Sunday, March 31, 2019

Pierre "Wrongway" Beauregard Rides Again

I spend God only knows how many hours poring over old books, old city directories, and very old newspapers in search of clues about the forgotten French families of Old Los Angeles.

But, once in a blue moon, the Blogging Gods drop a story right into my lap.

Back in February, I found a vintage ceramic poodle in one of the antique malls just off the traffic circle in Old Towne Orange (I've been going there since I was old enough to walk). I have a vintage poodle made from an identical mold that I painted myself...but this one was better than mine. I snapped it up and posted pictures on Instagram.

Imagine my shock when I recently received an email from a Pasadena woman who recognized not only the poodle, but the name painted on the poodle's feet!

This entry is edited from a lengthy interview with the subject's daughter, Renée Levesque. That fateful poodle was painted in the 1960s by her brother, Pierre Beauregard Jr. Merci, Renée!

Pierre Beauregard Sr. was born in Normandy, France, in 1919 - the youngest child of hardworking farmers. From a young age, he was fascinated by aviation and held high hopes that space travel would someday be possible.

Pierre didn't much care for farming (and according to Renée, couldn't keep a plant alive). He lived for the rare occasion that a plane would fly anywhere he could see it (and in rural northern France, that just didn't happen very often).

In 1927, eight-year-old Pierre heard that Charles Lindbergh was flying into Paris on the first-ever nonstop solo flight from faraway New York. Pioneering aviators like Lindbergh were Pierre's heroes (Renée dryly noted that her father would never have idolized Lindbergh if he'd known about Lindy's secret second family, secret third family, and secret fourth family...and all with Germans at that!).

He wanted to go. Paris was a train ride away. But his family was poor.

Young Pierre was no fan of attending weekly Mass. It was boring, he couldn't understand Latin, the parish priest was a nasty old man, and he resented the weekly collection plate. The Beauregards were poor and struggled to break even; why should his parents contribute even a few of their hard-earned francs to a church that turned around and spent the money elsewhere? Pierre's homemade hand-me-down clothes were always threadbare and patched; his holey shoes had gone through several older brothers. As far as he was concerned, that collection plate was keeping him in rags.

Pierre sneaked out of the family's tiny farmhouse, slipped the bolt on the church door, squeezed in, and took enough money from the collection plate to buy a round-trip ticket to Paris.

Once he arrived in Paris, Pierre sneaked into a well-to-do aviation enthusiast's car, hiding in the back seat under a large picnic blanket. Lindy was landing at an airfield seven miles north of Paris proper; it would take too long to walk and Pierre didn't know how to get there anyway.

The tens of thousands of spectators who crowded the area around the airfield for miles didn't notice the unaccompanied eight-year-old in tattered, oversize clothes.

Lindy finally landed at 10:22 pm. Headlights from thousands of spectators' cars ensured that the Spirit of St. Louis was well within view. Pierre remembered that moment for the rest of his life.

Needless to say, he was in a LOT of trouble when he got home. The Beauregards had enough problems without their youngest child stealing from the parish church and running off. Pierre was shipped off to Quebec to live with his aunt and uncle.

Planes were a RARE sight in rural Canada in the 1920s. Reduced to watching flocks of geese flying overhead, he dreamed of the day when he could fly away too.

Pierre got his chance in 1935. With a few tweaks to his birth certificate, he ran away again, this time to Ontario, and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. (His family eventually forgave him.)

Pierre Beauregard, circa 1942
The RCAF taught Pierre how to fly and maintain military aircraft, and because he was surrounded by English speakers, he became fluent very quickly. Pierre did well in the RCAF...until The Incident.

Pierre had been given color-coded sets of instructions. Unfortunately, Pierre was mildly colorblind and mixed up the blue and purple sheets, resulting in him flying the wrong way.

The other airmen nicknamed him "Wrongway" while the top brass investigated the incident. Pierre honestly hadn't known he was colorblind, and was ultimately given a medical discharge.

The incident made the newspapers as far away as New York - where a producer was in town, searching for a stuntman who could fly a plane.

Pierre "Wrongway" Beauregard was on a train to Los Angeles by the end of the week.

He wasn't red-green colorblind, so he was still able to fly. Before long, Pierre was working as a stuntman (due to his short stature and very slight build, he often doubled for older child actors or young ingenues).

Los Angeles agreed with Pierre. It was warm and beautiful, there was always something to do, he loved his job, and he liked to drive to the Glendale airport to watch planes take off and land. Stunt performers weren't listed in the credits in those days, but Pierre didn't care. He was happy. More importantly, he wasn't stuck on the family farm growing wheat and brewing apple cider.

