Thursday, October 14, 2021

A Very Brief History of French Bakeries in Old Los Angeles

Once upon a time, a long long time ago by Los Angeles standards, the city was just a tiny pueblo that lacked a proper bakery.

You might assume that the first bakeries in Los Angeles specialized in Mexican baked goods. You would, however, be mistaken. For LA's first 72 years of existence, the ONLY bread baked in the city was French bread.

In those very early days, Andre Mano and Pierre Domegue set up shop in the Plaza area, baking French sourdough around the corner from the Plaza Church. 

Andre Mano was born in France around 1809, is listed in the 1850 Federal census as a baker, and shared a house with 28-year-old Pedro Dornes (or Domec), a cooper who was also from France. Ten years later, the 1860 census still listed Andre as a baker, with another French housemate, laborer Martin Echepare.

Little seems to be known about Pierre Domegue, except that he was married to, and also baked bread with, a Native American woman whose name and nation aren't mentioned in the few sources I've found. 

Joseph Lelong, who set up shop in 1851, inexplicably named his French bakery after Swedish opera superstar Jenny Lind. There was a Lelong Block on Spring, south of Fifth, at least as late as 1890. If Lelong did indeed own property on that block (tax assessments suggest he had assets), he would have counted two other French bakers (Augustus Ulyard and Louis Mesmer) and a French grocer (Auguste Chauvin) as his neighbors. 

Lelong was the busiest baker in town...for a couple of years, anyway. He faced strong competition when Augustus Ulyard arrived in 1853. Ulyard, born in Philadelphia to French parents, started out with French bread, but soon added German and American breads and pastries, appealing to the growing Yankee and German communities. Ulyard added fresh crackers in 1860, filling another market gap (crackers shipped from San Bernardino or San Francisco tended to arrive stale). The former site of his bakery is now home to the Alexandria Hotel.

Ulyard eventually retired from baking, selling his bakery to Louis Mesmer. 

As Louis Mesmer merits his own entry, I'll restrict this to his activities as a baker. 

Besides the former Ulyard bakery, Louis Mesmer owned the New York Bakery at Sixth and Spring (the very first Ralphs Bros. Grocery stood next door). Mesmer, a devout Catholic, was the first baker in Los Angeles to bake matzo for the local Jewish community.

Los Angeles gained an army camp in 1861 in case local Confederate sympathizers revolted (Southern California had a lot of ex-Southern residents, and Los Angeles in particular leaned Confederate during the Civil War). An army marches on its stomach, and Camp Latham needed baked goods. Louis Mesmer got the contract, and erected a bakery at the camp along Ballona Creek (he also sold baked goods to neighboring rancheros). He was still operating the New York Bakery downtown. When Camp Latham moved to Highland Park, he supplied baked goods from the New York Bakery instead of building another bakery location.

Sometime around 1870, the Taix family arrived in Los Angeles. The Taix French Bread Bakery opened its doors in 1882 at 321 Commercial Street. Later, Adrian and Joaquin Taix owned The French Bakery at 1550 West Pico Boulevard. When the family tore down their bakery in 1912 to build the Champ d'Or Hotel (which would house the original Taix restaurant beginning in 1927), the Taix bakery moved, ending up in Northeast Los Angeles.

Dominique Foix, born in Haut-Garonne, arrived in 1882. He established a tannery and saddlery in his Macy Street home, later founding Foix French Baking Company downtown in 1886 and delivering bread door to door with a horse-drawn wagon. Foix soon moved his bakery into the oldest industrial building in the city - a three-story brick building erected by Abel Stearns in 1831. Foix often traded goods with customers who were short on cash, and received so many live frogs as payments that he was able to start a frog farm and sell frogs' legs to the many French restaurants in town. This led to Foix supplying bread to restaurants, which necessitated moving the bakery into a bigger facility in Highland Park. The bakery's flour came from Capitol Mills, housed in the oldest industrial building in the city - a three-story brick flour mill erected by Abel Stearns in 1831.

Foix turned over the bakery to his son in his later years, and Foix's grandsons were running the bakery at least as late as 1941. That same year, a broken water main below Elysian Park's reservoir flooded the bakery. Louis Foix evacuated all 15 employees, but the water and mud ruined 6000 pounds of flour. The bakery unfortunately seems to have closed down in the 1990s.

French Basque immigrant Jean-Baptiste Garacochea founded the National French Bakery in 1908, later changing the name to Pioneer French Baking Company. Pioneer operated in Venice from 1920 to 2006, operated by several generations of the Garacochea family. Great-grandsons John Baptiste and Charlie Garacochea co-own the Etxea Basque Bakery, which supplies bread to restaurants.

To hell with counting carbs - good French bread is an LA tradition! Pass the sourdough.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Erasing Frenchtown in Maps

I have been mapping historic French LA for 8.5 years.

It's harder than it looks. Among the many, MANY changes to the street grid, the intersection of Alameda and Aliso was erased, with Aliso rerouted into Commercial at Alameda Street in the 1950s to accommodate the 101 Freeway.

I get a lot of questions about this, and I think it's easier to explain with maps.

