Friday, April 26, 2019

Leon Loeb and the City of Paris

Leon Loeb was born in Alsace-Lorraine around 1845. After a stint as a bookkeeper in Switzerland, he arrived in Los Angeles in September of 1866 and worked for S. Lazard & Company/Eugene Meyer & Company (the fact that he was Eugene Meyer's cousin couldn't have hurt). He later became a partner in the business.

Loeb married Harris Newmark's oldest daughter, Estelle, in 1879. They had four children - Edwin, Joseph, Rose, and George (sadly, George only lived a few months). He was active in local French circles, active in charitable circles, active in Congregation B'nai B'rith, and is said to have held every office in Odd Fellows Lodge No. 35.

When Eugene Meyer stepped down to move to San Francisco, Leon Loeb took over as head of the firm and took on new partners. The company name was changed to Stern, Loeb, & Co., but after a while, Loeb had a better idea.

Loeb decided to rebrand the dry goods store as a classy department store. And a classy department store needs a classy name.

Loeb was French. Solomon Lazard was French. Eugene Meyer was French. All the best stuff (at least in fashion) was imported from France - especially Paris.

By now, you know Solomon Lazard's dry goods store eventually became the Ville de Paris. And now you know who deserves the credit for that clever idea - Leon Loeb.

Loeb also took over Eugene Meyer's duties as a French consular agent. After fifteen years of service (working his way up to vice consul), the French government gave him two high honors - Chevalier du Merit Agricole and Officer d'Academie.

For the past 11 days, the world, including Los Angeles, has mourned the devastating fire at Notre Dame de Paris. This isn't the first time Los Angeles has mourned a tragic fire in Paris.

Paris' French Catholic upper class held an annual charity fundraiser, the Bazar de la Charité. In 1897, a combination of a wooden event building, lots of flammable materials, improperly marked exits, and a malfunctioning cinematograph caused a fire that killed 126 people.

A requiem mass was held in Los Angeles "at the old mission church" (the article doesn't specify whether it was Mission San Fernando, Mission San Gabriel, or the technically-not-a-mission Plaza Church). Leon Loeb attended the mass in his official capacity as a representative of the French people.

Newspaper accounts indicate that Leon Loeb served on the Bastille Day celebration committee several times, usually as honorary president or vice president.

When Rabbi Abraham Wolf Edelman passed away in 1907, Leon Loeb was one of the honorary pallbearers.

Loeb later went to work with his father-in-law as treasurer (and part owner) of H. Newmark & Co. By 1910, the census listed Loeb as living in Newmark's house on West Lake Avenue.

Leon Loeb passed away in 1911 at the age of 66. He is buried at Home of Peace Memorial Park in East Los Angeles.

Leon's surviving sons, Joseph and Edwin, both became attorneys. After working at other firms, they founded the law firm of Loeb & Loeb, with Joseph handling their corporate clients and Edwin handling movie studio clients. More than a century later, Loeb & Loeb has offices in several U.S. cities and in China.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Throwing the First Stone

Notre Dame de Paris burned yesterday.

Notre Dame was 865 years old. She withstood countless wars, invasions, the French Revolution, looting, desecration and severe neglect, Napoleon's ego trip, the Franco-Prussian War, World War One, and the Nazis.

And still, she stood at the heart of Paris and the heart of France (in a very literal sense - the "Point Zéro" marker, from which all distances in France are measured, is right outside the cathedral).

Yesterday, during some overdue restoration work, she caught fire.

I'm used to fires, but I live in Southern California. We have a very dry climate, we have frequent droughts, and we don't have controlled burns (which, done properly, deter wildfires). Paris has a good-sized river flowing through the city (the LA River has become a pathetic trickle) and gets more rain than London (yes, really). It's not normal for Paris to have ashes falling like black snow.

