Tuesday, December 27, 2022

The Mining Magnate and the Monastery

Joseph Louis Giroux was a Montrealer by birth, but finished his schooling in Illinois and started his mining career in Utah. Accompanying him were his wife, Phebe, née Marcotte, and their children, Joseph, Louis, and Roland. Joseph had two other children, George and Virginia, with his first wife, Rebecca, prior to their divorce.

After two years in Bingham Canyon, Giroux went to Butte, Montana to work for William Andrews Clark. (Clark's son William Andrews Clark Jr. is well-known to Angelenos for the Clark Library and for THAT mausoleum on the little island in the middle of the pond at Hollywood Forever.) 

After ten years in charge of Clark's Montana mining interests, Giroux was sent to manage the United Verde Copper Company in Jerome, Arizona. Fifteen years later, Giroux left Clark's employ and went into business for himself, opening the Sultana Mine in Sonora, Mexico. 

Giroux opened other mining properties, organizing the Giroux Consolidated Company. Giroux later sold the Sultana Mine, focusing on his properties in Ely, Nevada. Giroux was also the director and primary stockholder of the Bagdad Copper Company and the Arizona & Nevada Copper Company - making him one of the most prominent mining magnates in the American West.

Despite his faraway business interests in two different states, Giroux chose to make a home in Los Angeles, commissioning a mansion from Pasadena-based architect Frederick Louis Roehrig. Built in 1910, the mansion stood at what was then 400 Carmen Avenue in Hollywood. The Mission-style mansion boasted twelve rooms, a greenhouse, an arched brick loggia, and terraced gardens with professionally designed landscaping, very large pergolas, and Japanese garden ornaments.

Giroux mansion in 1919 Sanborn map

Curiously for a prominent man of his day and age, Giroux didn't belong to any fraternal organizations or clubs. Club and fraternity rosters of the day read like a who's-who of Old LA, but Giroux apparently lacked the time and inclination. Phebe, however, seems to have been a member of the Hollywood Woman's Club.

Giroux was a multimillionaire, even in 1920s dollars - but no family is 100 percent perfect, no matter how successful they may be. 

Joseph had put George in charge of his mining operation in Marietta, Nevada, and in July of 1920, Joseph and Phebe came to their Marietta house. Father and son had a heated disagreement. George had spent over $60,000 in mining costs over the past year (well over a million dollars in today's money), was demanding more money, and Joseph did not approve. George drew a revolver, threatening his father. Joseph drew his own revolver and fired, wounding George. Phebe was present and witnessed the entire incident.

There are two different accounts of this: one is that father and son fought over dinner. Another story holds that George confronted his father in a rage, threatening everyone in the house with a gun (including his stepmother, his sister, and her husband). What everyone agreed on is that George did threaten Joseph with a gun and that Joseph shot him.

George was rushed to the nearby town of Hawthorne for medical treatment, but died a few hours later. 

Joseph was quickly arrested for murder. He remarked that he would rather have given George $10,000 than to have been responsible for his death. 

Joseph was cleared of wrongdoing the following day. He maintained that it was self-defense, and the coroner's jury ruled it a justifiable homicide. 

Four months later, George's half-brother Louis was arrested at the family's Hollywood mansion. He had allegedly evaded the 1917 World War One draft. 

George had gone to the authorities a few weeks before his death and reported Louis for draft dodging. In his statement, he told federal officers that his father threatened to kill him if he turned in Louis. Joseph promptly bailed out his son. 

It was later revealed that Louis did, in fact, register in 1918 (he was not yet of age in 1917), but the armistice was signed before he could be deployed. Their brother Joseph registered in 1917, but was deferred.

Joseph later gave a statement claiming that George had never threatened to use Louis against him, but that he had constantly hounded him for money.

Soon after, Joseph's daughter Virginia filed a $500,000 libel suit against him, seeking to vindicate her late mother and brother. She claimed, among other things, that in the wake of the shooting Joseph had denied he was George's father. Virginia separately sued her father around the same time over the sale of an Inyo County ranch she claimed he had gifted her. The libel suit was thrown out of court, and Joseph eventually won the suit over the ranch.

George was a married father of three at the time of his death. His widow Solo, who was so despondent that she was considering suicide, sued Joseph, demanding one million dollars in damages. Virginia and her husband appeared as witnesses on Solo's behalf, despite (or perhaps because of) the bad blood with Joseph and Phebe. Virginia even claimed to have lied to protect Joseph when George's death was investigated. 

Ultimately, the court decided that Joseph had a right to stand his ground in his own home, and Solo lost her lawsuit. 

Giroux was sued again in 1926, this time by relatives of prospector Gilbert Gagnon, who had claimed to own Giroux's Sultana mine and to have partnered with Giroux. That was also thrown out of court - it isn't even clear when or where Gagnon died.

Joseph and Phebe Giroux died several months apart in 1933 and are buried at Calvary Cemetery.

The Giroux mansion, now with the address of 1977 Carmen Avenue, went up for sale soon after. When the realtor first met with the buyer, she said "Show me anything but Hollywood!" The client was Mother Mary Gabriel, and she was the prioress of the Monastery of the Angels.

Yes, THAT Monastery of the Angels. Even if you haven't visited the chapel or grounds over the years, you've probably heard of their famous pumpkin bread.

Mother Mary Gabriel didn't care for Hollywood's already-sinful reputation, but the Giroux property was perfect for thirty cloistered nuns, and it was a nice quiet neighborhood. The sisters originally lived and prayed in the mansion. Funds for a purpose-built cloister (designed by another famed architect, Wallace Neff) were raised in 1948. 

The monastery closed in the past year, with the last few nuns joining another monastery or entering assisted living facilities. The property's fate is, at this point, unclear...although the chapel is still hosting Mass daily and the pumpkin bread hasn't gone anywhere.

Monday, November 28, 2022

The Great French Amusement Park LA Lost

Everyone loves France. Well, most everyone does. 