Aliso Street always had a bend in it - now it's more of a long diagonal. Here we see, from top to bottom, Main, Los Angeles, and Alameda Streets intersecting with Aliso. This is from 1894.

Alameda and Aliso streets, 1894

As you can see, Aliso and Commercial Streets are still parallel (and would be for about another 60 years), and Frenchtown still had plenty of houses.

Map showing Alameda, Aliso, and Commercial Streets, 1894.

This 1894 map detail shows the Maier and Zobelein brewery, formerly the El Aliso winery, in the top left corner. By this point, Jean-Louis Vignes' vineyard (formerly ground zero for the French community in LA) had been thoroughly developed into a mostly-residential neighborhood, and was still full of French residents like the Ducommuns, the Lazards, and Joseph Mascarel (who died in his Lazard Street home just a few years after this map was made). Maier and Zobelein was rebranded as Brew 102 in the 1940s, with the brewery tanks easily visible from the freeway and in photos.

Zoom in and you can see that Ducommun Street (misspelled here as "Ducummen") and Lazard Street were once two separate streets. Today, it's all Ducommun and it no longer reaches all the way to Alameda Street.

Alameda, Aliso, Commercial, Vignes, Lazard, and Ducommun Streets

Republished in 1923, this map detail shows Aliso and Commercial are still parallel. Lazard Street is now Ducommun, which may be related to the fact that Ducommun Industries was, by then, headquartered along Ducommun Street (a bus parking facility now occupies the old Ducommun Yard).

Alameda, Aliso, Commercial, and Ducommun Streets

North of Aliso, Marchesseault, Apablaza, Napier, and Juan Streets still existed in 1923, although multiple corrections to this map (originally published in 1906) show Old Chinatown/Little Paree gradually being torn down. Today, this is Union Station, the Metropolitan Water District, a park, and (what else...) a parking lot.


This revision, added in December 1937, shows Union Station in place of Old Chinatown/Little Paree, and shows the rerouting of Bauchet Street and the disappearance of Marchesseault Street (renamed East Sunset Boulevard). A local Chinatown historian once told me that if you could walk Marchesseault Street today, you'd more or less be walking into Union Station's front door.


Venturing northeast to where Frenchtown, the Plaza, and Old Chinatown formerly collided, we can see that Sanchez Street used to be longer. The Jennette Block, which housed the Hotel du Lion d'Or and the Hotel de Paris at different times, is now gone, along with the western wing of the Garnier Block. (The Garnier Block houses the Chinese American Museum, and ironically now needs to be expanded because too much of the building was lopped off in 1953 and the Museum needs more space. Oh, the irony.) Note that the Pico House is still called the National Hotel here.


This map is from 1953. Here we see one-third of Sanchez Street missing - lost to the 101 (Hollywood) Freeway. Today, Arcadia Street stands between Sanchez and the freeway and Market no longer exists. Look for the words "being dismantled" - much of what is still shown was gone within five years. 



One more snippet from 1953 - this is closer to today's street grid, except widening of the freeway bumped this section of Aliso further south. El Aliso (the tree itself, not the winery where it stood) was about where Vignes Street dead-ends at Commercial Street today (and, again, this section is now Commercial Street).


Want to see the current street grid laid out over the old one? Wikimedia’s got you covered. (While I firmly believe that Wikipedia is unreliable and should not be used for serious research, this map corresponds with what you’ll see in old maps of LA.)

When the original street grid has been altered to this extent, mapping French LA is a bigger challenge than everyone thinks it is. On top of that, LA added numbering fairly late. I do still plan to reveal the Great Big Map of French LA someday; I'm just not sure when (or if) I'll ever be "done" enough. 

Thursday, October 7, 2021

The French Hospital in Maps

I've previously covered the French Hospital's long history, so I won't rehash it here. 

The building was originally a two-story adobe, shown here on an 1894 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map: 

Image of French Hospital building footprint on map

The hospital was rebuilt in 1915, to the highest standards of then-modern medicine, under the leadership of Louis Sentous Jr. This time, it had a longer, narrower design:

Footprint of French Hospital, 1953

Another wing was added in 1926.

An expansion was approved in 1985. The wings at the back of the building must have been rebuilt between 1953 and 1985, based on the building's current footprint (and the wood-framed nurses' home has long since disappeared). The building's current owners and operators, Allied Pacific, have kept the historic building and reopened it as an urgent care center.


The building changes...the signage and ownership changes...Jeanne d'Arc vanished from the front lawn...still, the hospital persists.

Up next: mapping the erasure of French LA.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Standing Up to City Council

Los Angeles is just as corrupt now as it was when Frank Shaw's goons were harassing reformers like Clifford Clinton.

Regular readers know that I was not called on for public comment during the Taix landmarking hearing. I wasn't the only member of the public who wasn't called.

This isn't an isolated event, either. The same thing happened with the Stires Staircase Bungalow Court and, more recently, the Chili Bowl.

This is a blatant violation of the Brown Act. Every member of the City Council is complicit (shame on all of them).

