Tuesday, September 29, 2020

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

My lectures on Lost French Los Angeles tend to be well-received - in fact, yesterday I had a Zoom presentation with the French Canadian Heritage Society of California.

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.)

4 comments:

  1. Los Angeles Herald: December 14, 1873. Is this newspaper account you are referring to?

    “Overhanging Los Angeles is a hill similar to Bunker Hill—nay, it is larger. From it all the city can be seen, and the country for miles around. On this hill also, are military marks, the remnants of a fort, which was built for the protection of liberty in this State. The hill has an avenue running along its crest, and our friend Beaudry, through whose influence chiefly it has been opened, has very appropriately named in Bunker Hill avenue.“

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    1. That’s the one; it’s cited in the book.

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    2. And of course the street he called Bunker Hill, was actually on Fort Moore Hill. And I am a first time reader who is polishing a novel that mentions Victor Beaudry.

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    3. Yes, exactly!

      Do let me know when the book is out; I’d love to read it!

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