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).

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