If France wasn't so beloved, "French girl style" wouldn't be trending on TikTok, Paris wouldn't be flooded with tourists all the time, and French food wouldn't be enjoyed around the world.

Well...Los Angeles was supposed to get what was billed as the world's largest amusement park.

It was called Somewhere in France. 

Former location of Somewhere in France amusement park.
Note the street "Pigott Drive", named after Allied Amusements' general manager William Pigott.

I solemnly swear on my personal copy of Le Guide Français that I am not making this up.

1923 article on plans for Somewhere in France amusement park, with pictures of the park's planners and concept art

Allied Amusements floated a stock issue to get the project off the ground. In December of 1922, sixteen acres went into escrow "on Washington Boulevard near Tilden Avenue". With frontages on both Washington and Venice Boulevards (which both had streetcar lines), it was estimated that 17,000,000 people would pass the site each year.

By the spring of 1923, the planned park had increased in size - first to 22 acres, then to 35 acres. That would have made it about twice the size of Disneyland. The 1923 city directory lists "Somewhere in France Co.", at Allied's downtown office.

The park was said to cost a staggering $4 million or more - in 2022 dollars, that's about $70 million. The true cost would likely be MUCH higher today due to the sky-high land value and significantly stricter fire and earthquake safety standards.

Construction began in May of 1923. The park's founders had hired T.H. Eslick, who had built amusements around the world (and designed the La Monica ballroom that once stood on the Santa Monica pleasure pier), to build the park. The park's art director was Edward Langley, who had directed Douglas Fairbanks' acclaimed picture "Robin Hood". 

Addressing the Ebell of Pomona, Langley told the club members that the park would be beautiful, educational, and cultured, appropriate for club women or for children. (At the time, amusement parks were not necessarily kid-friendly, and could be downright seedy.) 

Langley teased some of the park's features:

  • The park's gate would have opened onto "a typical French street".
  • A scaled-down railroad would have passed through "reproductions of cities, typical of every land, and the architecture is to be wondrous and withal authentic."
  • A 90-foot mountain "which flanks one side of the park and wherein is concealed a great treasure cove of waterfalls and lily ponds and quaint scenic views is, in fact, our old friend the roller coaster."
  • An onsite cinema and movie sets (Langley was a director, and Culver City is the "Heart of Screenland", after all).
  • Wild animals from the Hagenbeck Zoo in Berlin (the plan was to exhibit every species of wild animal ever held in captivity).
  • The largest Ferris wheel in the US.
  • The largest indoor swimming pool on the Pacific Coast.
  • A children's playground.
  • War re-enactments (the Great War was an entirely too-recent memory).
  • Some sort of water spectacle.
  • A replica of France's war trenches. 
  • One of the largest dance halls on the Pacific Coast.
  • Tea rooms and restaurants, all unique.
For some unspecified reason (although money is usually a good guess with amusement parks), construction was halted and resumed in August 1924. 

Somewhere in France on 1924 Sanborn map with alternate name "Bohemia"

Strangely, I could find no record of Somewhere in France ever opening its gates. The park was already being hyped before construction began (mostly by developers); surely a grand opening would be a newsworthy event.

How could this Disney-worthy dreamland fail to materialize in a land of make-believe?

In the absence of hard evidence, it’s hard to say, although I did find a 1927 court case regarding a legal dispute (Allied Amusements v. Superior Court). I don’t speak legalese, but I can tell you the parcel was partly in Culver City and partly in unincorporated LA County, and the city wanted to acquire land to open Washington Place and widen the street. While this was going on, the unincorporated County land was annexed to the City of Los Angeles. (Disney had the right idea forty-some years later when they set up the Reedy Creek Improvement District, since Walt Disney World straddles two counties.)

A 1928 article covers plans to build the world's largest roller rink - at Washington Place and Sepulveda Boulevard. Which happens to be on the Somewhere in France property. This time, Allied went with theatrical designer Carl Bollerf and Pasadena contractors J.W. Woodworth and Son. 

The plans called for a large skating pavilion - 15,600 square feet of skating floor alone (the average roller rink has about 10,000 square feet of skating surface) - with "lounge rooms, smoking and radio rooms, nursery, skating rooms for beginners and another for children." Adjoining land was to become...drumroll please...another #$@%ing parking lot.

It's a pity Somewhere in France didn't open its doors. It would most likely have changed the game for Southern California's amusement parks. The idea of a clean, classy, but still kid-friendly amusement park would not be seen again in the Los Angeles area until Walt Disney, sitting on a bench in Griffith Park watching his daughters on the carousel, got the idea for Disneyland (which used to be cleaner, trust me) about 30 years later. (Knott's Berry Farm technically pre-dates both, but it wasn't an amusement park when it opened.) 

Incidentally, Walt Disney arrived in Los Angeles in 1923. He was firmly focused on animation at the time, of course, but it's remarkable how Disney-like Somewhere in France could have been. Consider that Disneyland's gates open onto Main Street USA (even at Disneyland Paris), there are scaled-down railroads at Disney parks around the world, man-made mountains double as roller coaster settings (the Matterhorn, Everest, etc.), there is an entire movie-themed park called Disney's Hollywood Studios, EPCOT takes visitors on an educational trip around the world, and Animal Kingdom is even more impressive than the world-famous San Diego Zoo. Allied might have thought of combining all of it first, but Walt Disney (and his brother Roy) managed to get the gates open.

By the way, there was only one French national on Somewhere in France's advisory board. It was Amaury Mars, of all people.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

The French Weekly, The French Library, Pierre Prévotière, and Amaury Mars

Pierre Prévotière was an attorney from Paris. 

Arriving in the US in 1900 at age 24, he made his way to Los Angeles by 1906. A newspaper excerpt stated he was in town "to study social conditions" and that he was going to establish a French library for the use of other French immigrants. 

