Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Downfall of J.B. Monette

Most recently, we met Ora E. Monette, a banker and attorney of Huguenot extraction. He might not necessarily have been the perfect husband, but he was by all accounts a respected citizen.

His cousin, however, fell from grace after moving to Los Angeles.

Ora's cousin J.B. Monette had lived in other areas of California before (census records indicate he returned to his native Ohio for a time). He accepted a position at the California State Life Insurance Company in Sacramento and claimed he was granted a $150 advance (about $4,000 today, possibly for relocation costs), with the understanding that it would be deducted from his future commissions.

J.B. was soon offered a better position at the Southwestern National Life Insurance Company in Los Angeles. He packed up his family, moved south, and quickly became well-known in polite society.

About a month after moving to Los Angeles, on July 12, 1911, J.B. Monette was having lunch with new business associates at the posh Sierra Madre Club (composed mostly of successful oil and mining men). Deputy Sheriff Dave Lorimer entered the club, brandishing a warrant from Sacramento, arrested J.B. Monette, and took him to the County Jail.

J.B.'s employer in Sacramento was none too happy about the $150 he hadn't paid back, and they were having him charged with embezzlement.

J.B. was unfazed, telling the Los Angeles Herald that he intended to pay back the California State Life Insurance Company and had promised to do so later, but explained that he was broke at the moment.

He added "I think the only legal action they can have against me would be a civil suit to force me to refund the money, and this criminal action will surely result in my dismissal, although it may cause me considerable inconvenience and loss of prestige with those who do not understand the circumstances."

I understand these circumstances: J.B. was hobnobbing with the city's elite, but somehow couldn't make so much as a partial payment of what he owed his prior employer. Surely he could have arranged to make small regular payments?

J.B. was also ineligible for bail in Los Angeles, since he couldn't be bailed out until he had been arraigned in Sacramento, and had to wait for an officer to escort him.

However, when a sheriff's deputy did arrive from Sacramento, there was a technical error in the warrant preventing the transfer. J.B. was released on habeas corpus, with the embezzlement charge still pending.

Little did the city's elite know that J.B.'s personal life was no better off.

On the night of August 6, J.B. called his wife Frances. She and their son Jack had been living separately from J.B. - in fact, J.B. was already living at the Van Nuys Hotel at the time of his arrest. Frances had also filed for divorce.

J.B. spoke to her about his recent arrest and asked for a reconciliation. Frances wasn't having it and refused to speak to him.

J.B. called back, pleading with Frances. She again refused to speak to him.

J.B. then went to the house and attacked Frances.

Five-year-old Jack made it to the telephone, called the nearby University police station, and told them his mother was being beaten.

The police arrived and arrested J.B. so quickly that none of the neighbors noticed anything was wrong.

J.B. was again unable to procure bail, although this time it had nothing to do with jurisdiction.

Frances Monette told City Prosecutor Guy Eddie and Police Captain A.J. Bradish that if Jack had not called for help, she would probably have died.

Jack Monette was hailed as a hero by the Sacramento Union. His father faded into obscurity.

Friday, August 28, 2020

SIGNAL BOOST: 1960s-1980s Pictures of Taix Needed!

Hi Everyone,

The Historic-Cultural Monument application for Taix has been submitted. However, the Office of Historic Resources is requesting additional historic photos of the restaurant's exterior, dating from when the Taix family took it over.

Unfortunately, all my pictures of Taix on Sunset were taken in the last few years, and thus won't be too helpful for the purposes of getting Taix landmarked.

I know many of my dear readers have enjoyed Taix's hospitality over the years, and I'm hoping one or more of you might have some appropriately vintage photos of Taix's Sunset Boulevard location, taken after the Taix family took over the building in 1962.

If you have any such pictures, please contact Friends of Taix on Facebook.

If you are not on Facebook, no problem - email me (losfrangeles at gmail dot com) and I will forward them on to the right people.



P.S. An additional merci to Sandi of Avoiding Regret for linking my Taix entry.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

One Workaholic Banker and One Block in Koreatown

In the heart of Koreatown, six-tenths of a mile south of the Wiltern, is a side street that is easy to miss.

Monette Place is tiny. It's a narrow side street running between Western and Oxford, just above Olympic, and is only one block long.

Monette Place in Koreatown

The 1850 census lists a French-born watchmaker, Benjamin Monette. However, Monette Place was most likely named after a local banker, Ora E. Monette, who formerly lived not too far away at 350 Oxford Street.

Ora Eugene Monette was born in 1873 to a family of Huguenot extraction in Monnett, Ohio. He opened a law office in Toledo, but joined his father, Mervin, and a few business partners in a lease on a mine in Goldfield, Nevada.

Mervin Monette hit the jackpot. The mine produced the largest gold ore shipment on record at the time.

Ora joined his father in California, using his understanding of corporate law and banking to invest their new wealth in several bank mergers. If you've ever wondered how the Bank of Italy came to be called Bank of America...wonder no more.

Monette was active on the board of the Los Angeles Public Library, and served as its president for twenty years (1916-1936) until his death. Under his leadership, the library was modernized, and instituted a system for transferring books between branches (something that is still practiced, although I'm not sure LAPL is doing inter-library loan during COVID). He also served as president of the Huguenot Society, president of the Sons of the Revolution, and president of the Chamber of Commerce. He was a highly sought-after public speaker, and promoted sales of Olympic pins as treasurer of the 1932 Olympic Finance Committee.

