Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Prudent Beaudry (Probably) Didn't Name Bunker Hill After All

A few years ago, after one of my earliest public talks, one attendee asked me why I didn't mention that Prudent Beaudry had named Bunker Hill after the Revolutionary War site, out of gratitude for becoming a U.S. citizen.

Well, first of all, the subject of French and French-speaking Angelenos is a pretty deep rabbit hole to fall down, and the original draft of my talk was over three hours long. I had to cut a LOT of material to whittle my notes down to a 50-minute presentation. (My walking tours, when they're up and running, take 2.5 to 3 hours, depending on stoplights, traffic, and walking speeds.)

Second, I knew Prudent Beaudry had bought and developed Bunker Hill, but to this day have yet to see any proof that he was the one who actually named the hill Bunker Hill, let alone in tribute to the Revolutionary War location. Longtime readers already know how fussy I am about getting the details right. 

Well...enter Nathan Marsak's latest book, Bunker Hill Los Angeles: Essence of Sunshine and Noir.

My copy (finally!) arrived today. It is, of course, impossible to discuss Bunker Hill's history without a mention of Prudent Beaudry, and sure enough, sixteen pages in, Marsak states:

"With Bunker Hill Avenue crowning the hill after 1873, it has been generally surmised that the general geographic region took on the name 'Bunker Hill' about this time or soon after. However, an investigation of newspaper accounts reveals that through the remainder of the century, the area was generally referred to as 'the western hills' and 'the hill section' or 'hill district', and property owners often designated as 'hill dwellers.'" (Emphasis mine.)

A newspaper account credits Beaudry with naming Bunker Hill Avenue, possibly in reference to the famous battleground. However, Marsak notes that the hill might also have gotten its name from the bunkers (fortifications) dug into the hill by the Mormon Battalion in 1847 (about a year after Beaudry first joined his youngest brother Victor in Los Angeles, so the name may have been floating around before Beaudry even bought the hill).

Additionally, Beaudry bought the land in 1867. He had become a U.S. citizen four years earlier in 1863. It may be a bit of a stretch to claim he named Bunker Hill out of gratitude for his new citizenship, as it wasn't new at that point. 

Furthermore, Beaudry's body was repatriated to Canada when he died (he is buried at Montreal's Notre-Dame des Neiges, like his brothers). This suggests, to me at least, that even after so many years in Los Angeles (including two terms as Mayor and developing much of downtown), Quebec might still have been "home". (The word "home" still transports my brain to a specific tree-lined postwar tract in Sherman Oaks, even though I haven't lived there for a very long time.)

According to Marsak, the first recorded use of the term "Bunker Hill" describing the entire area did not occur until the Los Angeles Times published a blurb regarding a proposed "Bunker Hill Engine-House" on June 28, 1900.

Prudent Beaudry passed away in 1893. It's possible he didn't live to see Bunker Hill Avenue lend its name to the entire hill.

While Prudent Beaudry did indeed name Bunker Hill Avenue, no one seems to have called the hill itself Bunker Hill until many years later (and possibly not even within Beaudry's lifetime). 

It has been widely assumed that Beaudry named the entire hill. But the evidence says "not so fast". 

(Also, you should buy the book. My mom - who saw Old LA slowly being torn down as a child - already asked to borrow my copy.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Frenchtown vs. Little Paree

This entry is going to discuss some of old LA's unsavory history. Let's just get that out of the way.

I've mentioned previously that generally speaking, the French citizens of Los Angeles were a law-abiding bunch. There's a reason Michel Lachenais was lynched by a largely French-speaking mob.

There was, however, a French criminal element. In fact, there were so many French gangsters running saloons and brothels that they lent a nickname to vice-district undesirables in general. Dubbed "les mecs" ("the guys"), they were Anglicised in the English-language press as "macs". Readers of the historical novel Sporting Guide: Los Angeles, 1897 will know that "mac" referred to the gangsters and pimps who ran the vice district. (Beret-tip to David Kimbrough for that tidbit.)

Early LA's vice district stood east of Olvera Street and the Plaza. It was torn down, along with the original Chinatown, to make way for Union Station.

Frenchtown was south/southeast of the vice district. One old map shows brothels within half a block of the Hotel de France in either direction. (The Hotel de France stood on the northeast corner of Alameda and Aliso - the hub of French Los Angeles.)

The king of the vice district was Bartolo Ballerino, a Chilean immigrant of Italian descent. He wore several hats - crime boss, slumlord, and most notoriously, pimp.

Ballerino arrived sometime in the 1850s. After making some money as a vintner, he began buying up already-aging housing along and east of Alameda Street, and turned the area into one big open-air brothel. Frenchtown, just to the south, was growing exponentially due to a large wave of French and French-speaking immigrants.

Ballerino's business partner was a Frenchman from Alsace-Lorraine, formerly one of the world's very best wrestlers, by the name of Theobald Bauer. In fact, one of the vice district's passages was named Bauer Alley. The fact that the brothel district was often called "Little Paree" may not be coincidental. (Bauer reportedly told his family back in France that he had gone into the hotel business and owned the best hotel in town. He most assuredly had not and did not.)

