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.