Pierre moved into the Hotel Melrose on Bunker Hill. He took a job as assistant editor of L'Avenir du Sud de la Californie ("The Future of Southern California"), a French-language weekly newspaper based in the Temple Building. (Old LA had so many French-language newspapers that I have held off on writing a separate entry about them because I know I'll have to update it, possibly over and over. I seem to unearth another newspaper at least once a year.)

1906 listing for L'Avenir newsweekly

My French is lousy at best, but in a nutshell, this city directory listing describes L'Avenir as a weekly newspaper focusing on politics and literature, organized for French speakers. The listing boasts it was the most widely circulated French newspaper in California, with 3500 copies printed weekly. L'Avenir also held the distinction of being the only French newspaper with correspondents in both France and California. Amaury Mars was listed as editor, administrator, and publisher. A newspaper ad boasted that L'Avenir included "a beautiful French novel every week."

The same directory does list a French Library at 107-108 Temple Building, which means it was based in L'Avenir's offices. Amaury Mars was listed as proprietor, and lived on the premises. 

Mars was smart - one article referred to him as a genius - but there was more to him than met the eye, and he had quite a downfall of his own making.

Starting out at a different French paper, Mars founded L'Avenir and set about pretending to be the French Colony's leader. When the Pope's ambassador came to town in 1903, he was on the Executive Committee for the visit. He served on the Bastille Day committee multiple times. By 1904, he was already prominent enough to be invited to the launch party for La Colonia Italiana, LA's first Italian-language newspaper. He joined the Knights of Columbus, an organization whose membership rolls sounded like a who's who of Catholic Angelenos. Wherever LA's prominent citizens (especially prominent French, Catholic, or Republican citizens) were, Mars went. 

In the early 20th century, talk of Prohibition was widespread. Some towns and cities, including Hollywood (which hadn't yet been absorbed by Los Angeles proper), had already gone dry. A few 1905 newspaper articles state that Amaury Mars gave an address in French at an anti-Prohibition meeting. It's safe to say he was in favor of keeping the city's many saloons open.

In 1906, Mars asked then-Mayor McAleer to give a reception for the Paris Chamber of Commerce's envoys, pitching a large perfume factory in either Hollywood or somewhere between downtown and Pasadena. The envoys were said to be in Marysville at the time, purchasing land to grow flowers. Mars intended to accompany the envoys as an interpreter, and planned to meet them in Marysville with twenty French residents of Los Angeles for the trip south. The article concludes "It is worthy of note that in the correspondence of the Paris Chamber of Commerce they have commented on the favorable water situation at Los Angeles, as demonstrated by the securing of the great Owens River supply for the future." (Boy, THAT aged like milk.)

1906 was an election year in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Herald notes that French Angelenos were offended by a paid advertisement for S.T. Eldridge, who was running for County Supervisor (his district would have included the Second and Third Wards of Los Angeles, plus still-independent Hollywood). The Herald translates part of the advertisement thusly:

He seeks the suffrage of the French-speaking population because he is certain that he can satisfy their views concerning the free trade in wine and liquors in contrast to his opponent Dr. W.A. Lamb, who wages a determined war against the traffic. 

Let us hope that he will be the candidate who shall have the voters' preference at the coming election.

The French community was insulted by the ad, and demanded an explanation from Mars. Can you blame them? Eldridge's campaign ad effectively reduced the French community to a bunch of boozers.  While Prohibition did later play a role in scattering the French Colony, French Angelenos' interests have never been solely limited to their ability to produce and sell alcohol. 

I'm not a journalist, but I'm pretty sure newspaper editors are supposed to remain objective. 

Earlier that year, Mars joined the French Relief Committee that year, which raised funds for San Francisco earthquake survivors, although I can't say whether the sentiment was real or if it was just politically expedient to support the cause. Strangely, he was also the addressee of a suicide note left by French-Canadian printer Charles Malan. Malan checked into the Hotel St. Angelo, plugged the keyhole and doorway gaps with paper, turned on the gas, undressed, lay down on the bed, smoked a cigarette, drank two bottles of Burgundy, and waited. In the note, Malan said he was "disgusted with life and tired of being trouble to others." Malan's acquaintances stated that he was fairly successful and couldn't think of any reason for him to be suicidal (but you never really know what someone is going through).

Mars' misdeeds caught up with him in 1907.

For starters, his name wasn't Mars. He was known as Chavet in New York, then went by a different name in Mexico. Fluent in several languages, well-educated, well-traveled, highly intelligent, and adaptable, Mars may well have been an ideal con man. 

Mars ran the newspaper La France in San Francisco, went to San Jose, wrote a book to commemorate President McKinley’s visit, allegedly bilked Santa Clara County out of $1500, and left town. Like so many other shysters before and after him, he came to Los Angeles. 

By 1907, Mars had founded a daily paper, Progress (not to be confused with Le Progrés) and was President of the Liberal Alliance (a political organization geared towards LA's many foreign-born voters). 

The working people of the Colony - druggists, grocers, butchers, saloon keepers, and so on - openly disliked Mars. People who work for a living tend to not like it when money isn't accounted for - especially when it's money they are owed.

You see, Mars was accused of selling a great deal of stock, using newly elected Mayor Harper's name to clinch the deal, and not turning in the money. 

At the same time, Mars began pursuing his teenage stenographer, Madge Clark (and because this isn't creepy enough already, Mars was living in Madge's mother's boarding house). Mars was married with a daughter, and Clark was in love with a chauffeur, but that didn't deter Mars. 

On the morning of March 30, 1907, Clark was speaking to the chauffeur at the corner of Franklin and New High Streets. Mars grabbed Clark, dragging her to the newspaper's upstairs office at 207 New High Street, and scolded the terrified teenager. Clark screamed. Fortunately, Justice Stephens had an office across the hall. Constable H.J. De La Monte and Deputy Charles R. Thomas responded and issued a warning. 

Other people who worked in the building had noticed Mars was a little too interested in Clark, who was not at all interested in him. 