Pierre enlisted in the U.S. military after Pearl Harbor, in spite of both his partial colorblindness (the American military wouldn't let him fly a plane either) and the fact that he'd also suffered a partial hearing loss from an on-set explosion. After his discharge, he married Cécile Chevalier.

Pierre and Cécile's wedding day, 1946
Pierre had a close call in 1955 when the plane he was flying malfunctioned and crashed. He should have been killed instantly, but walked away with only a broken hand. By this time, he had two young children to support, and stunt work was becoming too unreliable to provide a steady income.

Pierre Jr., Renée, and Pierre Sr., 1956
Pierre hung up his goggles and helmet, taking a job at Douglas Aircraft as a safety inspector, moving his family to the Westside, and watching planes take off and land at LAX. From then on, he didn't fly planes - he worked for companies that made them.

Pierre being honored at work, 1977
Like the rest of the world, he watched the 1969 moon landing obsessively. Pierre retired in 1980 and quietly passed away in his sleep two years later - an understated exit for a former daredevil. He and Cécile are buried at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Eugene Meyer: A Nameplate, a Cemetery Plot, and Old LA's Best Department Store

Eugene Meyer - another cousin of Don Solomon Lazard - was born in Alsace in 1842, and came to Los Angeles at age 21 to work for Lazard's store, but before long he was in business on his own.

Meyer's haberdashery, the first in Los Angeles, stood at 4th and Main, near Raymond Alexandre's Roundhouse. Coincidentally, when the Roundhouse hosted a 3,000-person Centennial celebration in 1876, Eugene Meyer was one of the parade's four marshals.

Meyer, like several other French Angelenos, belonged to the International Order of Odd Fellows' Golden Rule Lodge. In 1867, he married Harriet Newmark. They had eight children.

Harris Newmark (Meyer's cousin-in-law) reported that while he was away in New York for an extended period, Eugene and Harriet Meyer added a silver nameplate to their front door. This was such a rare sight in 1860s Los Angeles that Newmark's family mentioned it to him in a letter - and when Newmark inspected it himself a year later, the nameplate was still a novelty.

In 1872, while Meyer was serving as President of the French Benevolent Society, he asked the Los Angeles City Council to allocate a plot in the City Cemetery for Society members. The City Cemetery became (drumroll please...) a parking lot many years ago, but for as long as it lasted, it did have a plot for the French Benevolent Society. (Most notably, Mayor Damien Marchesseault, ineligible for burial at Calvary Cemetery due to his suicide, was buried in the French Benevolent Society's plot. He was later re-interred at Angelus Rosedale.)

Meyer was a founding member of the Los Angeles Board of Trade (now the Chamber of Commerce) when it was established in 1873. The following year, he was one of several prominent French Angelenos who tried to persuade railroad officials to locate their depot east of Alameda Street, between Commercial and First Streets. This proposed location was close to the city's economic center, and many French Angelenos conducted business in the area. However, the railroad demanded control over the west side of Alameda Street as well, which was out of the question to area business owners.

In 1874, Solomon Lazard sold the City of Paris department store to Eugene and his brother Constant Meyer, who expanded the business. City of Paris carried sporting goods, housewares, shoes, toiletries, cameras, luggage, umbrellas - and clothing. In fact, all the elegant ladies of Old Los Angeles bought the latest in French fashions from City of Paris. The store also had an in-house travel agency, chiropodist's office, shoeshine parlor, beauty parlor, and library...and Los Angeles' French consulate! In addition to his job as co-owner of the city's premier department store, Eugene Meyer served his home country and his adopted city as a consular agent.

By 1883, the store was listed in directories as both City of Paris and Eugene Meyer & Co.

The Meyers moved to San Francisco in 1883 so Eugene could manage Lazard Fréres' new California branch (which would close in 1906 due to the San Francisco earthquake).

Eugene's son Eugene Meyer Jr. went on to work at Lazard Fréres himself before striking out on his own as a speculator, investor, and eventual co-founder of Allied Chemical & Dye, which eventually became part of Honeywell's specialty-materials branch (there is a building named for Eugene Jr. at Honeywell's headquarters in New Jersey). He eventually became Chairman of the Federal Reserve and purchased the Washington Post in 1933.

Eugene Jr.'s daughter Katharine Meyer Graham, who succeeded him as the newspaper's publisher, needs no introduction.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Four Decades of Service: Maurice Kremer

We've met "Don Solomon" Lazard. Today we'll meet his cousin and onetime business partner.

