollars' worth of Los Angeles real estate in her own name by the time she was 22.

Mary Agnes Christina Mesmer
In 2019 dollars, that's $25 million, but without an exhaustive inventory of the properties she owned, I can't say its true value in 2019 terms. Given the high demand for Los Angeles real estate, it would probably be worth much more than $25 million today. In any case, Tina was an extremely wealthy young woman.

And she caught the eye of Griffith J. Griffith.

Born penniless in Wales, Griffith was nouveau riche to the hilt. He wore a frock coat and carried a cane - in still-the-Wild-West Los Angeles. He affected the title of "Colonel", despite not having served in the military at all. His idea of doing someone a favor was allowing them to be seen in public with him. One acquaintance dubbed him a "midget egomaniac"; another called him "a roly-poly pompous little fellow" and compared his walk to that of a strutting turkey.

God only knows how this obnoxious character managed to win the hand of pretty, well-bred Tina Mesmer.

In a letter to Tina dated January 8, 1887 - less than three weeks before their wedding - Griffith sought to break their engagement. He accused her of having misrepresented her wealth ( a 22-year-old with a million dollars wasn't rich enough?) and of being a pawn in her father's hands.

Despite this giant red flag, the wedding did take place January 27, 1887.

At the time, it was a common practice for brides of means to deed their property and fortunes to their husbands when they got married. It was a dowry in all but name. And Tina Mesmer, not realizing what would happen to her, deeded her vast fortune to her new husband.

Big mistake.

Griffith was a devout Protestant. Tina was just as devoutly Catholic as the rest of the Mesmer clan (her father and brother were instrumental in finishing construction on St. Vibiana Cathedral). Instead of a church wedding, they had a small ceremony at the Mesmer family home. Griffith would later start religious arguments with Tina. But wait - it gets worse.

So. Much. Worse.

Just four months after marrying Tina, Griffith filed for partial distribution of André Briswalter's estate. Briswalter, a wealthy landowner himself, had been a friend of Tina's father Louis Mesmer and had left her some property on San Pedro Street. Griffith claimed that Tina had assigned her claim on the property to her father, and that Griffith had then bought the claim from Mesmer. Briswalter's large estate was in dispute due to an alleged illegitimate son, and the parties involved (including the Mesmers) had agreed to probate.

Probate was time-consuming, even in the 1880s. But Griffith didn't want to wait. Hmmm.

In December of 1896, Griffith J. Griffith announced he was donating 3,015 acres of Rancho Los Feliz for use as a public park. He stated "I consider it my obligation to make Los Angeles a happier, cleaner, and finer city. I wish to pay my debt of duty in this way to the community in which I have prospered." 

Here's what most people don't realize about the parcel of land he chose to donate at the time: it was too hilly and woody for farming, livestock grazing, or developing into housing tracts. That made the acreage in question a potential property-tax loss for Griffith...who owed an outstanding tax debt to the city at the time. Was the land truly a gift? Could it have been a tax write-off? Or was Griffith trying to bribe the city into forgiving his existing tax debt?

The city of Los Angeles hesitated to acknowledge, let alone use, the "gift" at first. Gee, I wonder why.

Fifteen months later, Griffith formally deeded the land to the city. A special, jam-packed City Council session was held for the occasion. The Los Angeles Herald noted that "...Mr. Griffith stepped jauntily in, carrying a huge roll, tied with an immense bow of blue satin ribbon - the deed to Griffith Park." The midget egomaniac had gotten his way, and in a ludicrously theatrical manner at that.

Within a few years of "gifting" Griffith Park to the city, things took a much darker turn.

Griffith, who claimed to be a teetotaler, began to drink. Heavily. He reportedly drank up to two quarts of whiskey per day. (Which seems slightly implausible, since two quarts means 42.66 standard shots in one day, but in any case, those close to him knew he drank way, way too much.)

The religious arguments began. Somehow, Griffith became convinced that his Catholic wife was plotting with Pope Leo XIII to poison him and steal his fortune.

At one point, Griffith told Tina "Come in here, I want to speak to you" in such a frightening way that she fled the family home and spent the night at her sister Lucy's house.

When Louis Mesmer died in 1900, Tina inherited only $500 from her father's estate. The will explained that the amount was so small because Louis had arranged Tina's inheritance from André Briswalter.

Griffith's drinking and bizarre behavior continued to worsen.