Monette also had a vast genealogical library (more than 1,000 titles including books, journals, and other publications), which his widow and daughter donated to the Los Angeles Public Library in the 1950s. He was the author of several of the books.

Monette was married three times - first to fellow Ohioan Ella Elizabeth Crim in 1891. Ella was a decade older than Ora, and held rather radical views for the time (free love, universal suffrage, birth control). She also divorced him.

Ora's second wife, Carrie Lucile Janeway, also from Ohio, married him in 1895. It isn't clear when their marriage ended, but a 1909 newspaper blurb does reference a "Mrs. Ora Monnette" returning from a trip to her hometown of Columbus.

In 1917, Ora married Helen Kull, who had left her native Pittsburgh in search of secretarial work in Los Angeles. Their only child, also named Helen, became a licensed pilot and a librarian, and married Michel Amestoy.

Regardless of impressive accomplishments, no one is perfect. And in 1922, Ora was the subject of a minor scandal when Helen filed for legal separation.

Ora had, by all accounts, been very successful as President of the Citizens Trust and Savings Bank of Los Angeles (and went on to hold high offices at several more banks). But one newspaper hinted that there was trouble in paradise, dubbing Helen's complaint "sensational". Allegedly, Ora never allowed Helen to see him during business hours or call him at work, and was in Japan when the bank voted to replace him.

Living separately or not, Ora and Helen remained legally married until Ora's death in 1936, and were jointly honored by at least one social club.

It's said that no one ever lies on their deathbed wishing they'd spent more time at the office. Ora E. Monette, whose work habits allegedly precluded ever taking a single phone call from home, is nonetheless remembered in memorial plaques, the Los Angeles Public Library, Inglewood Park Cemetery, and on a little side street in the middle of Koreatown.

Friday, August 7, 2020

The Lost Legacy of André Briswalter

There was a time when fresh food was rather costly in Los Angeles. The pueblo was hot and dusty, the river periodically burst its banks and flooded, and your neighbor just might illegally divert water from a zanja for their own use. Los Angeles traded with San Bernardino for eggs, crackers, and other foods, but the long and hot wagon trip often meant food was well on its way to spoiling by the time it arrived.

If you had a talent for growing fresh fruit and vegetables, you could make a good living.

André Briswalter arrived in the Pueblo from Alsace in the early 1850s. He rented a plot of land on San Pedro Street, planted vegetables, and sold them door-to-door in a wheelbarrow. With high demand for fresh food and limited competition, he could charge whatever the market would bear.

Briswalter made so much money that he was soon able to buy his own plot of land, followed by a horse and wagon.

André Briswalter planted an orchard in a plot bordered by present-day Main Street, Ninth Street, Los Angeles Street, and Olympic. When I mapped the site I was shocked to realize I knew the area quite well. The California Market Center (my professors informally called it "the Mart") now stands on the site. I couldn't even begin to list how many times I went there as a young design student. Briswalter's fruit trees are long gone, of course, as is the house on the land (where he spent his last years).

Briswalter had another orchard, south of what is now the Wholesale Produce Market. He also began to grow nuts. City directories list Briswalter's longtime home at Washington and Main.

André Briswalter eventually owned a great deal of City and County property, notably much of present-day Playa del Rey.

Briswalter was active socially, belonging to Knights of Pythias Lodge 79, better known as "La Fraternité" due to the lodge being composed of French speakers and conducting everything in French.

André Briswalter died of blood poisoning in 1885. A large cemetery chapel was built at Old Calvary Cemetery in his honor and served as his burial site.

Briswalter left behind an estate valued at $375.407.76 - nearly $11 million in 2020 dollars. (His land holdings, of course, would be much more valuable today due to the higher demand for land in Los Angeles.) That estate was willed to a veritable 'who's who' of 1880s Los Angeles - Isaias Hellman, Henry Hammel, W.H. Denker, Rev. Peter Verdagner, Mary Agnes Christina Mesmer, Louis Mesmer, Mary Collins, and Alice Briswalter Meit.

The will was contested by Caledonia Guirado, who claimed that she had been married to the elder André Briswalter and that he was the father of her son Andre. Investigation showed that ten years before Briswalter died, she had married someone else and had five children with him. She had several other children by what one newspaper politely called "three other irregular connections". The matter took nearly two years to sort out in court, with a jury ruling that Ms. Guirado was not André Briswalter's wife and the boy was not his son. (Sound familiar?)

Regular readers may recall that Tina Mesmer inherited money and land from Briswalter, who was a friend of her father's (curiously, she was the only Mesmer child included in the will). This became a problem after she married Griffith J. Griffith, who would eventually falsely accuse her of poisoning Briswalter and attempting to poison him.

In 1915, St. Peter's Italian Church moved into Briswalter's old chapel, having outgrown a smaller church on North Spring Street (much of modern-day Chinatown was Little Italy then). By 1943, the parish had outgrown Briswalter's chapel and was raising money for a new church.

Ironically, St. Peter's didn't tear down André Briswalter's chapel. They didn't have to - a terrible fire destroyed the building. The current St. Peter's opened its doors in 1947.

It isn't clear if André Briswalter's remains were destroyed in the fire, reinterred at New Calvary, or if they remain onsite at St. Peter's.

An immigrant prospers...his considerable estate is contested...a phony heir pops up...everything he owned or built is long gone...and for extra fun, it's unclear where he's buried.'s another day in Frenchtown.