The LA Conservancy has filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court. Put very simply, a judge can legally require the City to obey state law.

Read more here and sign the petition. There's a link to tip off the Feds, too, if you happen to be privy to anything illegal on a Federal level.

I'll be able to post more regularly once I get my internet access sorted. Coming soon: a study in the many, many changes to the French Hospital over the years.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

The Mysterious Michel Clos

Per the request of new reader Lauren M., I have been looking into Mike Clos, brother of Adelina Clos Leonis. Unfortunately, he’s a little tricky to pin down.

Michel Lorretto Clos was born September 29, 1878 - one of five brothers (and one sister, Adelina). His name was sometimes listed as "Miguel" (his mother, Refugia Acevedo Clos, was from Mexico), but he was usually referred to simply as "Mike" and signed his name as “Mike Lorretto Clos”. He was of medium height and stout build, with brown hair and dark brown eyes. The Clos family had a sheep ranch near Lake Hughes.

The 1913 city directory lists Mike's occupation as "stockbuyer", with an address at 1361 E. 22nd Street. It isn't clear if the listing means "stockbuyer" as in "stockbroker" or as in a purchaser of livestock (ranching was still a thing in Southern California). Since Mike grew up on a ranch and became a rancher himself, my money is on the latter.

Mike registered for the World War One draft, giving his occupation as a mixer at the Globe Milling Company, located in modern-day Little Tokyo. The mill produced more flour than any other mill in Los Angeles.

Mike's address was listed as 1361 E. 22nd Street, three miles from his workplace. The Central Park Recreation Center now occupies the site. A 1922 listing puts Mike at 417 W. 51st Street.

Mike changed careers again in the 1920s - a voter registration list from 1924 gives his occupation as "rancher", along with the curious address of "10801 Englewood Avenue". Since Los Angeles doesn't have an Englewood Avenue, and since the list is for a specific voting precinct that does list multiple voters on Inglewood Avenue, I suspect this is a misspelling of "Inglewood". Inglewood was, of course, a former rancho that had belonged to Remi Nadeau, and it wasn't quite as built up then as it is now. 

Mike died June 16, 1926. He was only 47. He is buried at Calvary Cemetery with his wife Frances Santa Maria Clos, who passed away later that year. Mike’s headstone identifies him by the French version of his name: Michel L. Clos.

Why did Mike die at such a young age? Why did Frances, twelve years younger, also die so young? With obituaries for both of them proving maddeningly elusive, I can't say. (Yet. I am not a quitter!)

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Do You Hear the People Sing?

On this day in 1789, revolutionaries stormed the Bastille to free political prisoners and raided the Hotel des Invalides in search of weapons. The Third Estate - a whopping 90 percent of France's population - was fed up and fighting back. The French Revolution had begun.*

I had planned to elaborate more on the history of Bastille Day in LA today. In light of recent events, I am saving it for another day.

I hope the city's leaders, if you can even call them that, see this. They all need a very harsh wake-up call.

Eric Garcetti, arguably the worst Mayor of Los Angeles since Frank Shaw, is finally on his way out. He is leaving the city in MUCH worse shape than it was in when he assumed office. (I wonder if his parents ever taught him not to leave a mess for someone else to clean up. But I doubt it.)

That means electing a new Mayor. What if the next one is even worse? 

As President of the City Council, Nury Martinez will probably be the acting Mayor. She has proven ineffective at best, ignores Brown Act requirements, and can't even start a City Council meeting on time.

The remaining Council members all have their own shortcomings. By now, we all know Mitch O'Farrell can be bought. Nithya Raman has deeply disappointed constituents wondering why David Ryu's team got things done, but hers can't seem to return phone calls. There are more people on the Council, of course (and they are ALL complicit in ongoing violations of the Brown Act), but it's late and I'm very, VERY tired.

Speaking of Nithya, why did she win over incumbent David Ryu? Because the people of LA are sick of politicians, sick of broken promises, and sick of poor leadership. They want something better. You'd THINK the rest of the Council would take note and shape up. But so far, they have only gotten more brazen.

I also have serious misgivings about the direction some of LA's law enforcement officers are taking. While I've known enough people in law enforcement to know that some of them are bad and some of them are good, I cannot ignore or excuse bad behavior. I hope the ATF is giving the South LA explosion a thorough investigation, because the sad fact of the matter is that the LAPD has lost much of the community's trust.

Indeed, while discussing the explosion recently, my dad sputtered "I love LA, but it's become a Third World city." (My dad has been grumbling about LA for as long as I can remember. I have never before heard him admit he actually loved the place.)

Thriving cities don't become dystopian hellscapes for no reason. They become that way due to poor leadership and mismanagement.

Los Angeles is notoriously unkind to its own Third Estate (i.e. anyone who isn't rich, powerful, or well-connected). And it is only getting worse. Developers buy off politicians so they can get away with yet another luxury building that fewer and fewer people can afford. Hardworking street vendors often can't afford expensive permits or having their carts confiscated and their wares thrown away, but the city isn't making it any less difficult or less expensive to get permits. Echo Park Lake is fenced off, with even the wheelchair ramp inaccessible (ever hear of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Mitch?).

