Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The French Hospital Will Rise Again

If you were on the Esotouric bus on September 7, you were probably just as horrified as I was to see the French Hospital behind demolition fencing.

Demolition fencing at the French Hospital. Photo courtesy of Esotouric.

The French Hospital - established in 1869, rebuilt in 1915, expanded in 1926, renamed the Pacific Alliance Medical Center in 1989, closed in 2017 and sold in 2018 - couldn't reopen as a full-service hospital. California hospitals are subject to very strict earthquake safety standards, and the aging building would need over $100 million in renovations to meet those requirements.

That's never good news in a city that loves any reason to erase its own history.

I've been checking for demolition permits every single day, dreading bad news. No demolition permits have been issued for 531 West College Street. 

However, lack of a permit doesn't prevent demolition. I had to be sure.

I reached out to Munson Kwok, who is on the board of the Chinese American Museum and knows Chinatown like no one else I have ever met. If something is going on in Chinatown, Munson probably knows about it.

Munson assures me that the French Hospital isn't going anywhere.

The hospital site's new owner is Allied Pacific IPA, an HMO based in Alhambra. They are in the process of converting the building into an urgent care center.  Because urgent care centers don't admit overnight patients, they are subject to fewer seismic standards (and a much less costly renovation).

Munson spoke to Allied Pacific's CEO and founders recently at an event. One of them is an old friend of his. If he trusts them, then so will I.

Apparently, the Department of Building and Safety has some issues with the parking lot and the front of the building. This has caused the conversion to drag on for longer than planned. 

Allied Pacific hopes to have the urgent care center open in October - and, to Munson's knowledge, doesn't plan to replace the building, just rehabilitate it. 

Merci, Munson. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Happy 100th Birthday to Musso & Frank

You probably already know Musso and Frank Grill, Hollywood's oldest restaurant (one of greater LA's oldest restaurants, period), is turning 100.

Did you know the founder was French?

Musso and Frank Grill was originally Frank's, or Francois, Cafe, founded in 1919 by Firmin "Frank" Toulet.

Musso and Frank when it was still called Francois
Hollywood was just a few years into its metamorphosis from a quiet, semi-rural backwater into the film capital of the world. With no other eateries for miles (René Blondeau had passed away 17 years earlier), and with a sophisticated atmosphere that moviemakers loved, Frank's business boomed, and he moved into the larger building next door (the original restaurant space is now Cabo Cantina). 

In 1922, Frank brought in Joseph Musso as a business partner, and they changed the restaurant's name to Musso and Frank. The following year, the menu was overhauled by Jean Rue, a Limoges native and a veteran of the French navy. The menu has seen few, if any, changes since. 

Frank Toulet and Joseph Musso sold the business in 1927. It isn't clear what Frank did after selling his half of the restaurant. As for Jean Rue, he stayed on as head chef until his death in 1976.

Frank Toulet's death notice
Los Angeles Times, January 3, 1941
On January 31, 1941, a few weeks after Frank's death, the "Confidential Communiqués" section of the San Pedro News Pilot stated, in part, "...Frank Toulet (former owner of Musso-Franks cafe): It was nice to hear your boost for actors the other night, when you revealed that you advanced them $15,000 credit - and got back all but $200..."

Firmin "Frank" Toulet is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City.

P.S. If you're about to comment "why didn't you contact Musso and Frank?"...I tried. I contacted Musso and Frank Grill for this entry six months ago. Their publicist said she would get back to me. I emailed her again. She no longer worked for the restaurant. I emailed Musso and Frank again and never did get a response. However, I understand they've been quite busy with their anniversary, in addition to "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" significantly boosting business, so there are no hard feelings.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

PSA: Frenchtown DID NOT Become Chinatown

For those of you who weren't on the bus yesterday, I took the opportunity to put a persistent rumor to rest. (Regular readers already know that one person in particular has ignored two separate requests to stop perpetuating this myth.)

Frenchtown DID NOT become Chinatown. 

Before I launched this blog, I began mapping places associated with LA's French community for my own reference. I have been working on this map for SIX YEARS and counting. To date, I've mapped almost 500 sites.

This is a portion of my French Los Angeles map. (And I do mean "portion" - the full map is HUGE.) 

As you can see, Frenchtown DID NOT Become Chinatown.

See that odd-shaped shaded area on the lower right, bordering the river?

That shaded area represents Frenchtown's original boundaries.

By 1870, after a full decade of French and Quebecois newcomers to Los Angeles outnumbering immigrants from every other country on Earth (yes, really), the community had grown. The red balloons speak for themselves, but in case someone can't see the detail, the community was centered on the intersection of Alameda and Aliso Streets.

Chinatown is ONE MILE AWAY from Alameda and Aliso. 

(The center of Chinatown, that is, BUT Chinatown's southernmost boundaries are still about half a mile away, and the Plaza separates the two neighborhoods.)

Do me (and thousands of dearly departed French Angelenos) a favor and send this entry to anyone who might need to see it.

*mic drop*

*It's true that the former French Hospital is in Chinatown, and that Joseph Mascarel (whose first wife was Native American, Mexican, or possibly both) lived there for some time, but Chinatown was called Sonoratown until 1938. Area residents were overwhelmingly Mexican (with some Italians) during the French Colony's heyday. Chinatown was not, and has never been, a French neighborhood.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Jeanne d’Arc’s New Home

You know the Jeanne d’Arc saga, right?

Happily, I can announce that she’s safe and well cared for in her new home. 

Children’s Hospital has installed Jeanne d’Arc in their Healing Garden. 

Jeanne d’Arc, who was just a child when she began to hear saints whispering to her and who faced impossible odds in the name of saving France, now looks over a garden created for sick and injured children. 