As depressing as this may sound, I'm used to the strong possibility of anything going up in flames at any time (although I always hope it won't happen). Case in point: besides burning over 400 homes, the Woolsey Fire burned the Sepulveda Adobe - still undergoing restoration from the 1994 earthquake - to the ground. It also destroyed the Paramount Ranch - strangely leaving only the church - but the ranch can be rebuilt. The Sepulveda family's 19th-century adobe isn't replaceable.

But things like this tend not to happen in France. No one ever expects a devastating fire to break out in a stone cathedral that has stood for almost nine centuries.

I know it could have been even worse. The bronze statues from the roof were removed mere days ago for restoration, the relics were saved, the stone structure didn't collapse, no one died, and only one firefighter was hurt.

But did it really have to be as bad as it was?

France's notoriously bureaucratic government allegedly hampered the process of getting funding for some badly needed repairs. Notre Dame is one of Paris' most popular destinations for tourists; you'd think the French government would WANT the cathedral to be well-maintained. Red tape is no one's friend! (Just ask any Angeleno who worked on the campaign to get Angels Flight up and running...)

The Catholic Church has money (visit the Vatican if you don't believe me); yet the Archdiocese of Paris has had to ask for donations to pay for the cathedral's upkeep. That makes no sense.

Somewhere in the great beyond, Victor Hugo is crying. And every drop of my French blood is boiling.

If the cathedral had just been properly maintained in the first place, the fire might not ever have broken out at all.

I know other historic sites have been rebuilt after devastating fires. But there shouldn't have been a fire in the first place.

Want to prevent more disasters like this?

Get mad. Speak up and demand respect for historic sites. When the local authorities aren't doing their jobs, take them to task (name, shame, recall if necessary). Declare war on negligence. It was bad enough when the Pickle Works burned down - the damage to Notre Dame is a much greater loss.

Although I am a daughter of Los Angeles, I am also a granddaughter of France. And there are no words that can adequately describe how furious I am tonight.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Edgar J. Meyer Died on the Titanic

I question whether I should include Edgar J. Meyer in this blog, since he was raised in San Francisco and I’ve seen conflicting information about his birthplace.

In any case, he was still the son of a prominent French Angeleno - Eugene Meyer. I already profiled his father, mentioning his brother Eugene Jr. and his niece Katherine, so to heck with it. Los Angeles tends not to have many connections to notorious events like this one.

Edgar J. Meyer studied mechanical engineering at Cornell University, where he discovered a method of measuring velocity of flame propagation in gas engines (I have no idea what that means, but this method was reportedly added to textbooks). Regardless, Edgar chose to join older brother Eugene Jr. in business on Wall Street. In 1909, he married Leila Saks, who was born in Baltimore to German parents. Their only child, Jane, was born in 1911.

The Meyers were never supposed to be on the Titanic. They had been traveling in Europe when they received the news of Leila's father's death, and quickly arranged passage home.

Edgar and Leila boarded the ship on April 10 in Cherbourg, holding first-class tickets. Late at night, four days later, disaster struck.

Leila Saks Meyer recalled:
I tried and tried to get Edgar to come into the lifeboat with me, and pleaded to be allowed to stay behind and wait until he could leave, he not caring to leave before all the women had been saved. Mr. Meyer finally persuaded me to leave, reminding me of our one-year-old child at home. I entered the lifeboat and watched until the Titanic sank, but only for a short time did I see my husband standing beside the rail and assisting other women into boats in which he might have been saved.
One year later, Harris Newmark wrote:
In common with the rest of the civilized world, Los Angeles, on April 15th, was electrified with the news of the collision between an iceberg and the great ocean steamer Titanic which so speedily foundered with her 1535 helpless souls. For a day or two, it was hoped that no one with Los Angeles connections would be numbered among the lost; but fate had decreed that my nephew, Edgar J. Meyer, a son of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Meyer, should perish. He was one of those who heroically hastened to the aid of the women and children; nor did he rest until he saw his wife and child placed in one of the lifeboats. They were saved, but he went down...
(Newmark must not have realized the Meyers hadn't brought their baby daughter on the trip.)