Mars told the Los Angeles Times "This talk of jealousy is absurd. The girl is too young to think of being in love. I am particular about my employees being on time, and this morning she came late. That is all. There is no jealousy about it. Perhaps I was a little rough with her. She is very sensitive, hysterical, and she cried. Then the constables came. It is very unfortunate."

"Hysterical", my derrière. What's truly unfortunate is working for an abusive (and creepy!) boss, especially when they also live in your family's home.

A newspaper account briefly states that Clark ran off with the chauffeur, and wound up being detained by the police matron.

Between the fraud and the sexual harassment, Mars knew he was in trouble. He promptly skipped town, leaving his creditors in the lurch. Over a week later, he wrote to the newspaper's manager claiming he had left town to render services to the Progress Publishing Company. The rest of the paper's officials were glad to see him go, but not in the way he went, and were already taking steps to depose him (since he was technically still editor). 

After the vile things he said and did, Mars had the nerve to return to Los Angeles later. Newspapers place him back in LA as early as 1921, he somehow became secretary of the French League, and he lived in LA until his death in 1927.

By 1922, he was editing yet another French newspaper, Le Courier Francais. Prohibition was now in full effect, but it was widely ignored in LA. Mars, who had vocally opposed Prohibition back in 1905, reached out to Assistant U.S. District Attorney Camarillo offering to personally ostracize any members of the French Colony who knowingly violated the Volstead Act (two Frenchmen were being held for that reason). 

I'll just come right out and say it: the man wasn't just a con artist, a creep, and a fraud. He was a hypocrite, too.

Both L'Avenir and the French Library seem to have disappeared after the campaign ad controversy, and Mars' assistant editor Pierre Prévotière seems to have disappeared from Los Angeles by 1907. It isn't clear whether he finished his study on social conditions, but if anyone on either side of the ocean happens to stumble upon his work, please drop me a line. I surmise it's more enlightening than reading about his former boss' bad behavior.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Saloons, Suicides, and Chop Suey: The Long-Lost Jennette Block

When Philippe Garnier clawed his way back from bankruptcy, he commissioned three buildings in the Plaza.

The Garnier Block survives, housing part of La Plaza de Cultura y Artes.

The Garnier Building (well, part of it, anyway), survives, housing the Chinese American Museum. (Ironically, too much of the building was removed, and now it needs to be expanded.)

The 1888 Jennette Block, which was named after Philippe's wife and stood next to the Garnier Building, was torn down at the same time as the southern wing of the Garnier Building. But something that is gone need not be forgotten.

One early tenant, probably the Jennette Block's first, was inexpensive restaurant Bouillon Duval. It isn't clear if this Bouillon Duval was in any way related to the French Bouillon Duval chain or if it simply appropriated the name. Regardless, surviving newspaper ads indicate it was open for business in 1889, offering hot soup and schooner lager beer for five cents. (Schooner lager is a type of beer from eastern Canada. One wonders if the restaurant's proprietor was Québecois.)

Ad for Bouillon Duval restaurant, Los Angeles Herald,  November 1889.

The 1890 city directory doesn't list the Hotel du Lion D'Or or Bouillon Duval; I surmise the hotel had not yet opened and that the restaurant (which only ran ads for two months) may have been short-lived.

Although the Jennette Block's existence had been documented earlier (such as in the 1889 ads for Bouillon Duval), it did not appear in the City Directory until 1891. The same edition of the Directory lists the Hotel du Lion D'Or in print, at 403 North Los Angeles Street (placing it squarely inside the Jennette Block). George Lacour was listed as the hotel's proprietor.

Lacour soon added another revenue stream; the 1892 directory indicates he was running Cook's Headquarters and Saloon at 401 North Los Angeles Street, also in the Jennette Block. Presumably he reopened the building's restaurant space. While he was simultaneously managing the Hotel du Lion D'Or and Cooks' Headquarters, he was also serving as Vice President of the French Benevolent Society - a very busy guy.

1894 Sanborn Map detail showing Jennette Block at Arcadia and Los Angeles Streets

This Sanborn map detail from 1894 shows the Jennette Block in its early years. At this point, it was hosting the Hotel du Lion D'Or. Today, Arcadia Street runs through where the missing wing of the Garnier Building once stood.

Water and Power photograph states the Jennette Block was at Los Angeles and Aliso Streets, but this isn't quite correct; Aliso ended at Los Angeles Street. Arcadia was quite close, however, so it's an easy mistake to make.

George Lacour brought on his three stepsons Eugene, Frank, and Jacques Puissegur, with Eugene as the clerk and Frank and Jacques tending bar, The 1894 city directory lists another Eugene, last name Laurent, living in the hotel and waiting tables at the onsite Restaurant du Lion D'Or - presumably Cooks' Headquarters closed or changed names. 1895 saw yet another Eugene added to the hotel's personnel - Eugene Perrin, hotel cook. A second clerk must have been needed, since Miss Francoise Laffose was hired for that purpose. More cooks, Emil Gaurie, George Clausz, and Louis Ferre, came on board as well.

There was no shortage of wine and liquor stores in Victorian Los Angeles, and Lacour operated one out of the Jennette Block. Lacour would later open a second liquor store at 367 Aliso Street. 

By 1896, one William Ellis was running a bootblack stand at the Jennette Block. During that year's election, the building doubled as a polling place for the city's Eighth Ward (today's council districts were a long way from existing).

Chauncey Durkee was a tall, handsome, well-dressed turfman (that is, he had worked as a bookmaking cashier) who lodged at the hotel. Since he took care of his room's upkeep himself, the hotel staff seldom went inside. One day in 1897, Lacour went to Durkee’s room to collect the rent, found the door locked, and realized no one had seen Durkee in days. Lacour forced the door open and discovered Durkee’s lifeless body on the bed, clad only in underwear. Durkee had slashed his left wrist with a razor, arranging himself so that the blood would fall into an unspecified vessel on the floor next to the bed. When Durkee bled out, the vessel overflowed, forming large pools of blood on the carpet. Blood spatter around the room and blood on Durkee’s feet suggested that he got up and walked around the room as he ended his life.