On August 4, 1903, a new Pope was elected - Pius X. Around the same time, the Griffith family took a vacation in the Presidential suite of Santa Monica's posh Arcadia Hotel.

For weeks, Griffith's paranoid delusions about being poisoned by his wife - or even by the new Pope - led him to constantly switch cups and plates with Tina, or with their 15-year-old son Vandell. Tina finally had to have the hotel's kitchen send their meals up family-style, since Griffith would switch out plated portions.

Thursday, September 4 was the last day of the Griffiths' vacation. Tina was packing her trunk when Griffith ordered her to get onto her knees. She could see he was holding his revolver. He demanded she close her eyes, but she was too frightened to completely close them.

Griffith peppered poor Tina with questions, seemingly trying to implicate her in poisoning André Briswalter (who had died of blood poisoning), poisoning him, and even being unfaithful to him.

On this last question, Griffith fired the gun. Tina jerked away, with the bullet entering her left eye. She ran for the window, pried it open, and jumped out to escape. Tina landed on a piazza roof one floor down, breaking her shoulder.

Luckily for Tina, the hotel's owner was in an adjacent room and heard the commotion. He pulled her to safety, sent for a doctor, and called the sheriff.

Tina's siblings asked her doctor not to discuss her condition or the circumstances of the shooting. Griffith would immediately exploit this.

Griffith told newspapers that Tina had shot herself in a suicide attempt. He then told Vandell that his mother was shot when the pistol was dropped.

The Mesmers subsequently allowed Dr. Moore to make a statement - and rallied around their sister, bracing for a very ugly legal battle.

Dr. Moore notified the newspapers that Mrs. Griffith had been shot through the eye and needed surgery to remove the bullet, pieces of splintered orbital bone, and what remained of her destroyed eye. Tina was also badly concussed and in such poor overall condition that Dr. Moore postponed setting her broken shoulder for two more days. 

Dr. Moore added that if the bullet had entered Tina’s eye just one-sixteenth of an inch lower, it would have entered her brain

Another physician, Dr. Rogers, stated that gunpowder burns on Tina’s face indicated she had been shot from approximately two feet away.

The day after shooting Tina, Griffith spent a long afternoon and evening bar-hopping. Law enforcement was tailing him on foot, and he was arrested that night. He was quickly released on bail. Vandell, unable to visit his mother in the hospital, accompanied Griffith back to Los Angeles, where they checked into the Fremont Hotel.

Six days after the shooting, Griffith was served with divorce papers. Tina demanded her freedom, sole custody of Vandell, and her share of their enormous combined estate. A temporary injunction was issued to prevent Griffith from disposing of any property in the interim (gee, I wonder why the court had to do that...), and Tina was granted custody of Vandell for the duration of the proceedings. Since Tina couldn't leave the hospital yet, Vandell was placed in the temporary care of Tina’s stepmother, Jennie Mesmer.

Tina's legal team knew she would have difficulty winning back her property. Joseph Scott, Esq. told the Los Angeles Herald “Unfortunately for Mrs. Griffith, she so neglected her own rights at the time of her marriage as to deed all of her property to Griffith before their union. It was an act of renunciation based on the old idea of dower, and it will be exceedingly difficult to attack the property now. Mrs. Griffith’s ‘dower’ included a large part of what is now known as the Briswalter tract, and was estimated to be worth $500,000 at the time of her marriage. It would be hard to estimate its present value. While we anticipate no difficulty in obtaining a decree of divorce or in obtaining ample support for our client, it seems questionable whether she can obtain any approximation of what really should be hers.” 

Griffith’s trial began February 15, 1904. Within a few days, the prosecution’s line of questioning showed a possible motive for the murder attempt.

Tina, who concealed her scarred face behind a veil, was asked a series of questions about her inheritance. She revealed that Griffith had been managing her business for their entire marriage. She had repeatedly asked him to settle up with her, since she wanted to handle her own land holdings. It was further revealed that had the bullet killed her, she would have died without a will

Tina's share of the couple's estate would have automatically stayed with her homicidal husband instead of going to her only child or her siblings.

Griffith, using a defense of “alcoholic insanity” (which sounds an awful lot like the Twinkie Defense if you ask me), was found guilty of a lesser charge - assault with a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to two years at San Quentin.

Two years in prison, for almost killing his long-suffering wife. Does anyone else smell that? I believe it's the distinct smell of bullshit.