A news article from 1900 strongly implies that Bauer, who by that time no longer ran Little Paree, still wielded a lot of power. The article names three different men, all with French surnames (one with a known address in Frenchtown), who had been charged with vagrancy and were suspected of, ahem, trafficking women. Bauer bailed out two of the men and made an appearance in the courtroom. (It gets worse: one of the men had recently arrived from Belgium with a young woman, who he placed in one of Little Paree's cribs. Her family repeatedly wrote to the Belgian consul requesting her safe return, stressing that the newcomer had lured her to Los Angeles under false pretenses and that she had only recently been released from a mental hospital.)

Just one year later, an article on Bauer claimed that he drank, from opening to closing, on a daily basis, at every bar around Alameda and Aliso. Bauer had made a lot of money on Little Paree, but also spent it as fast as he earned it. Unable to handle his own money responsibly after his wife died (she had always managed his finances very carefully), Bauer sold out to a prominent Chinatown pimp in an arrangement that gave him $5 a day for life, and proceeded to spend the rest of his life drinking away that daily $5.

Another infamous mac was Jean Rappet, a dark, black-eyed Frenchman with moles on both cheeks, who ran 32 cribs and owned the Basket Saloon at 719 N. Alameda Street along with his deaf wife Blanche. When the police began to crack down on vice in 1893 and took issue with saloons allowing prostitutes to mix with customers, Rappet simply made the saloon men-only. Rappet then fixed up an electric buzzer system that allowed the prostitutes (or their clients) to order drinks without having to leave the crib. The Los Angeles Herald decried this, as Rappet was effectively serving alcohol in 33 places instead of just one, and couldn't possibly keep a good eye on his customers' level of intoxication. The matter was referred to the City Attorney and Rappet faced the very real possibility of losing his liquor license.

The Rappets had bought some time, but they would have to face the music ten years later in December 1903. The city finally cracked down on the vice district once and for all, issuing warrants for all the crib owners. Jean had the good sense to turn himself in. Blanche was the last pimp to be arrested.

The Rappets couldn't pay their lease once the police had arrested or driven away all the prostitutes. One of the property owners, George Shaffer, suggested the Rappets convert the cribs into a hotel. Jean Rappet declined, and the lease was canceled.

In March 1904, the Rappet cribs were demolished. This had nothing to do with the crackdown - the Shaffer family decided they would only rent their land for industrial purposes going forward and planned to build warehouses on the site. The Ballerino cribs, by contrast, were reopened before too long.

Speaking of which, Maria Amparo Ballerino sued her husband for divorce in the 1890s - not because of his line of work, but because of a neighboring lady "causing trouble". The court system denied her petition for divorce, but the Ballerinos did separate. After this, the womanizing Bartolo Ballerino would fall into a pattern of luring young women with false promises. In particular, he would hire them as housekeepers, woo them, and dispose of them when he tired of them.

At least one of these young women, Jeanne Uhalt, was a new arrival from France. Ballerino asked her to marry him (fifty times, she claimed) and began to introduce her as his bride-to-be. He told her that he had been previously married, but withheld the fact that the courts had denied his wife's divorce petition.

He also hired Mlle. Uhalt as his housekeeper, but never did get around to paying her wages. She was understandably quite upset to discover that her employer was the biggest pimp in town. She was also quite upset about not being able to line up a different job and being snubbed by all her friends.

After three years as Ballerino's unpaid housekeeper, Jeanne asked him to set the wedding date. He finally had to come clean - he was still legally married. With no chance of respectable marriage prospects and no chance of getting another job, Jeanne Uhalt sued Ballerino for breach of promise and demanded three years of back pay in a separate complaint. She left Los Angeles for greener pastures in Australia, but returned for court. Unfortunately the court ruled that she hadn't sufficiently proven her case.

Jeanne contested Ballerino's will when he died a few years later. Ballerino had left multiple wills, one of which named her as a beneficiary. (He also claimed to have buried $500,000 in cash, allegedly for Maria, but refused to tell her where it was. The money, which may have been buried in a suburban lot he owned, has never been found, but it would not be out of character for Ballerino to lie. It's possible the money never existed and he made up the entire story to torment Maria.) Another will named Ballerino's nurse as the beneficiary (again, he had a habit of making promises to young women). Ballerino's wife and children, all disinherited, contested the will. It isn't clear if Jeanne ever got a cent.

Ballerino did get taken down a peg by another woman from Frenchtown, however.

Felix Clavere and his wife Marianne owned and operated Clavere House, a saloon and boarding house at 226 Aliso Street.

Ballerino had been getting a little too friendly with Marianne's 22-year-old sister, and suggested that she move in with him. The Los Angeles Herald reported that she relayed the story to Marianne instead.