And then there's the homelessness crisis. The city has now effectively made it illegal to be homeless, has not made any realistic effort to provide sufficient housing or more emergency shelters, has been kicking people out of Project Roomkey hotel rooms with nowhere to go, and reportedly turns a blind eye to abusive behavior at shelters. I'm sure I don't need to comment on the city deliberately removing the hand-washing stations.

Refusing to provide viable and appropriate solutions to a massive and growing problem is a sickening moral failure. People can't live on the street, but the city is now effectively pushing them from one street to the next. That will never solve the problem. The only people who seem to truly care about the homeless are the various grassroots volunteers who distribute frozen water bottles and food, work hard to connect people in a crisis with social services, hold sock drives, etc. 

The city is running full speed in the wrong direction. The people running the city are responsible for that. And before anyone calls this political...it's really not. It's common sense, regardless of political leanings. 

Why do we study history? To learn from it. The people in charge either don't want to learn, or just don't care.

To the city's First Estate (elected officials and city employees of all stripes), I have this to say: You are supposed to be serving the people of the City of Los Angeles. Too many of you are doing it selectively, poorly, or not at all. You are not infallible and you are 100 percent replaceable. Take your work seriously and be better. If you can't or won't do that, quit. Louis XVI wasn't a bad person, but he was unfit to lead, and look where that got him.

Recently, someone changed a Broadway theatre marquee to read "Let's Be A City of Love, Compassion, and Kindness". Beyond the barricade, that's the world I long to see.

*My dad is a descendant of French kings and a distant cousin to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. My mom comes from French peasant stock. My relationship with Bastille Day is...complicated.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

J'Accuse

Dear Readers:

I tried. Many of you tried. The Friends of Taix tried.

Taix has been "landmarked", but it has also been marked for annihilation. Go while you still can.

And never, ever, ever stop fighting like hell for what we do still have. 

C.C.

Now that I've said that...time to make like my peasant ancestors and bring on the proverbial beheadings. (Who needs a guillotine when words will do?)

J'accuse, Mike Taix.

I know certain things about you that come from reliable sources. But I don't want those sources to get blackballed from the restaurant industry. So while I won't be listing them here...know that I know. And I am not the only one who knows. 

I know you wanted to sell the restaurant previously, in the '80s. I'm well aware that demolishing and redeveloping is part of your family's long history in LA along with that famous bread. 

But if all of this were really about the building being too big, the building could be adapted. Alternately, there are plenty of other commercial restaurant spaces in LA that are smaller than Taix.

Can you really blame anyone who thinks you only care about what money you can make off of Taix? You haven't lived in LA in years. Your continued involvement with HPG looks suspicious to anyone with common sense. You sold out your own family's legacy. I won't speculate on whether your grandfather would be proud of you.

You got your $12 million. I suggest you sell the business end of the restaurant to someone who DOES give a damn and butt out of Echo Park's future.

J'accuse, Holland Partner Group.

I know you asked Mitch O'Farrell to modify the landmark nomination. It's quite literally on the public record, so don't even think about trying to gaslight me.

You people don't live in LA - you don't even live in California. Your contributions to the city consist of luxury apartments (we have had more than enough since the 1970s, thanks) and illegal short-term rentals. You are not part of the community, you are carpetbaggers.

Making money, in and of itself, isn't wrong. Making money at someone else's expense is. And your short-term rentals drive down occupancy and drive up demand in LA. Ultimately, that's harmful.

You have baited-and-switched us with different renderings. The most recent plan for the Taix site bears little resemblance to the first one. Was the revised (and frankly uglier) design the plan all along?

Two signs and a bar top are salvage, NOT preservation. You and Mitch have effectively gutted LA's historic preservation ordinance, all for profit. That takes away meaningful protection and opens the door for wrecking more of what makes Los Angeles, Los Angeles.

If you insist upon gutting a city for profit, I ask that you confine it to your own hometown. LA does not belong to you. It belongs to Angelenos.

You, and Mike, have also based your argument for the proposed development upon a lie: that Taix can't be incorporated. Fairfield Residential is doing just that with Dinah's in Westchester. If they can do it, so can you. (Fairfield's design looks nicer than yours, too.)

J'accuse, Mitch O'Farrell.

I know Holland Partner Group spent six figures buying your influence. Don't bother trying to deny it.

You promised not to seek re-election. You broke that promise after the Taix vote.

Silverlake Heritage was mysteriously not able to get a meeting with you. Were you busy, or were you too cowardly to face them?

You have been caught on video running away from a constituent who intends to run against you. You locked the bathrooms at Echo Park Lake during a pandemic. The lake is now nearly inaccessible, with even the wheelchair ramp blocked off - surely you've heard of the Americans with Disabilities Act? Or do you just not care?

Your actions indicate that you don't care about the homeless. While I realize the encampment had serious issues (although the sanitation issue could have mitigated at least somewhat by, oh, unlocking the damn bathrooms), I have concerns about how it was handled and I have concerns about how inhumane and dangerous shelters can be. I am also concerned about food vendors getting cited in the area, despite their long tenure in Echo Park.

