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 (sometimes listed as Ville de 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 building that housed City of Paris from 1896 until 1917 (it moved at least twice prior to that) is still standing today - and has housed Grand Central Market for 102 years. (The next time you go there, look around and see if you can detect any of the old department store's bones in the ground-floor market. It's my favorite way to kill time waiting for Ramen Hood to open.)

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.

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