Marianne Clavere promptly went to see Ballerino, insisting he talk with her outside. Ballerino finally relented and met with her out in the street. Marianne demanded Ballerino explain himself. When he could not do so to Marianne's satisfaction, she gave him a serious thrashing with her bare hands and a horsewhip. Ballerino sustained two black eyes and a severely bruised face (and, presumably, some markings from the horsewhip).

Felix, who had accompanied his wife to ensure her safety, reportedly watched the entire beating.

In an interesting twist, Marianne Clavere's maiden name was Marianne Uhalt.

Was Jeanne Marianne's little sister? I have been unable to find a family tree, and the details of Jeanne's story don't quite match the story of Ballerino's walloping. That said, Jeanne was about the right age, the time frame is about right, Uhalt is a rather uncommon surname, and Los Angeles was still a small city. It's very likely they were sisters or at least related in some way.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: don't mess with French women. We may be small (except for Marianne Uhalt Clavere, who was described as stout), but we can still inflict a lot of damage when the situation calls for it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

FOUND: Vintage Pictures of Taix

Recently, I asked for any vintage pictures of Taix that might be out there - it's an old restaurant; there had to be some. But they still proved maddeningly elusive.

More recently, the Getty shared a massive archive of photographer Ed Ruscha's pictures of buildings in Los Angeles.

The Sunset Boulevard series from 1974 includes several pictures of Taix.

This picture of the pharmacy that stood next door shows the porte-cochere creeping into the frame.

Keep clicking through the pictures - this view shows that the facade is pretty much unchanged, apart from one of the signs. 

Keep going until you get to this picture - when did that rooftop sign disappear?!

Thank heaven for Ed Ruscha, for the Getty, and for the friends who shared these (hi guys). I'm told the pictures will help with the landmarking process, as they prove the building hasn't changed.

Friday, September 4, 2020

To Los Angeles On Her 239th Birthday

Dear Los Angeles:

Whether September 4, 1781 was your exact founding date has been the subject of some debate, but no one alive today was there to see it, so like most Angelenos I'm content to consider today your birthday.

I know. It's a weird birthday and you can't celebrate like usual. Hopefully next year will be better. And ten years after that, your 250th should really be a big deal.

I think of you often, Los Angeles. I may live in a suburb (for reasons beyond the scope of this entry), but you've certainly been on my mind today. And it's because you're not okay.

I care about you, Los Angeles. I am bothered by the fact that you're not being looked after as well as you should be (with the exception of your wealthiest areas, you've been dirty and suffering from some degree of deferred maintenance for my entire life) and I am bothered that we keep losing so much of what makes you great to apathy, corruption, and greed. I am especially not happy with the poor stewardship you've been subjected to for all of this century and too much of the last one. It's not right and you deserve better.

I worry about you, Los Angeles. I worry about Angelenos who are struggling to survive on the street, or who are facing that prospect. I worry about you when a fire breaks out, and if a big enough earthquake hits (I haven't forgotten the 1994 Northridge quake), I'll worry then too. I worry about you when civilians clash with law enforcement. I worry that a certain subsection of the population - the people who just want to watch the world burn - hasn't learned anything from the 1871 Chinese Massacre, the 1965 Watts Riots, or the 1992 riots, and won't learn anything from 2020.

I weep for you, Los Angeles. I weep for the shameful and cruel way homeless Angelenos are treated. I weep for your public schools that are mediocre at best and shouldn't be. I weep for our losses - LACMA, Bunker Hill, pre-concrete Pershing Square. I weep for every exhausted commuter who can't live close to work due to finances or safety issues and rarely sees their loved ones. I weep for every Angeleno who doesn't have the right look or the right brand and thinks they're not enough (and I know a thing or two about this - I'm a pale, dark-haired, curvy Valley Girl who plays with scale models).

I pray for you, Los Angeles. I pray for civility, understanding, and peace between Angelenos. I pray that we'll stop losing the best of you to corruption, bribery, massive egos, and political favors. I pray for developers to think more like Prudent Beaudry (who developed for the wealthy, the working class, and everyone in between) and less like the people who plan to replace the Viper Room with a 15-story tower. I pray that we can save more of what makes you unique and special. I pray that the neglected Pico House doesn't rot from the inside out. I pray you'll have good, honest, and competent leadership in the near future, since in your 239 years of history you've had a lot of bad mayors and a lot of bad council members, and the people currently in charge are grossly unfit to care for you.

I love you, Los Angeles. Which is why I'm scared for you.

On this day I'm reminded of a scene from "Penny Dreadful: City of Angels". Tiago asks Lewis how they're going to save Los Angeles. Lewis responds that they're just trying to survive her. But how will you survive, Los Angeles?

My grandparents loved you so much. My parents say you used to be a great place to live. No one wants to see you turn into New York (both in terms of ugly skyscrapers and in terms of crime rate and livability).

Happy birthday, Los Angeles. May you rise from the ashes of 2020, no matter how impossible it seems (even Hurricane Katrina couldn't kill New Orleans).

With love from one of your millions of kids,