Griffith’s original legal team, Silent & Works, sued him for $20,000 in attorneys’ fees. I suppose he couldn't be bothered with arranging payment.

Tina’s divorce case was heard on November 4, 1904. Judge Allen granted her a divorce on the grounds of cruelty after just four minutes of testimony. (Everyone thinks it's four and a half minutes. The earliest news article I can find covering the case says that it was four minutes, and poor Tina was too traumatized to say anything for much of that time. To my knowledge, it's the shortest divorce testimony on record.)

Griffith was not present at the divorce hearing. He was still in the County Jail, awaiting an appeal (an appeal - really?!). The financial end of the divorce was settled out of court. Griffith agreed to pay for Vandell's education, but demanded he not attend a Catholic-affiliated school (the Griffiths settled on Stanford).

Griffith sobered up in prison, and tried to donate more land to the city, in addition to funds for an amphitheater and a science building. The Parks Commission didn't want it. Mount Griffith was renamed Mount Hollywood.

Griffith eventually donated all of the above and more to the city in his will, essentially buying himself respectability in death. His grave marker in Hollywood Forever Cemetery is so tall you can practically see it from space.

True to her family's strong Catholic faith, Tina was interred at Calvary Cemetery when she passed away in 1948. 

To this day, Griffith Park bears its founder’s name, in addition to his likeness in statue form (the terms of Griffith's "gift" required that the land be called Griffith Park in perpetuity). 

Mary Agnes Christina Mesmer Griffith, who spent the rest of her life in seclusion at her sister and brother-in-law’s home, hiding her scarred face and empty eye socket behind a veil, has been forgotten.

Griffith Jenkins Griffith died from (what else...) liver disease on this day, one hundred years ago

Good riddance.

P.S. I went to Griffith Park regularly as a child, and have returned plenty of times as an adult. I truly believe that it is one of the greatest urban parks in the world. But seeing Griffith lionized as a civic-minded Angeleno, knowing what he truly was, makes every last drop of my French blood boil.

*There is a persistent myth that the Alsatian-born Mesmers were somehow descendants of/heirs to the Verdugo family, who were Californios. It’s NOT TRUE. It’s not even possible; I’ve spent hours on Ancestry checking this. For the love of macarons, Please. Stop. Saying. Tina. Was. A. Verdugo. Heiress.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Get On the Bus! Preservation Tour September 7

Regular readers may recall that 11 months ago, I received word that Jeanne d'Arc, who had stood guard outside the French Hospital/Pacific Alliance Medical Center since 1964, had vanished.

The next three days were a panicked blur.

An overlooked statue, with no landmark status (really, no protection of any kind), wordlessly removed from the privately-owned grounds of a defunct hospital in a city that allows so much of its history to be thrown in the garbage. It didn't look good for poor Jeanne.

And what of the French Benevolent Society, owners of the hospital site since 1869, who haven't had a public presence since 1989 and have yet to make any sort of comment on the sale of the property?

Get the story, straight from yours truly, on Esotouric's inaugural Saving Los Angeles Landmarks tour on Saturday, September 7.

Think you've read it all here? If you still need convincing...

Steve Luftman will be discussing Lytton Savings, Alan Hess will be discussing Pereira's Metropolitan Water District, and although artist Sheila Klein is unfortunately not able to appear, the fate of Vermonica will be featured.

These tours sell out, so get your tickets early!

Friday, June 14, 2019

"About Where Union Station Is Today"

For years it was assumed that El Aliso - California's first commercial vineyard and winery - had stood on, or at least roughly on, the site we now know as Union Station.

As I've previously explained...that's not the case. The bulk of El Aliso, including the massive sycamore tree itself, stood south of the 101, opposite Union Station. (One of my older books also backs this up.)

And yet, for so long it has commonly been assumed that the Union Station site, or a spot very close to it, had been Jean-Louis Vignes' vineyard. Even the LA Times made this claim as recently as 2015.


Matthew Keller - "Don Mateo" to early Angelenos - was an Irish immigrant who had lived in Mexico and befriended Andrew Boyle (who became his brother-in-law) while he was south of the border.

Keller moved to Los Angeles in 1851, buying a 10-acre plot from Don Manuel Requena at Alameda and Aliso Streets. Which is awfully close to Union Station.

Don Mateo built a house, planted an orchard and a vineyard, and established the Los Angeles Vineyards winery, which is said to have extended towards the river.

