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.