Lacour called the police, who soon discovered Durkee had left a suicide note:

Monday Morning, 11 o'clock.

To My Mother and Two Sisters:

Life without my sweetheart and brother to me is not worth living, and you are all better off with me out of the way. I love every one of you and could never be able to do anything for you, as my mind is with Clara and Charles. 

Your Son and Brother,

Chauncey Durkee
Clara was Durkee's wife, who had passed away three years earlier. Charles was Chauncey's brother, who had employed him at the bookmaking firm of Durkee & Fitzgerald. Chauncey had become despondent upon Charlie's death a year earlier, and had mentioned to friends, more than once, that he was tired of life with his wife and brother gone.

The note was dated Monday morning. Lacour discovered Durkee's death on a Wednesday evening. A friend of Durkee's had come to his room on Tuesday morning, knocking on the door in vain, before finally assuming Durkee must have gone out. What a sad way to go.

Quack medicine was common during the Victorian era, and the Jennette Block was not immune. One Jean Duco Lafforge took out a rather large ad in the Los Angeles Herald in 1889 offering to be interviewed at the hotel on behalf of Prof. Joseph Fandrey, "European Specialist in Rupture Curing".

At least one of LA's many French-language newspapers, L'Union Nouvelle, had offices in the Jennette Block for a time - a newspaper ad places it there in 1890.

John Kiefer, a German immigrant who had found success as an orchardist, vineyardist, and liquor merchant, owned several buildings including the Jennette Block at the time of his death in 1901. A few months later, hotel guest P.H. Don, who was ill and had recently been released from the San Diego County Hospital, was found dead in his bed, apparently of natural causes.

The 1902 directory listed what was at each address in the city, block by block, with the hotel at 401, then Louis Schmidt's real estate office at 403 (Schmidt also lived in the hotel for some time), then over a dozen of the Garnier Building's Chinese tenants next door including Sun Wing Wo & Co. apothecary (which has been recreated inside the Chinese American Museum), then a saloon at number 437 belonging to one Giovanetti Aladino. 

Just five years after Chauncey Durkee, another long-term lodger died of suicide. Lacour and his stepsons fumigated the hotel frequently to keep it free from bedbugs, always doing so in the morning and leaving the windows open so the lodgers could safely return to their rooms at night. A bedbug-killing fluid would be poured into pans and placed on the floors of each room. The hydrocyanic gas in the formula would then dissipate and kill any bugs that might be present.

Henry Kellar, a 64-year-old cook from Lorraine, was in the habit of taking a nap in the middle of the day. Frank Puissegur stopped him on the stairs, warning him not to go into his room because of the poisonous gas. Puissegur continued on his way, but Kellar kept going down the hall, unlocked the door, and lay down.

Early that afternoon, another lodger, Ed Horst, returned to his own room and could hear Kellar struggling to breathe. Looking over a partition and seeing Kellar unconscious, Horst called for help. Lacour had to break down the door - Kellar had locked it behind him. Kellar had also closed the windows, meaning the gas could not escape the small space. The other rooms were checked for more potential victims, an act that saved the life of Harry Ruff, who had left his windows open and wasn't quite as affected as Kellar.

Both men were taken to the receiving hospital, but due to Kellar's age and the severity of his condition from a few hours of breathing in poison in a closed room, there wasn't much the doctors could do for him, and they had to focus on saving Ruff (who survived). 

Three years earlier, Kellar had unsuccessfully attempted suicide by slashing his wrists. The coroner found a letter in his coat pocket addressed to Lacour and dated the previous year, stating that his brother in Lorraine would settle any debts after his death. In light of these facts, along with the locked door, closed windows, and Kellar knowing about the poison gas, his death was ruled a suicide. 

By 1904, at least one Chinese merchant, Sue Chong, was doing business out of the Jennette Block. 1905 saw a barber, William Thibault, setting up shop in the hotel.

George Lacour left the hotel business to focus on his wine and liquor business with his son Frederick, turning the Hotel Du Lion D'Or over to stepsons Frank and Eugene and retiring a few years later to a ranch in La Crescenta. By 1907, the brothers had Anglicized the hotel's name to the Golden Lion Saloon. Don't let the "Saloon" part fool you; they were still running a residential hotel (long-term tenants included laborers, teamsters, a plasterer, and a clerk). Cheung Suey sold tobacco out of the storefront space at number 405 (it isn't clear if Sue Chong and Cheung Suey were the same person or two different people with similar names; print media hasn't always been careful with Asian names and it still sometimes isn't). 

The Golden Lion doesn't seem to have stuck for long; by 1908 it was listed as Puissegur Brothers Saloon. Louis Schmidt was still running his real estate office out of number 403, although by this time he had moved out of the hotel. The onsite bootblack stand was now run by a Samuel Hazelwood.

By 1912, the hotel had changed hands, becoming Hotel de Paris. That year, Police Chief Charles Sebastian (who went on to become Mayor) held a special banquet honoring his executive secretary E.C. Snively and Father Edward Brady of St. Vibiana Cathedral. Brady was made a special officer for his work as a prison chaplain; Snively was honored by newspaper reporters (which happened to be his previous career). 

The Mexican Revolution was going on at the time, and Americans living in Mexico were evacuated in 1912 due to unrest. Hotel de Paris' new proprietor, Frank Zucca, kindly offered free accommodation to about twenty evacuees. Chief Sebastian reported that two men believed to be spies had followed the Americans to Los Angeles and tried, unsuccessfully, to book rooms at the Hotel de Paris.

I've mentioned previously that French and Italian Angelenos often associated with each other. A 1912 Herald blurb mentions the Dante Alighieri Society (which promotes the Italian language and Italian culture) holding a banquet at the Hotel de Paris, raising $1,000 for local Italian-language schools. 