Tellingly, Keller Street runs well behind Union Station, parallel to the river. (Mateo Street, also named for Keller, runs north-south through the Arts District.)

There was indeed a vineyard "about where Union Station is today", or at least very close by. It just wasn't El Aliso. It was Don Mateo Keller's Los Angeles Vineyards.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Jean Renoir: The Greatest of All Directors

Once upon a time in Montmartre, a renowned Impressionist painter married a young dressmaker. They had three sons, all of them creative.

The first son, Pierre, became a stage and film actor.

The third son, Claude, had a short film career, but was primarily a ceramic artist.

The middle son, Jean Renoir (yes, his father was THAT Renoir) acted, wrote screenplays, produced films, and was dubbed "the greatest of all directors" by no less a director than Orson Welles.

The Renoir boys were largely raised by their nanny, Gabrielle Renard, who was also their mother's cousin and an occasional model for their father's paintings. Renard took them to Guignol puppet shows* and took little Jean to see his first motion picture when he was only a few years old. Writing of his nanny/second cousin years later, Renoir stated "She taught me to see the face behind the mask and the fraud behind the flourishes. She taught me to detest the cliché."

Like many wealthy children of the era, young Jean was sent to expensive boarding schools. He frequently ran away from them.

As a young adult, Jean served in the French cavalry during World War One. After taking a bullet to the leg, he watched the films of Charlie Chaplin (who would later call Renoir "the greatest film director in the world"), D.W. Griffith, Erich von Stroheim (his favorite) and countless others while recuperating. He recovered enough to serve as a reconnaissance pilot - but crucially, he had rediscovered his love of film.

In 1924, Jean directed his first silent film (he made nine), Une Vie Sans Joie. His films weren't profitable at this stage, and he slowly sold off paintings inherited from his father to finance his work.

By 1931, Renoir was making sound films. At last, he found success as a director. In 1938, he and his brother Claude founded their own production company, Nouvelle Edition Française.

One of Renoir's most famous films, La Grande Illusion, which he also co-wrote, tells the story of French POWs making multiple attempts to escape during World War One. Germany promptly banned the film (you know you're doing something right when the enemy tries to censor you), as did Italy...after the film won an award at the Venice Film Festival.

La Grande Illusion was the very first foreign-language film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. (You're definitely doing something right when the Academy takes notice!) Better yet, Renoir got to work with his favorite actor, Erich von Stroheim.

Renoir followed La Grande Illusion with La Béte Humaine. Based on Emile Zola's novel of the same name, La Béte Humaine might well be considered one of the earliest noir films on record. Jean's nephew, Claude Renoir, who became a noted cinematographer, was the camera operator for both La Grande Illusion and La Béte Humaine.

Also of note was The Rules of the Game, a satirical take on French high society. Renoir directed and also played Octave, who ties the story together. The film was panned by critics and audiences alike; however, it has since been called one of the greatest films of all time and has become both a favorite of film buffs and an influence on later filmmakers.

Renoir was a pacifist and had Communist leanings, which led to The Rules of the Game being banned off and on. Still, in 1939 at the age of 45, he joined the French Army Film Service as a lieutenant. The French government sent him to Italy to teach at Italy's national film school and to work on his film Tosca as part of a cultural exchange (Italy had not yet entered World War Two). Renoir abandoned the film and his teaching post to make himself available for military service instead.

The following spring, Renoir fled to the United States after Germany invaded France. Renoir struggled to find suitable projects in Hollywood (producer Darryl F. Zanuck stated "Renoir has plenty of talent, but he's not one of us"). He did, however, receive another Academy Award nomination for directing The Southerner in 1945.

Renoir's son from his first marriage, Alain, joined him in the U.S. in 1942 and joined the American army.

Although Renoir became a naturalized U.S. citizen, he returned to Europe in the 1950s to make more films. When health issues and a lack of financing prevented him from continuing to direct, Renoir retired to his Beverly Hills home, where he wrote his memoir My Life and My Films and his bestselling novel Les Cahiers du Capitaine Georges. (Renoir was approached, many times, about turning the novel into a film. He refused - he didn't want to film it, and he didn't want anyone else to film it either.)

Finally, in 1975, Renoir got his due.

London's National Film Theatre honored him with a retrospective of his work.

The French government awarded him the rank of commander in the Legion d'honneur.