You are hurting your own district, and you are hurting Los Angeles. I can swear in English, French, Spanish, and Italian, and there are not enough curse words in all of those languages combined to fully express my disgust for you.

J'accuse, everyone else on the Los Angeles City Council.

You played along with Mitch and HPG's little plan. Or was it playing? You're politicians, after all. Scratch his back and he'll scratch yours, right?

You violate the Brown Act on a regular basis. Specifically, you violated the Brown Act at the landmarking hearings and landmarking vote regarding Taix. Multiple people, myself included, were mysteriously never called upon. That's illegal and you all know it.

You have now set a precedent gutting historic preservation in LA, effectively marking everything special about the city with an X. Do you really think that will endear you to fed-up voters?

I have news for you - voters ARE fed up. It's why Nithya Raman beat incumbent David Ryu.

Some of you seem to think you will never face a consequence. While that might be true under Garcetti's watch (my ire for Garcetti is a much longer topic for another time)...you are still being watched by the Feds.

Remember your colleague Jose Huizar? He played a little too nicely with greedy developers too. He's facing RICO charges. The DOJ is still actively watching some, if not most, of you.

I won't be the one who cuts the thread holding up Damocles' sword. I really am just a pissed-off Valley Girl who blogs about dead French people. But the sword is there. It's only a matter of time before someone cuts the thread. 

You have all sold out LA's heritage. You are all, arguably, doing more harm than good. Los Angeles deserves better than this, and Los Angeles deserves better than all of you.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

LAST CALL to Save Taix!

The City Council is meeting today (Wednesday, June 2) to vote on the Taix HCM nomination.

Here's the problem: Mitch O'Farrell and his ilk have amended the nomination to make it essentially useless.

The amended HCM nomination wouldn't preserve the building at all - only two of the restaurant's signs and its bar top. That is not preservation at all.

If accepted by the City Council, this bastardized nomination would set a dangerous precedent for future preservation efforts.

But we can fight back. We can say no. There is no real reason Taix can't be repurposed or incorporated into a mixed-use development (Acres of Books' facade is being incorporated into a new development in Long Beach, although Onni Group chopped off quite a bit more than everyone expected).

The LA Conservancy has compiled a list of what to do

At the last hearing re: Taix, an untold number of would-be public commenters (myself included) were never called upon - indeed, very few calls were taken in regard to Taix. That's a violation of the Brown Act, but as per usual, no one has had to answer for that. (I have my suspicions about Mitch's role in all of this, but first things first.)

This is it. We lost the original Taix in 1964. We need to speak up NOW if we're going to have any chance of saving the Taix we still have.

(Mike, if you're reading this: you've been an absentee owner for years and I know you tried to get the city to buy the place for a freeway extension years ago. Do you even still want to run the restaurant? It's okay to sell the family business and retire - Philippe Mathieu did. If your heart's not in it, what are you even doing? You got a great price for the property. If you don't want to deal with the restaurant, passing the reins is an option.)


Friday, March 19, 2021

See you Saturday, PCC!

If you're a student at Pasadena City College and in the French Club, I'll be seeing you on Saturday morning! I've added some extra slides to my "standard" slideshow as a special treat, since the French Club kindly allotted me a longer-than-usual time frame.

(Note: there was a typo on the flyer. I'm actually on at 11am.)



Monday, March 15, 2021

Charles Gay and the Lions' Playground

Hauteville-sur-Fier is a little Alpine village not far from France's border with Switzerland. It was in this unlikely environment that LA's best-known lion trainer was born and raised.

As a young boy, Charles Gay was fascinated with lions and lion taming. He attained the rank of sergeant in the French army before leaving his homeland for England, learning lion taming from English showmen.

Charles learned the English language as well, and soon met journalist Muriel Crowe. When they married, Charles adopted Muriel's son Kenneth, and Muriel joined Charles' lion taming act. 

The Cole Brothers circus troupe brought the Gays to Los Angeles in 1914. Charles also appeared in a couple of adventure movies (both featuring lions). 

Adventure movies were quite popular, which meant demand for big cats. The Gays decided to focus on raising and training lions for films, opening Gay's Lion Farm in 1920 with three lions.

Although a lion farm in Los Angeles is unthinkable now, it had company: the Gays bought a plot of land close to an ostrich farm, an alligator farm, and a zoo. 

The lion farm was popular from its inception: El Monte High School, founded in 1901, renamed its sports teams the Lions (and Charles gave the school a live lion mascot, believe it or not). 

In 1923, the Gays brought forty lions to the California Industries Exposition in San Francisco, an event covered by the San Pedro Daily News. In part:

Mrs. Gay assists her husband in the work and declares she is particularly interested in the welfare of "the babies". 

"These animals", Gay declared as he caressed the head of a giant lion, "are just as responsive to kind treatment as any other animal. They are just as affectionate and trusting as dogs when treated right."

Gay said he wants to show people that cruelty and weapons are not essential in training wild animals, that kindness wins.

