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.

1 comment:

  1. The article written is really great and informative. will be looking further for these type of posts. Thanks.