And the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored him with a lifetime Academy Award for his contributions to the field, presented by Ingrid Bergman (unfortunately Renoir's poor health prevented him from attending the ceremony).

Renoir passed away at home in 1979 following a heart attack. He was buried alongside his family in France following a state funeral.

Jean Renoir was honored with his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Unfortunately, due to frequent construction, I have yet to get a picture of it.

Alain Renoir did not stay in Los Angeles - he pursued an academic career, founding UC Berkeley's Department of Comparative Literature in 1966. Dr. Renoir became an expert on Medieval English literature.

*For those unfamiliar with Guignol, he's not unlike Punch (England) or Pulcinella (Italy). Do not confuse with Grand Guignol, which is most assuredly not for children.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Forgotten French Dairies of Los Angeles County

Recently, Broguiere's Dairy in Montebello (founded by a French immigrant in 1920; still family-owned 99 years later) announced plans to close.

I have sent Broguiere's an interview request and hope they'll have the time and inclination to talk to me (closing down a business is more work than most people realize). In the meantime, let's explore LA County's other French-founded, long-forgotten dairies. (I'm sure I don't need to remind my readers that French cuisine is butter-based, and living in then-remote Southern California didn't necessarily change French Angelenos' culinary preferences all that much.)

Much of the information about these dairies is lost to history; I'm afraid I won't be able to offer as much information as I prefer.

Augustus Ulyard is known to have established a dairy in Cahuenga (somewhere in the Valley) after retiring from baking.

Paul J.M. Molle is known to have been in the dairy business, and likely rented land on Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit for that very purpose ('s quite possible there were once dairy cows in Malibu).

Jean Sentous' dairy farm stood in the block bordered by Washington, Grand, 21st, and Main (this piece of land would later become Chutes Park). His cattle brand is now in the permanent collection of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Francois Pellissier, known for the Pellissier Dairy and Alpine Dairy (he also co-founded the Highland Union Dairy), raised his dairy cows on a ranch straddling Whittier and City of Industry. The family farmhouse stood on Workman Mill Road in what is now Industry, but much of modern-day Whittier was originally the Pellissier family's sizable dairy.

The Didier family also raised dairy cows in the City of Industry area (the Homestead Museum has a surviving Didier Dairy milk bottle in its permanent collection, although it's not on public display).

We're known for LA's earliest commercial wine production. Apparently, we made at least some of the cheese that went with it, too.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

They Paved Frenchtown and Put Up a Parking Lot

One of the most frustrating things about digging through Los Angeles history is finding out something with character, charm, historical significance, or cultural significance was lost long build a parking lot. Yeah, THAT's a fair trade-off.

Obviously, Los Angeles needs parking facilities. I just wish developers would tear down something ugly for once.

I've been mapping historically French sites in Southern California for six years. I've inventoried almost 500. Many more have been torn down for other reasons. These historic locations, associated with Los Angeles' lost French community, have all been partially or completely replaced by parking lots (and, in some cases, parking garages).

Consider this list a "work in progress." I've been meaning to write it for a few years now...but I keep finding parking lots (and every time I do, a little piece of me dies). I'll be adding them to the list as I continue to dig. If you know of a site I should add, please comment below.

Cue "Big Yellow Taxi"...

