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.