Four years later, Angela Bertonne had a harrowing experience that came to an ugly head at the Hotel de Paris, where a would-be trafficker, Primo Cerbari, had brought her. The Herald quoted Sra. Bertonne thusly: 

I knew Cerbari back in Italy. He found me with my husband and two children at San Francisco. He asked me many times to leave with him. I refused. Then he began to threaten me. Finally he said that unless I elope with him he would kill my children. I wanted to save them, and so I left with him. We came to Los Angeles. He began to abuse me and tried many times to force me to live a life of shame. I refused. Last night he came into the room. He had a revolver. He again asked me if I intended to obey his commands to be a woman of the streets. I answered no. Then he shot me and killed himself. I know my husband will understand. He will come to Los Angeles and take me back to our children.

Cerbari's choice of hotel may not have been coincidental; the Plaza area was next to the red-light district. Sra. Bertonne's doctors stated that she was expected to recover from the gunshot. 

1913 saw the hotel's address listed under both the Hotel de Paris and the Cafe de Paris. Although the Zuccas were Italian, they continued to exclusively serve French food, and the cafe was popular with tourists.

Jennette Block with "Hotel de Paris" signage, taken around 1920

In 1919, Zucca's widow sold the Hotel de Paris to prominent Chinatown businessman Quan Hay, who turned it into an authentic Chinese restaurant. (Old Chinatown was more or less next door, so the Jennette Block was a logical location for a Chinese restaurant.) It was called the New Paris Cafe, at least at first. Years later, a 1935 newspaper blurb pondered "for what reason that old Chinese down on Arcadia Street named his chop suey joint the Hotel de Paris." (The name is kind of a funny coincidence, considering that several decades earlier, two Frenchmen and a Prussian operated a French restaurant called the Oriental Cafe, just a few short blocks away.) 

Due to the fact that there were several Cafes de Paris in Los Angeles (and Hotel de Paris is a surprisingly common hotel name), it becomes very difficult to pin down the Jennette Block after the 1930s. The only thing I can state with certainty regarding its last years is that it was torn down in or around 1953 to make room for the 101.

Take a moment to contemplate this: the west wing of the Garnier Building was lopped off. If it was still there, it would extend into where Arcadia Street runs now. When you drive north on the 101 in the slower lanes and pass under the Los Angeles Street overpass, you drive right under where the Jennette Block used to stand. They say that only death and taxes are certain in life, but for Los Angeles I would add two more things: erasure and traffic.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

What Is Going On with the Culver Chateau?


The Culver Chateau 

I recently found out the Culver Chateau, said to be built long ago by a French immigrant, may be slated for demolition. 

LADBS' website displays an error message when I try to research the property (truth be told, it usually displays an error message whenever I try to use it for anything). As this is Culver City and not LA proper, ZIMAS has no information.

I have tried contacting whoever is behind the Save the Culver Chateau website, but emails just bounce back as undeliverable.

The Chateau stands at 9035 Poinsettia Court, mysteriously does not appear on Culver City's list of houses despite allegedly meeting the legal criteria, and is said to be slated for a parking facility for Hackman Capital Partners, which is about a three-minute walk away. The house sold for over $4 MILLION in March - considerably over its estimated value of $1.6 million.

Does anyone out there know what is going on? Does anyone know anything about the Chateau at all?

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Charles Chandeau Gets Caught

Although I don’t often tell the tales of people who were only briefly in LA, this one was too good not to share.

Every year, Hollywood hopefuls come to LA with stars in their eyes - in fact, one of my grandparents and their siblings tried to get into silent movies. None of them succeeded, although one did some background work, one had a stint as a horror star’s chauffeur, and another was married to a working actor.

Most dreamers either get regular jobs or go home when they don’t make it. At least one failed entertainer turned to nefarious means instead.

Charles Chandeau, aka Deschnau, aka Chenault, left Quebec for the West Coast in 1920, stopping in Victoria (BC), Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco before landing in LA. (Note: the LA Public Library and Calisphere both give his surname as Deschnau. However, Canadian military records indicate his legal name was Chandeau.)

Chandeau was an actor, but not a successful one. He had never had much money, but he did have a very particular skill set. One that made him a potential nightmare to to the city’s elite.

For years and years, the 50-year-old Chandeau had trained to be a magician. It’s well known that magicians (good ones, not the Gob Bluths of the profession) are masters of sleight-of-hand, misdirection, and illusion. 

He had also spent half of his life studying criminal masterminds, plotting a caper that would baffle the authorities.

Chandeau opened two safety deposit boxes in LA, probably for the purposes of casing the banks. 

Chandeau owned a rather large trunk. It looked like an ordinary trunk. In fact, it was a carefully modified magician’s trunk that Chandeau had originally intended for theatrical use. 

Although Chandeau was clever, he was also arrogant enough to think he wouldn’t get caught. And, like Gob Bluth, he made a huge mistake..

Chandeau needed an accomplice. He took out a classified ad in the newspaper, stating “WANTED - one who can rough it. He may be down and out, but must have left plenty of pep.” Chandeau was inundated with replies from men and boys who clearly understood the ad’s subtext. Detectives found ample proof of this when searching his hotel room.

Someone sent an anonymous tip to the Los Angeles Herald, which put noted private detective Nick Harris on the case.

Chandeau selected Earl Wilson from the stack of respondents. Wilson was just 18, had left home due to family problems, and a broken shoulder had put him out of work.

The plan was simple enough. Chandeau would hide inside the trick trunk, Wilson would have it stored inside the vault at the Hollywood Fireproof Storage Company on Highland Avenue (where early Hollywood’s elite stashed their valuables), and when the employees left, Chandeau would let himself out and loot the place. 

Unfortunately for Chandeau and Wilson, detectives had traced him to a hotel in then-fashionable Westlake and a second hotel on Flower Street. His room was bugged, and detectives could hear the entire plot unfold.

Chandeau rented a room on Wilcox, visited the storage facility, and spoke with the manager about rates, leaving a box of “valuables” that really contained shredded paper. He claimed to have a trunk full of ore that he would bring over the next day, stating that he wasn’t sure how long he’d be in town and that he might need to store it for a day or a month.