  • Mayor Joseph Mascarel's adobe house. The Talamontes-Mascarel adobe, built in 1834, was torn down in 1957. The Huntington Library has the only surviving picture of which I'm aware, and I am eternally grateful to them for letting me see it in person. Now it's Olvera Street parking.
  • L'Union Nouvelle offices. Los Angeles' most popular French-language newspaper (which was still being published when the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner ran its last edition) had offices at Arcadia and Main Streets for many years. Now Plaza employees park there. 
  • Viole-Lopizich Pharmacy site. The Viole family served Los Angeles as pharmacists and physicians for many years. Their pharmacy is now a Plaza parking lot.
  • Signoret Block. This classy mansard-roofed brick building also housed Chevalier's pharmacy. Part of the same parking lot as the Viole-Lopizich pharmacy site. 
  • Another Viole-Lopizich Pharmacy site (and residence). Stood several doors down from the previous Viole-Lopizich pharmacy. Part of the same parking lot.
  • Oriental Café. Co-owned by Benjamin Flotte, Victor Dol's uncle. Dol later ran the Restaurant Française in the same building. Part of the same parking lot as the Viole-Lopizich pharmacies and Signoret Block.
  • Brunswig Annex. Formerly adjoined the Vickrey-Brunswig Building, which survived and houses La Plaza de Cultura y Artes. Again, same parking lot as the Oriental Café building and Viole-Lopizich pharmacies.
  • Le Progrés offices. This politically independent weekly French-language newspaper stood on New High Street in the late 19th century...and its offices disappeared for the same Olvera Street parking lot as the Talamontes-Mascarel adobe. 
  • Sentous Block. Christine Sterling dressed in widow's weeds and hung a black wreath on the main door when this building was condemned. Pio Pico lived in one of the upstairs apartments after losing everything. Like Mayor Mascarel's house a few doors down, it was demolished in 1957 for Olvera Street parking.
  • Jean Bernard's brickyard. A motel and private parking facility stand on the site today.
  • Former site of Naud's warehouse. Yes, it burned down. But it also gave the neighborhood (Naud Junction) its name. And now it's parking spaces.
  • Prudent Beaudry's house/real estate office. Southern California's first large-scale developer (and builder, two-term mayor, and investor) was working from home way back in the 1880s, owning a house/office on New High Street, behind the Brunswig Building. Now the site is part of a Plaza parking lot. (The Beaudry brothers predicted that people would flood into Southern California once the railroad came to town. They were correct...beyond anyone's wildest dreams. Now LA is overcrowded. Oh, the irony.)
  • At least one plot owned by Georges Le Mesnager. 1660 N. Main Street, owned by George before he got into wine and liquor production, is now a parking lot for a DWP facility.
  • Georges Le Mesnager's Hermitage Winery. 207-209 N. Los Angeles Street, formerly Georges' walled vineyard (Harris Newmark compared it to a European chateau) is now part of the Los Angeles Mall...and its underground parking garage. Doesn't seem like a fair tradeoff, does it?
  • The Amestoy Building. Built in 1888 in the same block that is home to City Hall, the three-story building was dubbed the city's "first skyscraper" (even though the Nadeau Hotel was taller) and formerly housed the Los Angeles Supreme Court. The Amestoy building survived the Civic Center's redevelopment in the 1920s/1930s...only to be demolished in 1958 for a City Hall parking lot. 
Downtown/Little Tokyo
  • Original site of Philippe'sThe Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, including its adjoining parking lot, stands on the approximate location of Philippe's original (1908-1918) sandwich shop. (It could be worse...the site of Philippe and Arbin Mathieu's previous restaurant currently hosts the city jail.) 
  • Michel Lachenais' ranchOkay, Lachenais was a violent convicted murderer. But his former homestead now boasts a Paragon Parking location, so it still makes this list. 
  • Ducommun Yard. This site has had quite a history of its own! Well within the original boundaries of Frenchtown, it housed Los Angeles' first passenger depot and locomotive roundhouse, and by the 1920s it was a DWP facility (fittingly, Charles Ducommun was one of the DWP's original stockholders). Ducommun Industries operated on the site before moving to South Los Angeles in 1941. The property is currently a large depot and parking facility for buses.
  • One of Louis Mesmer's New York Bakery sites. Part of the Ducommun Yard property, on Alameda Street.
  • Hotel de Strasbourg. Ducommun Yard on Alameda Street, again.
  • M. Sainsevain's feed store. Also part of the Ducommun Yard property.
  • Much of El Aliso/Sainsevain Brothers Vineyard. Jean-Louis Vignes' 104-acre property has been divided over and over, so multiple parking lots/garages are on this chunk of land roughly bordered by the Los Angeles River to the west and the 101 Freeway to the north. 
  • Former Larronde-Etchemendy mansion. The beautiful Victorian mansion at 237 N. Hope St., home to the blended Larronde-Etchemendy family for nearly 80 years, was torn down along with the rest of Old Bunker Hill. The house stood about where the DWP parking lot is today. 
  • Raymond Alexandre's Roundhouse. LA's earliest known example of fantasy architecture, LA's earliest amusement park, LA's earliest kindergarten...and within the former grounds is a large Paragon Parking lot.