Maurice Kremer was born in France's Lorraine province in 1824. After a stint in Memphis, he departed for Los Angeles in 1852, taking a steamer from New Orleans to Panama. Kremer walked across the Isthmus (the Panama Canal was 62 years away from opening), then took another steamer to Wilmington via San Francisco.

Upon arrival in Los Angeles, Kremer met up with his cousin Solomon Lazard. They co-founded a dry goods store, Lazard & Kremer, in the old Bell Block. In 1853 the store moved to Mellus' Row, at Los Angeles and Aliso Streets. Aliso Street was a very active business district in the 1850s, and it was near the road that led to El Monte, San Bernardino, and San Gabriel, so Lazard & Kremer did very well for themselves. Kremer's ability to speak French, German, Spanish, and English no doubt helped the cousins conduct business in Los Angeles, which was quickly becoming a multilingual settlement.

In those early days before lawless Los Angeles appealed to bankers, locals still needed secure places to store cash and valuables. Although Lazard & Kremer were merchants,* they were trustworthy citizens and had a safe. They soon faced a new challenge: customers asked to leave their money and jewelry with Lazard & Kremer for safekeeping! Lazard & Kremer obliged (and so did many other Jewish merchants in Western states).

In 1856, Kremer parted with Lazard, going into business with another prominent Jewish family - the Newmarks. Newmark, Kremer, & Co. dealt in wholesale and retail dry goods.

That same year, Kremer married Joseph Newmark's daughter Matilda. Six of the couple's twelve children (Rachel, Emily, Ada, Agnes, Fred, and Abraham) survived infancy.

Kremer was one of the founding members of Congregation B'nai B'rith (still in existence as Wilshire Boulevard Temple). He was also a founding member of the French Benevolent Society and a trustee of the Hebrew Benevolent Society (now known as Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles).

Maurice Kremer served the community in one capacity or another for four decades. He was made County Treasurer in 1860, a position he would hold for five years.

Harris Newmark, who acted as Deputy Treasurer on a volunteer basis (there was no money in the budget for a paid deputy), recalled that "Inasmuch as no bank had as yet been established in Los Angeles, Kremer carried the money to Sacramento twice a year; nor was this transportation of the funds, first by steamer to San Francisco, thence by boat inland, without danger. The State was full of desperate characters who would cut a throat or scuttle a ship for a great deal less than the amount involved."

Newmark added that while the money COULD have been sent via Wells Fargo, thus saving Kremer a long and dangerous trip, the company's fees were much too high at the time. Later on, when Wells Fargo had expanded and lowered their fees, the company took over transporting Los Angeles County's money to Sacramento.

After his term as County Treasurer, Kremer served on the Los Angeles School Board from 1866 to 1875. An 1875 newspaper article (naming Kremer as a Board of Education member) states that there was a motion to "build and furnish a school-house near the French Hospital".

Kremer then served as City Clerk, a position he held for one year.

After that, he served the city as a tax collector for three years.

Kremer later founded a fruit shipping company catering to farmers (the railroads opened up new markets for California produce).

In 1880, the Newmarks sold their insurance interests to Kremer, who co-founded Kremer, Campbell, and Co. In 1889, Kremer, Campbell, & Co. added fire insurance to the services they offered.

Kremer served as Chief Tax Collector of Los Angeles in 1900.

Matilda Newmark Kremer was also community-oriented. She was active in the Ladies' Benevolent Society - so much so that she served as Charter Vice President. Matilda helped found the Temple Union Sewing Circle, which made clothes for the needy, and helped found the Home of Peace Society, which maintained and beautified the city's Jewish cemetery (still called Home of Peace).

Maurice Kremer passed away in 1907. The firm of Kremer, Campbell, & Co. continued to conduct business after his passing.
*Solomon Lazard's other cousins founded Lazard Fréres, which was initially a dry goods import/export business. They eventually got into investment banking. Not only is their firm still in business, you can buy the stock (NYSE: LAZ).

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Coming Up: French-Jewish Citizens of Early Los Angeles

I can't stand watching the news anymore.

One of the things that appalls me the most is the rise in anti-Semitism, both in the USA and abroad (I'm especially horrified by a certain congresswoman's hate-spewing). It's become an alarming problem in France - home to the world's third largest Jewish population. So many French (and French-speaking) Jewish people have moved to Los Angeles in recent years that there is a Jewish-French Community Center in Pico-Robertson.

I'm not Jewish, but I am from multicultural Los Angeles. On top of that, I'm from Sherman Oaks. My immediate neighborhood was about 90% Jewish when I was a child (it's slightly more mixed now). It honestly never occurred to me that my neighbors and friends were any different than I was. We celebrated different holidays, but so what? (Our next-door neighbors invited us over on Jewish holidays, and winter holiday parties at my school were equally balanced between Christmas and Hanukkah for obvious reasons.)