Edgar J. Meyer's body was either never recovered or never identified. He was 28 years old.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Behind the Scenes: Jeannette Lazard Lewin

Jeannette Lazard - one of Solomon Lazard and Caroline Newmark Lazard's six surviving children - was born in 1866.

Sixteen-year-old Jeannette graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1882, and was listed in the graduation program with a speech titled "Behind the Scenes". Her cousin Ella Newmark was also on the program. (Incidentally, the opening address was given by the President of the Board of Education - Judge Brousseau.)

Jeannette graduated from the Los Angeles campus of the State Normal School (now UCLA) in 1884, enabling her to work as a schoolteacher at the tender age of 18. The Jewish Museum of the American West has a surviving picture of Jeannette at the Laurel Canyon School, with some of her students.

Never one to rest on her laurels (ha), Jeannette was on the committee of Los Angeles' first Flower Festival in 1885. In December of that year, she married Louis Lewin, a printer/bookstore owner* and commission broker from Germany. Dr. Emmanuel Schreiber, Congregation B’nai B'rith's new rabbi, officiated. The couple lived at 618 W. 7th Street and had four children - Rosa, Laurence, Ross, and Howard. Tragically, Rosa lived for only 11 months.

In the nineteenth century, teachers were expected to resign if they married. This rule seems to have been regarded as impractical in Los Angeles, which had a chronic teacher shortage and several married teachers on record (the fact that Mary Marchesseault was on her third marriage and still could have landed a teaching job says enough). I have not been able to locate any conclusive proof of how long Jeannette's teaching career lasted.

When Louis died in 1905, Jeannette and her three surviving children went to live with her parents on West Lake Avenue. (Jeannette's brothers Mortimer and Edward also lived in the family home. Two grandparents, three adult children, one widowed with three sons ages 6, 12, and 15...that must have been one crowded house.)

Jeannette passed away in 1963. She is buried in the Lazard family plot at Home of Peace Memorial Park. Besides her name and the years her life spanned, the stone simply states "Wife-Mother."

Oh, by the way:

Some rotting pile of human debris had the brass neck to post anti-Semitic flyers outside THREE schools in the western Valley. This didn't happen in 1930, it happened two weeks ago.

I'll just put this out there:

Many of the original donors of Catholic-affiliated St. Vincent's College (now Loyola Marymount University) were Jewish. Ozro Childs stated that Jewish donors were the most generous of all.

Bishop Mora's records noted several Jewish donors to the Catholic church's projects - including renovation of the parish school. (Mora, incidentally, was friends with Rabbi Edelman.)

Several prominent Jewish families sent their children to the Episcopalian-affiliated Los Angeles Academy. The vast majority of Angelenos were Catholic, and there were only so many Protestant families who could afford private-school tuition at the time. Having Jewish students likely helped the Academy stay open for as long as it did.

The (Methodist-affiliated) University of Southern California was built on land donated by Ozro Childs (Episcopalian), John G. Downey (Catholic), and Isaias Hellman (Jewish). (USC has increasingly become a running joke over the past year - sorry, Dad - but that's a subject slightly beyond the scope of this blog.)

The Daughters of Charity (Catholic) ran an orphanage and school for girls, taking on tuition-paying students from wealthy families to help cover the cost of teaching the orphaned girls and the daughters of local Native American families. On at least one occasion, the Daughters thanked their many Jewish donors for their "encouraging words and open purses". Rabbi Edelman even made a bequest to the Daughters' orphanage in his will.

Los Angeles' public, private, and parochial schools owe a historic debt to the generosity of the city's Jewish community. There is really no place for bigots anywhere in Los Angeles - least of all in a school zone.

*Visitors to the rare books department at the Los Angeles Public Library may recall that Lewin was the publisher of Los Angeles County's first-ever published history, dated 1876.