  • Ponet Square Hotel. Formerly the largest apartment building in Los Angeles (built 1906), this hotel was torn down in the days immediately following a deadly arson fire in 1970 (which led to a badly needed update to the 1943 fire code) and promptly turned into (what else...) a parking lot. It's been a parking lot ever since.
  • Two other portions of Ponet Square itself. Ponet Square includes two additional parking lots, albeit smaller ones.
  • Pershing Square. Technically still there, but mostly paved over and altered beyond recognition. This is the worst public park in Southern California, partly because building an underground parking garage and elevating the park to allow for said garage has led to too much concrete and not enough tree shade. Pershing Square can be scorching hot on 60-degree days. The previous design should have been left the hell alone (if it isn't broken, don't "fix" it!). Oh well, at least the Doughboy isn't going anywhere.
  • Mesmer Building. Louis Mesmer built a two-story building at the corner of Los Angeles and Requeña Streets, later opening Requeña to Alameda Street. Requeña Street was renamed Market Street and no longer exists. Mesmer's building was replaced by a City Hall parking garage.
  • The entire Sentous tract, including the Sentous Street School. Razed in 1969 to build a massive parking lot for the Los Angeles Convention Center. The Staples Center (and its parking garages) now take up much of the land. Sentous Street was renamed L.A. Live Way.
  • First Methodist Church. While most French Angelenos were Catholic, Melvina Lapointe Lott - niece of Remi Nadeau - belonged to this church and donated three Tiffany mosaic panels said to be Tiffany's very finest work. The church was razed (for a parking lot, what else) in the 1980s (thankfully, the Tiffany panels now belong to the Lake Merritt United Methodist Church in Oakland). On a personal note, I have used that parking lot many times...and I became very nauseous when I realized I'd repeatedly parked on the former site of a Tiffany masterpiece.
  • Germain Pellissier's house. Entire block is now occupied by a hideous multi-level parking facility across the street from the Walt Disney Concert Hall. 
  • Jean Sentous' dairy farm. The farm, bordered by Grand, Washington, Main, and 21st Streets, changed hands a few times, becoming Chutes Park in 1900. There are now several parking lots and a courthouse parking structure on the land.
  • One of Pascale Ballade's saloons. Ballade had a few drinking establishments to his name, and the one at 742 S. Main Street is now a parking lot!
  • Remi Nadeau's city block. Nadeau's land holdings included most of the block bordered by Hill, 4th, Broadway, and 5th Streets. His freighting business was headquartered here - corrals, stables, blacksmiths, and a wagon repair shop stood on the land. Today, there are multiple commercial properties, a government office...and two parking lots. 
  • Louis Mesmer's house. The approximate location of 127 S. Broadway is now the entrance to a courthouse parking garage.
  • André Briswalter's home (possibly). Briswalter lived at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Main Street. One of the four corners of the intersection is now a large parking lot. 
  • Dehail House Hotel. Like all the other French-owned boarding houses in the area, it's long gone. Most would have been too close to the 101 Freeway to survive the 1950s, but this one is - you guessed it - a Little Tokyo parking lot. 
  • Charles Ducommun's mansion. By 1892, the Ducommuns had moved out, and the house became a boarding house for newsies and other young working boys. It later became a men's boarding house, and finally a boarding house for Japanese tenants. And now the site is a parking facility.
  • Victor Dol's house. There's ONE parking lot on this block...and its location corresponds to the talented chef's address. 
  • Old Calvary Catholic Cemetery. The Diocese of Los Angeles decided the cemetery would better serve its needs as Cathedral High School's parking lot and athletic fields. Numerous Catholic Angelenos, many of them French, had to be re-interred at New Calvary. (Marcelina Leonis' original headstone is installed in the field fence like it's an art if dying of smallpox at age 20 wasn't bad enough. I, personally, find it disrespectful.)
  • City Cemetery. The French Benevolent Society had its own parcel at the cemetery for members. Now it's a parking lot for the Board of Education.
  • Champ d'Or Hotel/Taix Restaurant. The Taix family tore down their circa-1882 bakery to build the hotel in 1912. In 1927, Marius Taix Jr. took over the ground-floor restaurant from a tenant. Taix opened its current location in Echo Park in 1962. The 1912 building was torn down in 1964...for a very large parking structure across Alameda Street from the Justice Department and the Metropolitan Detention Center.
  • Portions of Germain Pellissier's sheep ranch. It's unclear how much land Pellissier actually owned (sources disagree wildly). However, there are parking facilities adjacent to the Wiltern Theatre, which was built by Pellissier's grandson on land Pellissier had owned (and now my newer readers know why the entire 12-story structure is called the Pellissier Building).
  • The Godissart home. Cosmetics mogul Joseph Godissart and his family moved to 810 S. Harvard Boulevard, which has been replaced by an apartment block...with a parking garage.
  • Léon Bary's home. French actor/director Léon Bary's home is now an auto body shop...and its parking lot.
South Los Angeles
  • Firmin "Frank" Toulet's house. Frank Toulet, founder of Musso and Frank Grill, was living at 1813 W. 79th Street at the time of his death. Now it's a fenced parking lot behind a commercial property.