I can't stop other people from being hateful, violent, or just plain horrid.

But I can post whatever the hell I want on this blog.

Starting this Friday and going until the last night of Passover (April 26), I will be profiling French-Jewish citizens of Old Los Angeles.

I've previously written about Solomon Lazard, the most trusted man in 1860s Los Angeles. Also, please visit the (online-only) Jewish Museum of the American West.

Stay tuned...

Goodnight from Frenchtown,


Thursday, March 7, 2019

Arbin Mathieu's Next Chapter

If you're reading this blog, you know who Philippe Mathieu was.

I've mentioned that prior to founding his namesake restaurant (and oh, yeah, inventing the French Dip sandwich), Philippe and his brother Arbin opened the cheekily-named New Poodle Dog restaurant, followed by another white-tablecloth eatery.

I've always wondered what Arbin did after the brothers closed both of their restaurants and Philippe focused on Philippe's. A 1920 picture of the Lanfranco Building provided a clue.

Look closely...

Lanfranco Building (photo from Water and Power)

The third shop front on the ground level - street address number 216 - reads "A. Mathieu French Delicacies".

A. Mathieu? ARBIN Mathieu?

The 1923 city directory confirmed my hunch, listing Arbin Mathieu at 216 N. Main Street - under "Delicacies".

I'm not surprised Arbin stayed in the same line of work. By the early twentieth century, there was certainly more than enough demand for well-prepared food in Los Angeles to keep both brothers in business.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Damien Marchesseault's Death Was Much Weirder Than I Thought

My seventh-grade history teacher made a point of teaching all of his students that "there is no such thing as a 'final history'". As time marches on, new information surfaces, new artifacts are discovered, and improvements in technology allow for more accurate analysis of the facts. (Case in point: many forgeries are only detected centuries later.) This entry's for you, Mr. Lehrer.

If you're reading this blog, you already know Mayor Damien Marchesseault committed suicide - not by shooting himself in the head as is usually reported, but by shooting himself in the face.

It's also commonly reported that he shot himself in an empty City Council chamber.

As it turns out, there are more details. And they're weird enough that I'm scratching my head.

The Los Angeles correspondent for the Daily Alta California went into more detail than the Los Angeles Semi-Weekly News (apart from the fact that the correspondent eliminated the text of Marchesseault's suicide note). I'll break it down:
D. Marchesseault, who has been Mayor of this city for a number of terms, went into the City Marshal's office
The City Marshal's office? Why is "empty City Council chamber" reported elsewhere?
which adjoins the Mayor's office
Why did Marchesseault choose the office next to his?

Also, the City Marshal was a combination of law enforcement officer, tax/license fee collector, and dogcatcher. I'm unaware of any bad blood between Marchesseault and the City Marshal at the time of his death...although Marchesseault's debts might very well have resulted in an inability to pay his taxes or the license on his saloon.
yesterday morning, about seven o'clock, and locking the street door, carefully laid himself upon a table, placing his head upon a cushion, and his feet upon a chair, discharged a pistol, the ball of which entered his head.
I definitely understand why Marchesseault would lock the door. And this detail explains why a different newspaper account refers to Marchesseault's suicide note being on a table next to him. But still, this is just plain weird. Why lie down on a table, feet on a chair?
 The report of the pistol was heard, but caused no alarm, as it was supposed to have been fired in the rear of the building. 
As bizarre as this sounds to modern-day Angelenos, gunfire was a common sound in 1860s Los Angeles. It was a Wild West town with the highest murder rate in the United States, and even peaceful people carried guns for protection (Harris Newmark, who had never owned a gun before emigrating to Los Angeles, recalled using an abandoned adobe for target practice).
 Between eight and nine o'clock in the morning, when he was discovered, he was lying on his back with one arm folded on his breast and the pistol in the hand of the other: there was no appearance that a single muscle had moved after the firing of the fatal shot.
Maybe I watch too many police procedurals, but this doesn't seem quite right. Normally, when someone shoots themselves, they drop the gun.

The rest of the Daily Alta California article contains no new information, so I won't reiterate it here.

I'm a firm believer in logic and reason. And I know I'm prone to overanalyzing everything. BUT...

The suicide location differs from most reports.

The Mayor positioning himself on a table, feet on a chair, doesn't make any sense.

And he somehow managed to not drop the gun after killing himself.

Couple that with the fact that Marchesseault isn't on the official list of former mayors (in spite of SIX terms) and the circumstances of the Mayor's death are weirder than I ever would have guessed.