Wilson hired a transfer man (i.e. mover) to move the trick trunk to the rented room, then hired a second transfer man to move the trunk to the facility the next day. The trunk arrived just before the warehouse closed.

Detectives were watching.

Chandeau had stocked the trunk with flashlights, wires, tools, skeleton keys, metal files, first aid supplies (in case of rough handling), a bottle of water, oranges, sandwiches, cookies, and candy.

And, finally, a pair of kid gloves. Chandeau wanted to be sure he wouldn’t leave any prints.

Front page of the Evening Examiner, June 23, 1920.

Wilson was arrested while walking away from the storage facility. When confronted with details of the plot, he admitted Chandeau was in the trunk.

Besides assuming he wouldn’t get caught, Chandeau had made another crucial error: while the trunk was modified to allow for air supply, the vault was airtight when sealed for the night, and the facility sprayed disinfectant.

Had detectives not raided the vault as quickly as they did, Chandeau could easily have died of suffocation.

But detectives did indeed open the vault, accompanied by Evening Herald reporter Fred Woodward. Knocking on the trunk, Harris announced “Come on out, Charlie.” 

The jig was up. The lock popped open, the clamps came off, the trunk popped open, and Chandeau’s balding head popped out. Chandeau was so short of breath he could hardly gasp “Hello. How did you know I was here?” 

Chandeau’s trunk on display 

Chandeau was granted permission to speak with Wilson and told him “I am sorry I got you into this.” When asked why he would lead an 18-year-old into crime, he replied “Well, you can trust a boy not to squeal, but you cannot trust a man.” (I couldn’t help reading this in Gob’s voice.)

Recounting Chandeau’s failed scheme in the paper, Woodward claimed “The most astonished man I ever saw in my life was Charles Chandeau, alias Deschneau, when we opened the trick trunk and foiled a campaign of robbery that would have amazed and mystified the police of the entire country. Chandeau was so surprised at being discovered and ordered out of the trunk that he could barely gasp. The expression on his face was so tragic that it was almost ludicrous.”

Chandeau came clean, and even spoke highly of the detectives who arrested him: “During the years that I read criminal stories I formed the opinion that all police officers were ruffians. I was surprised when you treated me with kindness.” (Boy, LA has changed since 1920.)

Chandeau, dubbed the “Jack-in-the-box burglar” or the “trick trunk burglar” in the press, faded into obscurity after his burglary trial. A woman claiming to be his sister contacted authorities, stating the family had been looking for him ever since he left to serve in World War One (shades of Jean-Louis Vignes). Wilson fell ill and died before the trial.

As for Harris, he ran for Mayor in 1923 on an anti-crime platform. Nick Harris Detectives is still active to this day.

Is it just me, or would this story make a great heist comedy (ideally with Will Arnett playing Chandeau)? Or have I just watched “Arrested Development” way too many times?

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Bastille Day in Old LA

On this day in 1789, the French Revolution began.

I an pretty open about having a complicated relationship with La Fête Nationale/Bastille Day. My dad is a descendant of an earlier French monarch, which makes both Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette my very distant cousins. My mom's family comes from centuries of French peasant stock.

Still, I wish I could take a time machine to Old LA on this day. The French community put on quite a Bastille Day celebration.

In fact, it used to be a pretty big deal in LA.

Los Angeles Herald, 1881

One of the earliest references I can find lists the parade route: Aliso to Arcadia, Main to the Plaza, then to Spring, Spring to Second, Second to Fort (Broadway), Fort to Fourth, Fourth to Main, Main to the junction with Spring, and to the Turnverein Hall for speeches. "A representation of the Bastille" (i.e. a very early parade float) was included in the procession.

This route would have effectively started in the French Colony, gone to the Plaza, doubled back and wound through downtown, ending up where the Convention Center parking lot is today. For comparison, the Rose Parade follows a roughly 5.5 mile route.

Two of the speakers were Pascal Ganée and Georges Le Mesnager, who was quite well known for his speeches! More on that in a minute. 

Bastille Day 1881 concluded with a banquet at the Pico House, prepared under one of LA's early celebrity chefs, Victor Dol.

On this day in 1882, the festivities began with a 21-gun salute at sunrise from Fort Hill. The Mayor, the President of the City Council, "delegates from fire companies and civil societies", French citizens of varying prominence, and a beauty queen - the Goddess of Liberty - all made appearances.

The Goddess of Liberty chosen for the event, by the way, happened to be 14-year-old Narcisse Sentous, eldest daughter of Jean Sentous. She was carried in a "Car of Liberty" with several maids of honor, all girls from the French Colony.

Los Angeles Herald, 1882 (snippet of much longer article)

The parade procession was big enough to have two divisions, both made up of prominent citizens and local societies. Besides the Car of Liberty, another car had Marie Deleval representing France, Mathilde Reynaud representing the United States, Honoré Penelon (eight-year-old son of the late Henri Penelon) dressed as the Marquis de Lafayette, and ten-year-old Auguste Lemasne dressed as George Washington. Rounding up the rear were citizens riding donkeys in tribute to the city's butchers.

Eugene Meyer, the "President of the Day" (i.e. Grand Marshal) and then-Agent for the French consulate, gave a speech in French and introduced Frank Howard (who gave a quick history lesson on Bastille Day in English). "The Star-Spangled Banner" was sung, the band played, "La Marseillaise" was sung, and Georges Le Mesnager gave a speech in French.

And that wasn't all. A large model of the Bastille had been built on Fort Hill. After the sun went down, it was stormed and set on fire. (Good thing two fire companies were there!)

The day concluded with a party at Armory Hall.

In 1886, the French Colony invited the editor of the Los Angeles Herald to attend the Bastille Day celebration. He had a prior commitment in Long Beach that day, but thanked the French Colony in the newspaper.

Los Angeles Herald, 1886

The newspaper did still cover the event, of course. 