A newspaper account from 1925 states that Charles also used a radio to calm the big cats when they were nervous or disagreeable. (Perhaps that old chestnut about music soothing the savage beast has some truth to it. One of my cats, who passed away last year, LOVED heavy metal.)

One of Charles' best-known lions was Numa. Named for a lion in the Tarzan books, Numa appeared in Charlie Chaplin's classic "The Circus" and earned about $10,000 a year.

The Coronado Eagle and Journal published an interesting tale from the set of "The Circus". Charles had warned the cast and crew not to get too close to Numa. Chaplin thought he was exaggerating, and entered Numa's enclosure. 

Numa took a look at his co-star and licked his chops. 

Chaplin promptly fell to the ground, having read that playing dead is the thing to do when confronted with a wild animal. 

Numa placed one of his huge paws on Chaplin's stomach. He may have been looking to play with the bemused star (having just eaten, it's unlikely he was hungry). In any case, Charles Gay arrived, with a lioness in tow, drawing Numa's attention away from Chaplin. 

(Note: the newspaper stated that Numa had just eaten an entire side of beef, hide and all. This seems unlikely, since a side of beef weighs 200-300 pounds. Adult male lions can eat up to 90 pounds of meat in one sitting, but smaller meals are more common. Charles' lions are said to have eaten about 20 pounds a day.)

Numa died in 1930, and was so beloved by Hollywood that a funeral was held at the farm (with the other lions in attendance, of course). A newspaper account stated that Numa's skin was to be preserved in taxidermy form and displayed in the farm's offices.

Slats also had an interesting film career. Born at Ireland's Dublin Zoo and brought to Hollywood by trainer Volney Phifer, Slats was the original "Leo the Lion" for Goldwyn Pictures (which merged into MGM). Slats, who passed away in 1927, appeared in film bumpers until 1928, when talkies sadly ended his tenure. MGM wanted a roaring lion once sound was readily available. Slats' hide was preserved - either as taxidermy or a rug, depending on who you ask.

A number of rare white lion cubs were born at the farm over the years as well.

Charles may have believed in being kind to his lions, but he was also aware that they can be very dangerous animals. When the Gays went to Europe in 1928 (accounts differ as to whether this was partly a business trip or strictly a vacation), they left their employees in charge of the lion farm, with strict instructions to shoot and kill any escaping lions.

Sadly, three lions made a break for it, mauling the site manager and wounding two other employees. An hourlong standoff ensued, with the lions hiding in some bushes and roaring. The lions who had attacked were shot dead, with the third lion captured. 

The Gays reportedly never took a vacation again.

Seven years later, another trainer was mauled in a training mishap. Charles himself was wounded many times over the course of his career.

Other lions were killed at the farm over the years, but not for escaping or for attacking the staff. Lions Club chapters would have banquets at the farm, and on these occasions, broiled and fried lion meat would be served. (I can still remember seeing a news story back in the '90s about a posh La Jolla restaurant serving lion meat. Horrified animal lovers protested vociferously. That doesn't seem to have been the case for the lion farm.)

In 1936, there were reports of a lion roaming the San Bernardino valley, and the San Bernardino Sun reached out to Charles Gay. He told the newspaper that the beast couldn't be an African lion, but was probably a very large mountain lion (which resemble female African lions) instead. An escaped African lion would have decimated the area's livestock and killed several humans in the two months since the sightings had begun. African lions that escape captivity are also relatively easy to track and capture, so it's unlikely one could live in Southern California without being captured quickly.

Over the years, the farm's fortunes began to wane. 

Talkies rose in popularity, causing lower demand for adventure movies (among others). 

The Depression reduced visitors. 

Finally, World War II put the final nail in the coffin. Gasoline and tire rationing reduced visitors, and meat rationing is a problem when feeding 200 large carnivorous animals.

The Gays closed the lion farm in 1942, sending the remaining lions to zoos or individual homes. They intended to reopen after the war, but Charles officially pulled the plug in 1949. He told a newspaper "It takes youth and agility to handle lions." Charles was 62 at this point. The Gays retired to Orange County. 

Charles Gay passed away in 1950, and is buried at San Gabriel Cemetery.

There is a monument to Gay's Lion Farm in El Monte, at Valley Boulevard and Peck Road. It's easy to spot, since it's topped by a life-size lion statue. The 10 freeway runs right through the former lion farm. 

A different lion statue once stood at the entrance to the lion farm. When the Gays decided not to reopen the farm, they donated the statue to El Monte High School - still the "Home of the Lions", where it remains to this day.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

From Bayonne to Studio City: Jules Violé

Recently, we met newspaper editor and civil engineer Félix Violé, whose move to Los Angeles was inspired by the same newspaper he wound up editing.

Félix's brother Jules, also inspired by that fateful newspaper, joined his brother in 1888, less than a year after Félix's arrival. He was 24.