The Hollywoods
  • Paul de Longpré's home and gardens. The great painter's roses are long gone, with a parking garage occupying part of the site. 
  • Various swaths of Victor Ponet's farm. Ponet owned much of modern-day West Hollywood. There are too many parking facilities, public and private, to list.
Santa Monica
  • L. Giroux's grocery and home. Monsieur Giroux spotted Santa Monica, fell in love with it, and built a combination home/grocery store (Santa Monica's second house, supposedly, after Eugene Aune's). The house is long gone and the land is occupied by Parking Structure 6. (And I thought I'd run out of reasons to hate the Third Street Promenade!)
  • Le Mesnager vineyard. As glad as I am that the Le Mesnager family's barn survived (and reopened to the public in 2022), Deukmejian Wilderness Park's parking lot IS uncomfortably close to the buildings. I'm just saying, it *could* have been placed closer to the park's entrance.
And one "near miss" that was saved...

In 1962, the Leonis Adobe was very nearly torn down to make way for a grocery store parking lot (are you #$%@ing kidding me?!). For the second time in its existence, the adobe had been abandoned for years and left to rot. Thankfully, the newly established Cultural Heritage Board intervened...and the Leonis Adobe became Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #1.

Honorable Mention: the original intersection of Alameda and Aliso - the core of the French Colony - was erased and paved in the 1950s. When you drive under the Alameda Street overpass on the 101, you’re driving through Frenchtown. In theory, the 101 is a freeway. In practice, it becomes a sort of parking lot when traffic is heavy enough.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Bread, Crackers, and Augustus Ulyard

On New Year's Eve, 1852, a French American and his English wife arrived in Los Angeles.

Augustus Ulyard, born in Philadelphia to French immigrant parents, was a baker by trade. The Ulyards rented a house near the Plaza and set up a bakery, using yeast Mary Field Ulyard had brought with her from Missouri. There were other bakers in town*, chief amongst them Joseph Lelong and his Jenny Lind Bakery**.

The only bread baked in Los Angeles until 1853 was French bread. Which should surprise no one, since all the bakers in town were French.

Of course, by 1853, increasing numbers of Germans and Yankees had moved to Los Angeles. Ulyard - the first baker in Los Angeles to diversify his wares - soon added German and American varieties of bread and cake, which proved very popular.

An advertisement in the Los Angeles Star (November 12, 1853) stated "...I am prepared to furnish individuals or parties with Pastry, Pies, Cakes, Bread, etc. at short notice, and of a better quality than can be obtained at any other establishment in this town...".

Ulyard moved his bakery to the southwest corner of Main and First Streets. He was successful enough to make some real estate purchases - including the southwest corner of Fifth and Spring Streets. The Alexandria Hotel has stood on the site since 1906.

In early Los Angeles, food often arrived in poor condition because it took so long to arrive from suppliers in San Bernardino or San Francisco (and anything coming from San Bernardino could be spoiled by the desert heat). Crackers in particular tended to arrive stale. Late in 1860, Ulyard began to advertise "fresh crackers, baked in Los Angeles, and superior to those half spoiled by the sea voyage."

Ulyard eventually sold the bakery to Louis Mesmer, established a dairy in Cahuenga, and went into the grocery business. He was a member of the Odd Fellows' Golden Rule Lodge, a member of the Common Council, and helped to organize California's first Republican League, supporting John C. Frémont's presidential bid (Frémont ultimately lost the nomination to Abraham Lincoln).

The Ulyards had no biological children, but they did adopt seven homeless children over the years. The youngest, Sarah Nelson, was just starting high school when Augustus retired from baking at age 63.

Augustus Ulyard died in 1900 at age 83. Mary died the following year. The Ulyards are buried at Angelus Rosedale.

*Ulyard's obituary in the Los Angeles Herald claimed he was Los Angeles' first baker. He was not - at minimum, Lelong had already been in business for at least a couple of years.

**Don't ask me why Lelong named a French bakery after a Swedish opera star. I have no idea.