In spite of a half-hour rainstorm (an extreme rarity during a Southern California summer), the parade went on, although many people who had planned to join the parade waited inside the French Theatre for the rest of the day's events. The President of the Day was Jean-Louis Sainsevain this time - and again, one of the last speeches was given by Georges Le Mesnager.

The biggest celebration of them all was held in 1889 - the 100th anniversary of the French Republic. Besides the usual festivities, an extravagant banquet and ball was held at the Pico House, then owned by Pascal Ballade and renamed the National Hotel. The speech Georges Le Mesnager gave on this day was particularly well remembered by French Angelenos - and you can read most of it (thoughtfully translated into English by the Los Angeles Herald) here.

Los Angeles Herald, 1891.

An interesting footnote to the 1891 celebration is that one of the vocalists was J.P. Goytino, who despite having some musical talent was also a highly problematic newspaper editor/slumlord/all-around dirtbag.  Goytino is perhaps most notorious for stopping issuance of a marriage license five years later when his extremely wealthy father-in-law, Joseph Mascarel, sought to legally marry his common-law second wife. (He needn't have bothered; Mascarel left most of his fortune to his grandchildren from his first marriage.) I could do a pretty ugly deep dive on Goytino, but David Kimbrough already did a very thorough one on Facebook (warning: it's a 12-parter).

Los Angeles Herald, 1900

Los Angeles Herald, 1901

Los Angeles Herald, 1908

Los Angeles Herald, 1908

By 1908, Bastille Day was a big enough celebration that it was held at Chutes Park - and pyrotechnics were part of the event (no gunfire here!).

Los Angeles Daily Times, 1926

By 1926, two thousand French Angelenos were coming to the Bastille Day celebration. That evening's grand ball was a fundraiser for the French Society for the French War Orphans - and hosted by Felix Clavere.

Los Angeles Daily News, 1930

Hollywood Citizen-News, 1940

Bastille Day took on a somber significance in 1940, with two-thirds of the country having fallen under Nazi control. The following year, the Colony was nearly as divided as France, but everyone agreed that a big party wasn't appropriate during a time of war. Supporters of the Free French (who accounted for most of the Colony), believing France would rise again, had their own event at the Riverside Breakfast Club. Supporters of the Vichy government spent the day in mourning.

Los Angeles Daily News, 1941

In 1943, Capt. Paul Perigord addressed the United Nations Committee at the Hotel Clark. His keynote? "France is rising again." While there understandably doesn't seem to have been a celebration, the Fighting French tricolor flag was flown from City Hall's flagpole. (In case anyone needs to be reminded: the French are fierce fighters.)

Los Angeles Times, 1943

Los Angeles Times, 1946

Los Angeles Times, 1947

After the war, Bastille Day was back - and hosted by the Los Angeles Breakfast Club! 

Two years later, Bastille Day was marked by a flag ceremony at City Hall.

Los Angeles Daily News, 1949

Los Angeles Times, 1951

Hollywood Citizen-News, 1952

Los Angeles Times, 1957

Highland Park News-Herald and Journal, 1957

Los Angeles Times, 1960

Bastille Day was a big enough event to merit an annual flag ceremony at City Hall and draw a crowd of thousands to the Colony’s celebration. That certainly isn't the case now, and I fully expect Mayor Garcetti to ignore Bastille Day again, as Mayors of Los Angeles have tended to do for years.

What happened? 

Bastille Day fell on a Sunday in 1968. 

Any city employees involved in the ceremony would have had to come in on their day off, and overtime pay would have more than doubled the usual cost of the ceremony. The City Council didn't want to pay for it, voted against increasing the budget, wanted to scrap the ceremony entirely, and Councilman Wilkinson sniped "you ought to remember what France has done to us in the past year or two". 

French Consul General Gerard Peres put an end to the uproar by canceling the ceremony himself "so that City Hall personnel will not lose a day off and municipal expenses will not be increased at a time of financial difficulties". 

Mayor Sam Yorty sent Peres an official apology for the Council's rudeness, and the French tricolor did still fly alongside the US flag in the Civic Center.

At one of my lectures, I was asked when the last Bastille Day parade was held. I can't be 100 percent certain when the parade was retired, but the last time the city officially acknowledged Bastille Day at all (although wordlessly flying a flag barely counts) seems to have been in 1968.

Knowing that the flag ceremony was retired for budgetary reasons, when the city now spends a fortune lighting up City Hall in different colors for just about everything, is pretty irritating. There is no liberté, egalité, or fraternité in regards to what the city chooses to consider important enough to recognize.

Have a good Fête Nationale anyway, dear readers!

Monday, July 11, 2022

Prudent Street in Maps

Beaudry Street, named for the Beaudry brothers, still exists.

Victor Street, named for Victor Beaudry, still exists (although it was bisected by the 101 long ago).

Victor Heights, also named for Victor, still exists (although it tends to get lumped in with Echo Park). 

There is no street named for Prudent Beaudry specifically.

Anymore, that is. There was a Prudent Street!

1894 Sanborn map showing Prudent Street

1906 Sanborn map showing Prudent Street

1920 Sanborn map key detail showing Prudent Street

Sanborn map revised 1923, showing Prudent Street

Sanborn Map republished 1953, still showing Prudent Street

A 1950 atlas page that is unfortunately too blurry to post here indicates that Prudent Street was close to Naud Junction, the Bauchet Tract, and the elusive (because the street grid is gone) Ballesteros Tract.

So Prudent Street did exist, and no longer does. Where did it go?

As shown above, railroad tracks and freight houses were built right alongside Prudent Street. A 1912 news article notes the Southern Pacific Railroad applied for permits to legalize 18 existing railroad spurs. All of the spurs were either on Prudent Street or in its immediate vicinity.

Before the railroad came to this part of LA, it was residential. Two news blurbs from the 1880s reference people who lived on Prudent Street.

Those Southern Pacific spurs are lost to time now, Union Station having made them redundant. As for Prudent Street, its site is currently a big dirt lot near Metro's Chinatown Station.