Jules was a pharmacist, and cofounded Violé & Clipfel at 100 Aliso Street, right in the heart of Frenchtown. He also partnered with German immigrant John Lopizich. The 1894 city directory lists the Violé & Lopizich pharmacy at 503 N. Main Street (with Jules living more or less onsite at 503 1/2). Fittingly, 503 N. Main Street would become the headquarters for another French pharmacist, Lucien Brunswig, in 1907. The building currently houses La Plaza de Cultura y Artes

By 1897, the building had been purchased by F.W. Braun and Co. The Violé & Lopizich pharmacy had already moved down the street to 427 N. Main (now a parking lot for the Plaza) the previous year. The pharmacy even had its own phone number (not a given in 1897): Main 875. Voter records indicate that Jules was living on the premises.

Jules married Angele DeGroote, a Walloon (French-speaking Belgian), in 1892. They had two daughters, Andree and Yvette, and a son, Pierre. Census records indicate Angele's brother Harry was living with them in 1900. 

By 1915, the Violé & Lopizich pharmacy had a second location further down Main Street. If it were still standing, it would be in City Hall's shadow at 242 N. Main. The city directory for that year lists elder daughter Andree as a pharmacist at this location. 

Pierre Violé became a doctor, and practiced medicine in Los Angeles for many years.

The 1930 census shows Jules and Angele living at 11901 Iredell Street with younger daughter Yvette, by then 27. I looked up the address. Records indicate the property dates to 1918, with a house built in 1926. Unfortunately you can't see it on Google Maps due to a privacy gate and a deep lot with abundant mature trees, but I for one am tickled to know the house still exists (and is in Studio City!). (10/21/21: Google Maps now has the house tagged as "Adobe House" and states it is a historic landmark. However, there seem to be no further photos.)

Jules Violé passed away in North Hollywood in 1948, and is buried at Calvary Cemetery.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Apply Now: Community Leadership Bootcamp

 Dear Readers:

By now, I'm sure most of you know that I feel quite strongly about preserving our historic places.

The LA Conservancy holds an annual Community Leadership Bootcamp to train preservationists. I was fortunate to be selected for last year's original bootcamp. It was very informative, and good practice for contributing statements to the Taix Historic-Cultural Monument nomination (I also shared my notes on Taix with the actual writer of the nomination). 

Apply by February 24 if you want to attend. I highly recommend it.

C.C.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

My Thoughts on the Vignes Street Housing Project

Not too long ago, I was contacted by a reader (hi Carmen) about a housing facility under construction for homeless Angelenos. 

I haven't had a chance to drive by myself and take a look yet. This article pretty much covers it. 

This may sound surprising to some, but I really have no objection to the project. I'm all for it.

Why should I be bothered by a homeless shelter on Vignes Street? The site has been abandoned and empty for years (the old factory buildings have been gone for a couple of years now), and that particular part of downtown is pretty desolate. Better to have a homeless shelter than wasted space. The fact that the street it's on is named after Jean-Louis Vignes doesn't really matter to me.

The city, the county, and the state have all failed the homeless - miserably so. The Vignes Street project will provide both temporary and longer-term housing, case management, and counseling - all important tools in combating homelessness.

Additionally, since the site is in a largely industrial area, there are no residential neighbors to complain about the project. NIMBYs are no friends to the down-and-out! 

Since Union Station is within walking distance, the shelter's residents will have access to mass transit. Hopefully that will help those who don't have cars, especially if they have to get to work (you might be surprised by how many homeless and struggling Angelenos do indeed have jobs).

I should mention that the project is on North Vignes Street (think 'industrial area behind Union Station'), which turns into Alpine Street not too far away. It's not even in the former Frenchtown. But if it were, I'd still think it was a good first step in the right direction.

So no, I don't mind at all. On the contrary, I think the city and county need MORE projects like this, ideally making good use of empty, long-abandoned sites.

Whenever French settlers ran into financial trouble and had to return to France, other French immigrants would raise money amongst themselves to send their countrymen home to their families. You'll kindly excuse me if I think Jean-Louis Vignes himself just might have approved of Los Angeles finally caring for its most vulnerable citizens.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Remembering the Original Taix

Dear Readers,

Recently I was fortunate to be introduced to Jan Gabrielson, who visited the original Taix as a child and generously gave me permission to share some vintage photos.

Born in San Francisco, Jan has lived in LA since the tender age of 18 months. Jan grew up in South San Gabriel/Rosemead, currently resides in Cheviot Hills, and is a retired family lawyer and legal consultant who practiced downtown.


Jan started going to Taix in the early 50s as a child and went two or three times. Jan states “I remember going there and knowing I had been there before.” 


This 1961 photo, which Jan took from the City Hall observation deck, shows Taix in the very bottom center.

Jan describes the lost building at 321 Commercial Street as "a shabby old industrial building with more than 1 floor" and remembers sitting with family at a long table (communal seating was the norm, although private booths were available for a little extra). 


Jan's mother, a Home Economics teacher who had taken a college French class, insisted on the incorrect “tay” pronunciation and was unimpressed. Jan notes “she had no language talent whatsoever, but that didn’t stop her” from teaching Spanish at the family's dinner table.


In fact, there was a running battle with Jan's mother over how to pronounce Taix. Jan opines “it’s the family name and that’s how they pronounce it, end of story”. Jan also ran through a list of place names that ignore the X rule. (In French, pronunciation rules don't necessarily apply to names - of people or of places.)