I am deeply grateful to Monica Rizzo at Children’s Hospital for keeping me updated and for taking this picture of Jeanne in her new home. 

Although I would have liked to see Jeanne standing guard over Chinatown in perpetuity, I'm glad she's found safe haven at one of the most reputable institutions in Los Angeles.

Especially since the French Hospital is currently behind demolition fencing.

I've been checking for demolition permits and haven't found one for the property yet...but as I'm sure you all know, that doesn't mean it won't get demolished anyway.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

An Eloquent and Fiery Speech

Before we begin:

Yes, I heard Taix was slated for demolition. Fingers crossed THAT doesn't happen (the Taix family's previous location downtown was razed to make way for...drumroll please...a parking structure for government offices...and long before that, they demolished their bakery to build the hotel that housed the original restaurant). Incidentally, good on the LA Times for finally getting Frenchtown's location more or less correct.

Don't forget the Saving Los Angeles Landmarks tour is Saturday, September 7 - one more week! The French Hospital will be the last stop. If you want the scoop directly from the nerd who tracked down Jeanne d'Arc (little old me!), get on the bus.

Anyway, just last weekend I was privileged to meet and interview Georges Le Mesnager's great-granddaughter (hi Denise!). At her request, I've dug up the speech Georges gave on July 14, 1889 - the centennial of the French Republic (French Angelenos threw a HUGE party). Consider this a belated Bastille Day entry, since on Bastille Day I was neck deep in a new job and scrambling to finish a commission. This is from a slightly longer article that appeared in the Los Angeles Herald two days later. In 1932, Le Guide Francais stated "his eloquent and fiery speech still rings in the ears of the older members of the colony."
MR. MESNAGER'S SPEECH. Ladies and Gentlemen—One hundred years have just struck on the clock of centuries—a century has passed since the day upon which the French, rendered desperate, by a sublime effort crushed their oppressors and destroyed the Bastille. It is to commemorate this event, which, by the influence it has exerted upon the human species, has not had its equal since Christ preached equality, that France has made its day of rejoicings, being desirous of keeping it sacred as the birthday of liberty. And upon this immense globe this day all Frenchmen concur in the deeds of their forefathers and proclaim their invincible attachment to the principles of '89. Eighteen hundred years of iniquity and misery had placed France within an inch of destruction. Pillaged, plundered, trodden under foot, she was becoming depopulated. And yet, even as now, our beautiful land was the garden spot of Europe. As now, her majestic rivers watered thousands of ever green meadows; her soil was covered with golden crops; numberless herds found pasturage upon her hills, the vines hid those beautiful grapes which make that good wine, which sparkles in the cup of the happy ones of earth. But the sound of the woodcutter's axe, the labor of the harvests was not accompanied as now by the gay song of the worker, because, having no hope that he would get his rights—in fact, hoping nothing—he struggled on in the throes of misery and starvation. Why could starvation exist in France? Because a King without fear or shame, selfish and cruel, unable to procure any more gold for his orgies, had sold to shameless speculators the monopoly of the breadstuff trade, and those human-faced monsters, armed with the royal mandate, went from hut to hut, robbing the peasant, of what remained to him after he had paid his tithes, taxes and the lord of the manor. The crops were sent out of the country by them ; they created famine in order to tear from the people their last economies, and to sell them bread at the price of gold. Reduced to dispute with wild animals the acorns of the oak and the grasses and wild roots of the forest, thousands died daily. Far above these agonizing creatures reveled the privileged class. Prince, duke, count, baron and marquis rivaled each other in splendor and wealth, all squeezing France to live upon sweat. For them all the good things of the earth, for them all the titles and honors; for the poor devil, cold, hunger, hardship and hard labor. For the one, silk, velvet, gold and diamonds; for the other, rags, insults, humiliation. For the one the sun and France, for the other a prison and the scaffold. And this unfair division had lasted over eighteen hundred years. All things have an end, and God was preparing himself to lay His heavy hand upon the guilty ones. Since a number of years thinkers and philosophers had been reminding the people that all men had a common origin, and that rich and poor, feeble and strong, little or big, must incline themselves before the law emanating from the only legitimate source of power — the will of the people. The people were murmuring. Louis XV. had used his celebrated sentence: "What do I care that the people suffer, so long as monarchy lasts as long as myself. After me may come the flood!" The son paid for his father's crimes and lost his life.  
The speaker here described eloquently the rising of the masses, the attack upon and the falling of the Bastille, and the twenty years of republican triumphs that followed under the devise of Liberty, Fraternity, Equality. 
Continuing, the orator said: Years have succeeded years, and liberty, for which the French have suffered so much, has become deeply rooted, and other nations, emboldened by our example, enlightened by that beacon called "89," have everywhere raised their voice. With the exception of dying Turkey and Russia, which is about to be born, all nations have imposed upon their kings a constitution containing their rights. Monarchies are in guiding strings until the day when they will be overthrown. Today all thinking and studious men, those with a developed mind and generous aspirations, greet '89 with enthusiasm, and declare themselves ardent disciples of its political creed. Everywhere the most advanced people have joined their banner with ours. To you, Americans, it is needless to say that we love and honor the land of Washington, without forgetting our France. Our arms, as those of our forefathers, would be valorous enough to defend our adopted land, but our hearts are large enough to harbor interlaced the star-spangled and the tri-color flags. 
The speaker also paid a graceful tribute to the people of Belgium, the Canadians, Italians aud Swiss, and concluded by saying that France cannot perish, because if she were to disappear the European equilibrium would be destroyed, and the world, leaving its axis, would roll in oceans of trouble and wars, gradually growing more bloody until it would finally return to barbarism. "'Vive la France.' Vive la Republique!"
 Eloquent and fiery, indeed.