Jan recalls coffee being served at the very end of the meal. The waiter would say “put your spoon in your glass” - to prevent the glass from shattering when the hot coffee was poured in. (Metal is an excellent conductor of heat, so this makes sense. That said, I studied art, not science.)


Jan went on to UCLA, majored in French (despite never having spoken French before!), and spent a year abroad in Bordeaux. By this time, due to UCLA's excellent language program, Jan was already fully fluent in French. 


Jan also worked as a passenger service agent for Air France. At the time, according to Jan, French visitors didn't spend much time in LA. They would visit Disneyland and Marineland, then go to San Francisco. 


This photo showing the 101 Freeway also shows the former Brew 102 brewery. Which was formerly the Maier Brewing Company and the Philadelphia Brewery before that... and the El Aliso vineyard and winery before that.


In the late 1970s or early 1980s, Jan became aware that there was a newer Taix location on Sunset Boulevard and began going there. Undeterred by the higher crime rate in Echo Park, Jan would sometimes go frequently (and sometimes less so), and often met friends with season tickets at the restaurant.


Jan recalls cheese grinders cranking fresh Parmesan into the restaurant's famous tureens of soup and calls the potato leek soup with Parmesan and pepper “one of the great joys of life”.


Jan may have been Sunset Taix’s last dine-in customer, since Mayor Garcetti shut down restaurants during Jan's last visit. (Guests already dining in were permitted to finish their meals.)


Here's hoping there will be many. many more evenings at Taix when the pandemic ends. 


Merci, Jan.

Friday, January 8, 2021

News, Maps, Guns, and Félix Violé

Félix and Jules Violé happened to be visiting their cousin in Bayonne when they encountered something unexpected: a copy of Le Progrés. 

Founded in 1883, Le Progrés was one of 19th-century LA's French-language newspapers (there were at least four, and there is some evidence that there may have been as many as ten). Le Progrés was politically independent and a popular newspaper, despite strong competition from rival paper L'Union Nouvelle (which lasted until well into the twentieth century). And a relative in Los Angeles had sent an issue of the newspaper to the Violé brothers' cousin.

A busy frontier city in the furthest reaches of the faraway American West had so many French expats that it had its own French-language newspaper - more than one, in fact. The very idea intrigued both brothers (who had little to look forward to besides modest success and a comparatively dull life). Félix decided to pack up and move to Los Angeles himself. (Jules would follow him to LA within a year. I will cover him in a separate entry.)

Interestingly, immigration records indicate that Félix entered the United States through another great city with French roots - New Orleans. The year was 1888, and Félix was 30 years old. 

Félix quickly settled into his adopted city. He was a civil engineer by training, but as the boom of 1887 was over (thus meaning little work for engineers), he took a job with hotelier Pascale Ballade - the very relative who had sent the copy of Le Progrés to Bayonne in the first place. Soon, Félix became editor of a different local French-language newspaper, Le Gaulois, and served on the committee for the Bastille Day centennial celebration. 

I've covered the Bastille Day celebration earlier, in my entry on Georges Le Mesnager. In a strange footnote to one of the biggest events Frenchtown ever hosted, there was a dispute over payment of a bill connected to the celebration. Félix was slated to duel with Charles Raskin, then-editor of Le Progrés, over the issue on September 5, 1889. Strangely, about a year later, Félix was listed as editor of Le Progrés (a position he would hold for two years) and Raskin as editor of Le Gaulois in different newspaper articles. I surmise the issue prompting the duel was solved in a nonlethal manner.

Just a few months after the duel, on January 13, 1890, Félix married Hortense Deleval in San Diego. (Hortense's uncle was murder victim Henri Deleval.)

Félix and Hortense had three children - Gabrielle, Marie, and Laurence. Sadly, Gabrielle only lived for 18 months.

Félix also had a wholesale wine and liquor business, along with his house, at 736 S. Spring Street (a block I know well, having been to 721 S. Spring Street, aka California Millinery Supply, plenty of times). Los Angeles did have some restrictions on alcohol sales by the 1890s, and Félix was fined $20 for selling liquor after hours in 1893. 

Two years later, Félix applied for a saloon license and was denied. It isn't clear whether this had anything to do with the 1893 fine - or with the French newspapers' strong opposition to the French gangsters who ran many of the saloons and brothels in neighboring Lil Paree. (Beret-tip to David Kimbrough for the clipping.)

Félix also worked as a surveyor, was the city's official draftsman until his death, ran for City Engineer, and incorporated the Félix Violé Map and Address Company. Félix compiled new maps of Los Angeles said to be the most detailed and complete to date, one of which was distributed free of charge through the city's Chamber of Commerce. If you've ever seen a map of Los Angeles produced in the 1900s-1910s (or a real estate directory), it was probably made by Félix.

Félix was active in the Knights of Columbus, and was an avid clarinetist. Laurence Violé also became a civil engineer, sharing office space with his father at 2nd and Main.

Félix passed away in 1924 and is buried at Calvary Cemetery.